CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 700 Teamster pipeline construction workers are walking off their jobs after negotiations broke down with the Pipe Line Contractors Association over proposals to change their retirement programs.That total will include about 200 workers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, according to Galen Munroe, a Teamsters spokesman from Washington, D.C. Their contract expired on Dec. 31.Most of those local workers have jobs related to drilling and transporting pipelines to Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale natural gas reserve drilling sites.The Pipe Line Contractors Association, based in Dallas, Texas, includes more than 70 construction companies that build and maintain pipeline infrastructures for the oil and natural gas companies.The PLCA is trying to force the Teamsters to accept 401(k) savings plans, which would ultimately eliminate traditional defined-benefit pensions, Monroe said."Traditional pensions offer more security to workers because they provide a set, monthly income at retirement despite the instability and unpredictability of Wall Street," Monroe said.Rick Bauer, president of Teamsters Local 687 based in Wheeling, said on Tuesday, "The companies don't even want to talk now."By Tuesday afternoon, 90 pipeline workers had already walked off their jobs in Marshall and Wetzel counties, Bauer said.
Current negotiations involve major companies in the pipeline industry, such as Price Gregory and Sheehan, which have operations in northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.A PLCA spokesman did not return a telephone call on Tuesday afternoon.Ken Hall, international vice president of the Teamsters and president of Local 175 in South Charleston, said, "A lot of these pipeline companies will be laying pipelines for the transmission of Marcellus Shale gas. They make a lot of money. "This is an attempt to pick off workers, one craft at a time. If they are successful with the Teamsters, they will be looking at the Laborers, Operating Engineers and other unions in the near future."I am confident other unions will support our fight just as we have always supported them," Hall said.Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said, "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."
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