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