Great Lakes operator American Steamship Company, a subsidiary of GATX Corporation (NYSE:GMT),says that its employees who are members of the American Maritime Officers union ) went on strike following the expiration of the AMO labor contract on August 1, 2011. The AMO agreement covered the licensed crew members employed aboard ASC's vessels.
David W. Foster, president of ASC, said, "ASC made every effort to engage in constructive negotiations with the AMO, but the AMO refused to participate in this process. As a result, the existing AMO contract expired and ASC has temporarily ceased operations.
"Our goal has been to reach a fair and equitable agreement with our licensed crew members that allows ASC to become more competitive on the Great Lakes. While this remains our goal, we will enact our contingent operating plan and make every effort to serve our customers as effectively as possible."
Mr. Foster concluded, "If the labor situation continues unresolved, we will work towards being able to operate our full contingent of vessels in 2012 with other qualified crew members."
The union says that licensed deck and engineering officers and stewards represented by American Maritime Officers walked off American Steamship Company vessels after AMO's contract with the company expired at midnight July 31, 2011.
"This strike is the result of American Steamship's Company refusal to negotiate in good faith, or even present a proposal that recognizes the professionalism of the AMO officers and stewards and their value to a company that operates very profitably with AMO onboard its ships," said AMO National President Tom Bethel.
"When asked for a final offer, ASC presented AMO members with a proposal that would cut 14 jobs arbitrarily, give the company the ability to eliminate a total of 56 jobs, and would fail to fund the medical, retirement and training benefits of AMO officers," Mr. Bethel said.
"In all, 99 percent of AMO members working for the company voted to reject ASC's proposal," he continued. "This strike is the unfortunate but predictable outcome of American Steamship Company's effort to break the union and punish AMO officers for doing their jobs and doing them exceptionally well.
"All the while, American Steamship Company has been actively trying to hire and recruit scabs to replace AMO officers on their ships," Mr. Bethel said. "The company is trying to drag out the negotiating process as long as possible beyond the deadline and is asking AMO members to continue working without a contract while they do it.
"Over the past week, company representatives have repeatedly boarded the ships and offered the captains an escalating series of bribes,"Mr. Bethel said. "Meanwhile, ASC has failed to contact AMO with a reasonable proposal."
Six months ago, AMO offered American Steamship Company (ASC) the opportunity to be the first Great Lakes operator to negotiate a successor agreement to the existing contract, such that the agreement between AMO and ASC would have set the pattern for the Great Lakes fleet. ASC and its parent company, GATX, declined the opportunity.
Since that time, AMO has secured successor agreements and/or extensions with every other AMO-contracted employer on the Great Lakes. ASC and GATX would not even begin the negotiating process with AMO until two weeks ago, says the union.
During negotiations, AMO officials and company representatives discussed the terms of the pattern agreement at length, and AMO Plans executives met with ASC and GATX representatives to explain the benefit plans, contribution rates and to answer questions.
"The company representatives asked about moving some numbers around in different years of the agreement, but seemed comfortable with the terms," Mr. Bethel said. "ASC told us they'd take the contract to GATX for a decision. We told them they had to present a final offer to AMO well in advance of the contract's expiration. At that point, it looked like an agreement would be reached.
"The proposal GATX came back with was shocking, to say the least," Mr. Bethel said. "ASC wanted to cut jobs, have contractual permission to cut many more jobs at their discretion, refuse to fund AMO medical, retirement and training benefits, and replace established AMO benefit plans with inferior company benefits.
"When the ASC proposal was given to AMO members for a ratification vote, it was no surprise that nearly everyone voted it down," he said. He added that help wanted ads "started popping up on the Internet and in newspapers in the Great Lakes region trying to bring in scab mates and engineers."
"AMO's contract is completely reasonable and seeks only fair raises and the continuation of members' benefits at their current levels," Mr. Bethel said. "This strike is not what we want. But, we are standing together and we are committed to securing fair treatment and a reasonable contract from ASC."
August 1, 2011