To the Editor:
I am writing on behalf of Teamsters Local Union No. 59 and the over 450 employees that it represents at the Steamship Authority including the licensed deck officers and unlicensed vessel employees.
This letter is in response to a recent Letter to the Editor published in your newspaper (Oct. 2, “Cut SSA personnel to cut costs”) suggesting that a majority of the increased operating costs incurred by the Steamship Authority (and therefore the need for a rate increase) was attributable to an alleged 27 percent increase for pension expenses for its employees. Nothing can be further from the truth.
In both the licensed deck officers and the unlicensed vessel employees’ collective bargaining contracts, benefits previously enjoyed for years were either reduced or sacrificed to support participation in the New England Teamsters Pension Fund. Among the many items either eliminated or decreased was an insurance program for the licensed deck officers, meal money for both groups, agreeing to participate in a less expensive health insurance plan, as well as significantly reducing the amount of money the Steamship Authority had been contributing to a money purchase plan for both groups. In fact, both groups agreed to waive any claim for retroactivity even though the employees had been without wage increases for several years to provide additional money for pension benefits. So not only were both contracts negotiated within the parameters set by the Steamship Authority, but the employees provided significant financial support for a decent pension program which was the major objective of both groups. Also, it is believed that part of the so-called increase in “pension expenses” was a lump sum payment the Steamship Authority had to make in order to pay off a deficit in a former pension fund in which the licensed deck officers participated.
So while no one likes rate increases, it is plainly wrong to suggest they are caused by the licensed deck officers and unlicensed vessel employees participation in the New England Pension Plan — the same Plan the majority of the Teamsters employed by the Steamship Authority have been participating in for decades.
Finally, it should be noted that in almost every area of operation, the Steamship Authority is operating with the minimum number of personnel required either by the Coast Guard or by their business needs. It would be foolhardy and even dangerous to further reduce the personnel on board the vessels or, for that matter, to cut back any other personnel employed by the Steamship Authority.
George F. Belanger
Secretary-Treasurer and Executive Officer
Teamsters Union Local No. 59