August 28, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – When the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM&AW) District 15 inked a pioneering contract on behalf of over 200 Town Car company drivers in Long Island City last spring, they won workers something that they never had before – a real retirement package.
"It's a good feeling," 48-year-old Town Car driver Nasir Khan told LaborPress.
The Port Washington family man has driven a black car for almost two decades. But until the advent of the three-year contact signed in May, he had little more to show for it all other than crushing automobile maintenance costs that can cut a driver's seemingly attractive $80,000 yearly income in half, or more.
The retirement plan that the IAM&AW worked out with the help of its credit union, established Individual Retirement Accounts for Town Car drivers who own their own vehicles, and are – at least on paper and for the present – considered independent contractors.
That sticky designation meant that the union had to become very creative in crafting a retirement package that would be both meaningful for drivers and attractive to the company.
Basically, it works like this: for every ride that drivers make throughout the week, they earn $1 for their retirement account. If the average driver makes about 40 trips a week and works for 50 weeks out of the year, the contribution could be $2,000 annually.
"It's pretty innovative for the industry," District 15 General Counsel James Conigliaro Jr., says.
The company likes the program, as well, because it gives drivers a greater incentive to take on as many trips as possible.
Couple the retirement package with a family dental plan and a legal services plan that helps drivers obtain life insurance, establish wills and deal with TLC violations – and the deal that the IAM&AW successfully managed to ink after many years of hard work and sweat, becomes a significant achievement, indeed.
But it has the potential of becoming an even better deal for drivers.
In addition to the $1 contributions, drivers can also earn between three and five percent commission towards their retirement on each new account that the union brings to the company.
"If labor pulls together, these guys could wind up with a significant retirement program," District 15 Directing Business Representative Jim Conigliaro Sr. says. "I'm asking labor leaders to step up. This shouldn't be a heavy lift for them."
Now actively appealing to fellow labor leaders to use the services of organized drivers at Town Car, there are other multi-million-dollar transportation contracts out there as well, that the union could also tap into.
"You take a company like Goldman Sachs that spends about $26 million a year in black car work," Conigliaro Sr. says. "They all use two and three [black car] companies. Our company should at least be one of them."
For the 57-year-old Conigliaro Sr., securing a meaningful retirement package for the hardworking drivers the union represents has almost become a personal mission.
"I've seen guys who worked 20 or 30 years and they don't even own a home," Conigliaro Sr. says. "They usually wind up retiring on their credit cards. I remember the first day I went to work when I was 20. [The years] go by pretty quick."
Presently, the three-year-contract that the union signed back in May, establishes Individual Retirement Accounts for 250 drivers. But that might only be the beginning.
District 15 is now entering into a partnership with the company in an effort to attract hundreds of additional drivers.
"You could have 1,000 drivers," Conigliaro Sr. says.
With an innovative retirement and benefits package in place that is only poised to grow, Town Car drivers are now setting their sights on the day when they can enjoy healthcare coverage as well.
And while still unsure about the overall benefits the Affordable Healthcare Act is likely to bring in 2014, Conigliaro Sr. says that "Obamacare" could work out well for Khan and his fellow Town Car drivers.
"The union helped us," Khan says. "I'm glad they kept their promise. The drivers are so happy."