Teamsters Marcellus Pipeline Workers Walk Out on Strike

strikeSome 200 hundred Teamsters union members working on Marcellus Shale gas pipeline construction have walked out on strike in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the strike could grow to more than 700 workers in the near future, according to a Teamsters press release (see below).

At issue is a contract up for renewal with the Pipe Line Contractors Association (PLCA). The PLCA wants to let workers provide for their retirement benefits using 401(k) plans instead of a traditional defined-benefit pension plan. A 401(k) provides for individual investments in stocks or mutual funds, and the Teamsters say that Wall Street investments are too risky for their members.

Will the strike affect drilling in the Marcellus and Utica Shale region? It’s too early to say, but most of these workers are constructing gathering pipelines for shale gas. No pipelines, no gas will move. It’s a high-stakes game. We’ll keep an eye on this one.

From the Teamster’s press release:

More than 700 Teamster pipeline construction workers across the country are preparing to strike after negotiations failed with the Pipe Line Contractors Association over unreasonable contract demands by the profitable industry that would gut workers’ retirement security.

The strike started with about 200 Teamsters in Pennsylvania and West Virginia walking off the job. More in other locations are to follow.

The highly trained and skilled workers perform the difficult driving tasks related to hauling and laying pipe at pipeline construction sites. The National Pipe Line Agreement between the Teamsters and the Pipe Line Contractors Association (PLCA) expired Jan. 31, 2011, but was extended twice, ultimately expiring on Dec. 31, 2011.

PLCA wants to force Teamsters into a 401(k) savings plan and ultimately eliminate all traditional defined benefit pensions. Traditional pensions offer more security to workers because they provide a set, monthly income at retirement despite the instability and unpredictability of Wall Street.

Teamster negotiators worked hard to find creative solutions that addressed the association’s concerns and protected retirement benefits of our members. However, PLCA has refused to be reasonable, raising objections and creating roadblocks that would result in a 401(k) savings plan as the only retirement benefit.

“The association’s ultimate goal is to gut workers’ security and gamble their retirement in the stock market with a 401(k) plan,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “This is yet another example of the rich getting richer on the backs of the middle class.

“It’s not enough for this rich industry to be gouging Americans struggling to pay their gas and heating bills. Now the industry is trying to squeeze its workers too.”

PLCA is an association of more than 70 large and small, public and private, construction companies that build and maintain the pipeline infrastructure for the highly profitable oil and gas industries.

Some PLCA member companies are part of larger corporations that provide a range of services. For example, PLCA members Minnesota Limited and Miller Pipeline are subsidiaries of Vectren Corp., which runs Indiana Gas, Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Co. and Vectren Ohio — all end-user gas and energy providers in the Midwest. Vectren raked in more than $1.5 billion in revenue and generated $124 million in net profit in 2010. The CEO of Minnesota Limited is the current president of PLCA.*

*International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Jan 3, 2012) – Teamster Pipeline Construction Workers Launch Strike

  • jwozniak

    I feel their pain. My dad’s 401(k) lost $30K when those nasty Wall Street scammers tanked the economy. My mom’s nursing home care costs $7K every month, and I’m working 16 or more hours a day, and gouging a few of my customers, just to make up the difference. My mom, who was pretty savvy before the dementia thought she was making a terrific investment, but failed to take in corporate greed and crappy financial regulation. Solidarnosc!

  • Anonymous

    Amen!! A 401k is a horrible place to put your money and you shouldn’t be forced to take that chance and hope that you don’t lose everything you’ve worked so hard for. The Teamster are a huge part of the pipeline industry and without them we will have inexperienced operators and laborers running equipment that they know nothing about. If they can do this to the Teamsters who’s to say they won’t do it to all pipeline crafts?? It scares the crap out of me and I’m a member ofa very strong union. I’m praying everything works out and they get what they deserve and we can all get back to work

  • Anonymous

    2 sides to every story. The article did not address how big of a percentage the PLCA has been paying of the Teamsters entire nationwide pension plan (which is BROKE!) compared to the very small percentage of Teamsters that are actually pipeliners. I’m a strong union supporter, but the numbers don’t even come close to adding up this time.

  • Chelsea Nebelung

    ive been trying to follow the teamster strike because my step father is apart of the union and is and opporrater for the job going on in West Virgina right now. were both very confused on what is going on, he refuses to cross the picket line in fear of loosing his job and because he believes in what their striking for.Many others on his job site have crossed the line and gone back to work,  and are telling him that it isnt a real strike. He just drove five states back home which cost him about 200$ in gas to come home because he still believes the strike is going on but we cant find any information on it. does anyone have any links to any offical information released that could help us? Everyday he goes without a job is just not good for our family. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  • Jim Willis

    Thanks for commenting. And I hear you. I am personally not located in WV or PA so I don’t know what’s happening in each region. Perhaps someone reading this can chime in with an update?

  • Anonymous

    The PLCA is supposed to have a press release hopefully tomorrow explaining the situation from their point of view. Several of the crafts are not honoring the strike after learning the facts.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the Teamsters are a very important part of the pipeline industry and deserve what they’ve worked for. I’m guessing the strong union you belong to is 798, part of the United Association. Do you think the PLCA contractors you work for should pay the retirement of the UA members that build sprinkler systems in the Wisconsin local that has never worked pipeline??? I don’t believe that the PLCA should have to pay the pension for retired UPS workers or any other Teamster trade, except pipeliners. Wait till you read the facts from the PLCA press release before you judge. The Teamsters pension is broke and they’re grasping for straws. More retired Teamsters than active is easy math.

  • Anonymous

    I am a teamster in IL – my brother is a teamster pipeliner who travels to all over the states to find work — adding additional living expenses, etc. in order to just work.  He used to be a union painter, but work in that industry has also taken hits from all the non-union work. 

    All employers that contribute to a multi-employer defined benefit plan for their union employees (teamsters, laborers, welders, operators, etc…) [which is the kind of retirement plan all these trades are in] are in jeopordary of loosing their retirements too.  It’s just the first multi-employer pension plan they are trying to get rid of.  Yours could be next on the chopping block.  Whether you think your pension plans are in good shape or not, you have to remember how much work has been lost to non-union workers and don’t forget to remember how much work of any kind has been lost in the country. 

    As for PLCA contractors paying for the retirement of some UA member building a sprinkler system in WI or those contributions they are currently paying in order to fund the UPS retiree, that’s exactly what a defined pension plan does.  You work, you work, you work, and someday get to retire.  Your retirement checks come from new people taking over the work of those lucky enough to retire.  Except if that work isn’t replaced, or worse yet replaced by non-union workers.  All pension funds are feeling this pain.  People are retiring, but no new workers are being added.  There’s no new blood getting pensions in all sorts of industries.  That’s because employers keep pushing out the unions.  Under the agreement in place now, PLCA employees’ pensions are getting paid to all kinds of other pension funds in this country (whether you’re a teamster, welder, laborer, or operator) except for one.  Take a look at the link below to see how many pension funds in this country or currently in the “yellow” or “red” zones:

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  • Anonymous

    I agree with your sentiment but not all of your information. I began my career as a laborer, shortly after becoming an Operating Engineer, which is the membership I still carry today although I’m in management. Both those crafts had benefits being paid into a plan completely different than the Teamsters. My boss sits on the PLCA board and showed me on paper the huge percentage the PLCA pays to the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund and what tiny, miniscule portion goes to actual pipeliners. He also showed me the amount that the Teamsters want the PLCA companies to pay in a lump sum, which would put our company and about a 3rd of other PLCA companies out of business. No union companies, no union workers? That’s not the answer. If the 401K plan is so terrible, why did the Teamsters already agree to it for active UPS workers? Okay for UPS but not PLCA? That doesn’t make sense.

    Several of the other crafts involved with pipeline construction have sided with the PLCA after learning the facts and agree that a strike does nothing but give our nonunion competition the advantage with not having to stop construction due to political BS.

    2 other crafts have agreed to man the positions and have agreed to sell books (memberships) to former Teamsters. The Operating Engineers are operating the Lowboys, Floats, Stringing trucks, and 2 tons, the Laborers are driving the pick ups, Skid truck, and buses. Both crafts have higher pay scales and much better benefit plans.

    I don’t forsee the PLCA accepting terms that would put many of their members out of business. I feel sadness for the many Teamsters (many friends) that have worked their career for it to come down to this.

  • Anonymous

    I think what you’re referring to is the portion of pension increases applied due to the PPA (Pension Protection Act).  Those increases ARE applied to the teamsters’ pension benefits.  If the increases were not applied, then the contractors would be paying a “statutory fee” which DOES NOT GET APPLIED TO THEIR PENSIONS.  That Statutory Fee goes directly to the feds., but the increases are in fact applied to those members’ benefits.  The huge amounts of withdrawal liability that the contractors would be subject to are applied ONLY if they pull out of the pension fund.  If they remain paying into the fund, they do not incurr those withdrawal amounts.  What has failed to get across to the members is that if the PLCA withdraws from the pension fund, the members benefits have to be drastically cut under the Rehabilitation Plan put into place.

    As for UPS, they are in a UPS Pension Plan (company plan – not multi-employer plan).  They may too have a 401K, but that is separate from their UPS Pension Plan.

    I too feel for my follow Teamster members in this situation, but before the other crafts side with the PLCA, they should be privy to all sides.  The other crafts also participate in multi-employer pension plans and if they are/were fully funded (PPA Green Zone) and have now moved into the PPA Yellow Zone, what makes you think the Red Zone isn’t to follow.  Each designated zone under PPA requires certain steps to be taken and the feds are behind that.

    Again, the PLCA has not shared the fact that the huge amounts of withdrawal liability they will be subject to for withdrawing would not be imposed if they continue to contribute on the teamsters and keep the status quo.  The members benefits would also remain intact.  There is also the issue of their current time with the pension fund not being counted with other pension funds.  If no withdrawal exists, the members are allowed to have their pension reciprocated with other funds they may have contributions in.  If they withdraw, the cuts to their benefits also include Reciprocal Agreements with other pension funds. 

    One more note before I close, the contract offered keeps teamster contributions going to all other funds in the country, even many in currently in the red zone under PPA out east where all the work is being struck.  How does that make sense, other than the PLCA won’t be subject to much, if any withdrawal, out east because the contributions to those funds have not been as extensive as they have to the Central for the Traverlers.

    Here’s hoping some info gets out there to all the crafts and management alike about the ramifications of the other crafts being booted out of their funds in the future.

    Thanks for responding and have a nice day.

  • Justa Nother

    I’m here in WV too, and yes they are striking… I encourage all of you union hands, 798 or not to sign up @

  • Trishia

    My Husband to works for the pipeline in West Virgina, and also is on strike. And im here home trying to find out information on when its expected to end. If anyone finds any information please post.

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  • 1pipelinechick

    Strike over — 90 day extension to talk pension

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