Teamsters target Overnite again

Lost in the coverage of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ (IBT) (www.teamsters.org) split with the AFL-CIO was a statement that the union would again attempt to organize less-than-truckload carrier Overnite Transportation. Though the announcement fits with president Jim Hoffa’s statement that the Teamsters would “organize the unorganized,” Overnite workers rejected the IBT two years ago after a bitter three-year battle between the union and Overnite’s management. But now that Overnite has been acquired by unionized UPS (www.ups.com), the IBT is again strategizing on organizing Overnite’s nearly 13,000 employees.

From 1999 to 2002, the Teamsters and Overnite were in and out of court in a city-by-city battle for supremacy at Overnite terminals. At that time, Overnite was owned by the holding company for the Union Pacific railroad. Shortly after winning its fight to remain union-free, Overnite was spun off as a publicly traded company.

The UPS acquisition of Overnite can’t be decoupled from Yellow Roadway Corp.’s recent acquisition of largely non-union regional LTL carrier USF. The two acquisitions run counter to a trend in the late 1990s for transportation companies to separate union operations from non-union through divestiture.

A little history: National LTL carrier Roadway Express was the first to make a move when it was launched out of Roadway Services as a stand-alone company. Non-union regional LTL operations, its parcel service -- RPS -- and its third-party logistics company formed Caliber. Caliber was later acquired by FedEx and the regional LTL operations were expanded in 2001 through acquisition of non-union LTL carrier American Freightways. CNF followed suit and spun off Consolidated Freightways; meanwhile, Yellow divested of its non-union regional carriers Preston Trucking and Saia.

The Teamsters scored a small victory last month against USF over its closing of the unionized USF Red Star operation in the Northeast U.S. In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, the IBT claimed the company did not provide the required 60-day notice of closure when it decided to shut down Red Star following a three-day work stoppage in May 2004. The $7 million settlement will result in payments to nearly 1,600 union workers who lost their jobs, the IBT claims.

Fresh from this minor victory, the IBT is unlikely to stop at trying to organize Overnite and will doubtless approach USF workers as well. LT

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