Teamsters trustee: 'We are not there yet'

Cary Ashby • Updated Sep 21, 2017 at 5:33 PM

Maple City Ice Co. and Teamsters’ Union Local 20 met for nearly six hours Tuesday.

The session with a federal mediator started about 3 p.m. and ended about 8:45. The next set of negotiations is set for Sept. 29.

“Currently we are under a five-year contract. I proposed a three-year contract,” Teamsters trustee and business representative Mark Schmiehausen said. 

“We came down from a five-year contract to a three-year contract,” he added. “They refused to stay in the (pension) fund for three years. … We have a tentative agreement on everything else.”

Maple City Ice President Pat Hipp, in a statement released Wednesday to the Reflector, said “the main sticking point remains the failing Central States Pension Fund.”

“A couple of new proposals were discussed,” she added without elaborating. “For the record, Maple City Ice Co. is in step with other companies trying to negotiate out of the Central States Pension Fund. Bloomberg News reported on Sept. 14, 2017, that Kroger Co., the large food retail chain, is withdrawing this year from the Central States Pension Fund under the terms of a new bargaining agreement reached between Kroger and the Teamsters union in March of 2017.”

Wednesday marked Day 20 of the striking Maple City Ice drivers. 

As many as 15 drivers were on strike at one point. Hipp has said two drivers who resigned from the union “have returned work” and the company recently signed a new collective bargaining agreement with seven Lorain County Beverage employees, who aren’t in the pension fund.

Hipp, in a statement released earlier, has denied that Maple City Ice took away the pensions from eight Norwalk Teamsters.

“The only way they will not receive their benefits is when the fund goes bankrupt in 2025, as projected by the trustees of the fund,” she said.

Four drivers “are planning to retire now or in the next three years,” Schmiehausen said, and they would lose two-thirds of their pension if Maple City Ice withdraws from the Central States Pension Fund. He said if the company agrees to his proposed three-year contract, those retiring drivers “wouldn’t be penalized” and won’t lose two-thirds of their pension.

Schmiehausen said Wednesday that some of Hipp’s statements about the status of the pension are inaccurate. He said “if the pension were made whole … we wouldn’t be sitting here.”

“The size of the group depends on the size of the withdrawal liability,” Schmiehausen added.

The Teamsters trustee stressed he has been “completely transparent” with union members about the status of the negotiations and pension fund.

“We are not misleading these men out here. … I have been very transparent with them,” Schmiehausen said. “They know what the risk is that is involved. They are the voting body of the union.”

The Teamsters and Maple City Ice have met 11 times since the end of February, when the five-year contract with the union expired. The most recent negotiation session prior to Tuesday was on Friday and lasted about nine hours.

“The contract expired Feb. 28,” Schmiehausen said.

“No doubt about it — we’ve made good strides,” he added, but he said there’s a long way to go and “everything is on a tentative agreement.”

“We are not there yet,” Schmiehausen said.

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