Teamsters Notebook: Strike at Overnite


On Sunday, Oct. 24, the Teamsters called a nationwide unfair practices strike against Overnite Transportation Co., the nation’s largest trucker of consolidated cargo without a union contract.

“Instead of bargaining in good faith, there has been a pattern of retaliation and violence against union supporters,” the union said.

For months both the union and the trucking firm said they were preparing for the worst. Overnite plans to break the strike with scabs and armed goons. The Teamsters say they will call both active and retired members to the picket lines, and want union locals to take up “ambulatory picketing.”

The Teamsters say they represent workers at 37 Overnite terminals, including the five largest, for a total of 45 percent of the 8000-strong workforce. However, the union says it will picket all 166 Overnite terminals. Winning a first contract would be a major accomplishment for the Teamsters Union.

In fact, successfully organizing Overnite would be one of labor’s most important organizing campaigns of the 1990s. More than Hoffa’s reputation is at stake. Several hundred thousand drivers and loaders just may be waiting for the victory that will inspire them to shake off their hesitations and organize. Such victories, as in the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster battles, transformed the IBT into a onetime powerhouse.

When Hoffa took office, a five-year organizing campaign was underway and dozens of job sites had voted to join. But after months of fruitless, on-and-off contract talks, the union and Overnite seem no closer to a contract than before Hoffa took office.

Hoffa rightly says that now is the time to strike, if only because this is the pre-holiday season, when trucking companies are busy and profitable.The major railroad unions have pledged their support to the Teamsters to counter Overnite’s plans to shift struck freight to trains.

“In addition to having picketers following Overnite trucks to the railheads, the Teamsters will set up primary picket-lines at those rail yards,” according to an IBT press release (Sept. 28). Rail workers also may welcome a chance to strike a few blows at Overnite’s owner, Union Pacific, the mega-giant rail corporation.


In September 1995, Teamster Don Stone, an early supporter of the Detroit newspaper workers’ strike against the Detroit News (Knight-Ridder) and the Detroit Free Press (Gannet), was falsely charged with assault on a police officer.

Four years later, a jury found Stone innocent, after a week-long trial. Video footage was introduced as evidence, which showed that Stone had been brutally attacked while peacefully picketing. It’s a matter of public record that the struck papers had a side deal to pay the city cops to “protect” their plants, in effect turning the cops into a private troop of goons.

Stone is now suing the cops over their failed frame-up. While awaiting trial, Stone worked as a Teamster organizer on the successful, pioneering, three-and-a-half year campaign to organize over 600 apple industry workers at Stemilt Growers in Washington State. Stone is a longtime Teamster militant and now works as a staff organizer for Teamsters for a Democratic Union.


Good news turned bad, when victorious rank-and-file leaders of newly organized Minneapolis Holiday Inn workers sat down to talk with their bosses. Once in the office, they “were met there by INS agents summoned to the hotel by the general manager. All the workers were arrested; two were released because of family matters while the other six were held in jail until Local 17 posted bail of $3000 for each.”

The following week the Minnesota State AFL-CIO, the labor council, and community allies rallied “to condemn employer tactics used against immigrant workers seeking a voice at work.”

“We don’t want employers to believe they can hire undocumented workers and then, if they belong to a union, they can turn them in to the INS and walk away,” said the principal officer of HERE Local 17. “This is a new slavery. This is economic slavery.” (AFL-CIO Work in Progress, Oct. 25, 1999.)


Four days before the start of the AFL-CIO’s October convention, destined to endorse presidential candidate Al Gore, President Clinton traveled to New York City, joining nearly a thousand labor officials (mostly Teamsters) honoring Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.

Apparently, the get-together wasn’t a ceremonial “summit meeting” to seal a deal already arrived at during back-channel bargaining.

The New York Times (Oct. 6) ran a front-page photo of Clinton and Hoffa (“worth $1 million in PR to us,” Business Week quoted a Hoffa confidant as saying), and reported that Clinton had asked to speak personally with Hoffa. Presumably Clinton was looking to get Hoffa behind Gore, but failed.

Still, Hoffa may claim that he got Clinton to keep in place the indefinite barring of Mexican truckers. While that can’t be discounted, the House of Representatives indicated that during this election cycle the bosses may tend to hide the free-trade stick, and show the labor officialdom the protectionist carrot-as when it passed 415 to five, an amendment “severely limiting the access of Mexican trucking companies to U.S. Roadways.” (San Francisco Chronicle, Oct.19.)

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