Erik Wickerham gets to work between 4 and 6 a.m., depending on what he’s got to do that day. After preparing for the day, he and his coworkers drive trucks full of fuel to Sieveking’s customers. Beneath this mundane explanation, though, is a dangerous job that requires more skill than people outside the tankhaul industry may realize.
“We’re hauling hazardous materials, and this is explosive stuff,” Wickerham said. “You’ve got a lot of responsibility. It’s important to always know what others on the road are doing, and you have to be concerned that you don’t spill a drop. Most people don’t think twice when they see one of our trucks, but there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with this job.”
Now that Wickerham and his coworkers at Sieveking overwhelmingly ratified a new five-year agreement with the help of St. Louis’ Local 618, they’re that much safer. Plus, they got what they really wanted in this contract: protection of their health benefits.
“Our main objective was to keep the door closed on health and welfare. These highly skilled workers made it clear they didn’t want their health benefits to be eroded in any way,” said Gerald Kappauff, Vice President and business agent with Local 618. “Thanks to their dedication and hard work, we got what they wanted in the contract.”
“With what’s going on with the economy right now, we did a lot better than others in the same situation,” said Wickerham, a Sieveking driver for nearly eight years. “Local 618 has done right by us. Gerald has especially done a great job. Whenever something comes up that you need the Teamsters for, they’re always there.”
Wickerham said he and the 21 other people in the bargaining unit recognize the importance of having a union in their workplace.
“Being in a union, especially now, is important. I’m glad we’re paid a fair wage to do this kind of work, but most people who are not in unions don’t get the same benefits. Nonunion guys usually have to contribute a lot for their health insurance, and that’s a strain on their pay. Also, a lot of these nonunion tankhaulers don’t have a pension they can rely on later like we can,” Wickerham said.
“When you’re in a union and doing this kind of work, you feel like you stand out because you take more pride. We know we’re taken care of in a lot of ways that others aren’t—like having vacation days and being compensated for overtime. People that don’t have that can get disgruntled pretty quick. And nobody wants a disgruntled driver piloting a moving bomb behind them on the highway.”
Union workers, he said, do a better job because they care more about their company and their customers. Having a good employer, though, also helps.
“The Sievekings are good people. They understand the importance of having a union in their shop, and they know it’s important to take care of your workers,” Wickerham said.