The harbor trucking firm Toll Group didn’t encourage its drivers to join the Teamsters union. But now that they have, Toll wants drivers at other companies to join up – and the company has even offered the Teamsters an incentive to organize local truckers at competing firms.

In an unusual arrangement, executives at Toll, a global firm based in Melbourne, Australia, have promised to consider rewarding their drivers with greater pay if the Teamsters can unionize drivers at nearby companies.

Toll spokesman Christopher Whitefield said part of a three-year deal that drivers ratified New Year’s Eve calls for the union to “work toward improving conditions for all employees at the port” – or more explicitly, to organize many more truckers. If the union is successful in doing so, Toll could raise pay for its 80 drivers to match or surpass the other unionized shops.

“If 50 percent of L.A. port (trucking) companies negotiate new agreements, Toll has committed to renegotiating terms to ensure our workers remain among the best paid port drivers in L.A.,” Whitefield said in an email.

That’s an uncommon offer, and it might seem odd coming from a company that’s been under attack by the union for more than a year. The union in the past claimed Toll drivers worked in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, and it filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board on other issues.

But it will be tough for the Teamsters to cash in on Toll’s offer. Organizing drivers at half of the hundreds of local harbor trucking companies is a lofty goal, considering Toll is the union’s first success story there in decades.

But the tale of the Toll and the Teamsters has been strange from the start, and the company’s offer might make good business sense. If Toll has to pay higher wages and potentially put itself at a competitive disadvantage compared with the lower-cost, nonunion shops nearby, it makes sense that it would want other companies to shell out more to their drivers, too, said John Logan, a professor of labor and employment relations at San Francisco State University.

“It’s not common, but it has a certain amount of logic to it,” he said. “Toll now has an interest in what happens in the rest of the sector.”

New deal

After a nearly two-year organizing campaign, Toll drivers voted in April to join the Teamsters union. Last month, drivers ratified a contract with Toll that provides more job security, higher wages and lower health insurance premiums.

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