No end in sight for Overnite strike
Strikes that go on for a while usually are not “newsworthy,”at least not for the corporate press. So it wasn’t a surprise that the press didn’t take note on April 24 of the six-months-long Teamsters strike against Overnite Transportation Co.
Teamsters President James P. Hoffa launched the strike, soon after taking office. Observers said then and still say that Junior Hoffa (a lawyer who had never held union office, not even as a shop steward) wanted a victory over a non-union freight company that would put him in his fathers’ league.
The real Jimmy Hoffa (the father) was the architect of the national master freight contract that raised the unionized workforce to industry-record levels of wages, benefits, and pensions. However, it seems doubtful that the father would have struck Overnite (especially in a now deregulated industry) with less than a majority of the workforce.
Former Teamsters President Ron Carey spent five years organizing and winning bargaining elections at dozens of Overnite terminals. But still, Carey believed that more organizing needed to be done, in order to bring the entire 8000-strong workforce into the union at master contract rates and conditions.
After six months of sporadic talks, a settlement appears no closer than it did when the strike began. Overnite, (which is a subsidiary of the wealthy and politically influential Union Pacific), publicly says that it will not agree to sign on with the Teamsters pension plan. The trucking firm claims that the plan is underfunded, but it may really just want to keep the complete control it now has over the company’s existing plan.
While the union continues to picket, recently the main action has been in the respective camps’ legal and public-relations offices. Each side has won and lost cases at the national labor board, without changing the relationship of forces.
The company has charged the union with acts of violence, and courts have levied fines. The union charges that the company has conspired to violate labor laws relating to workers’ right to organize. Its evidence includes the testimony of a fired Overnite manager who says the firm developed “hit lists”of workers who supported the union.
Should Hoffa finally sign an Overnite contract that undercuts the Teamsters working under the master contract, he can forget about getting re-elected next year. At the same time, should he lose the strike against the nation’s largest non-union trucking firm, his claim to have learned everything he knows at the kitchen table may ring hollow for thousands of Teamsters who elected him president.
Flight attendants to vote again
The 11,000 long-suffering Northwest Flight attendants will soon be voting on another contract offer. The offer is recommended by both Teamsters President Hoffa and a majority of the local union’s leadership. So was the previous offer that the ranks last August decisively rejected.
Now the question is whether the sweetened offer will be ratified by the ranks. The workers have ample reason to vote yes, if only out of frustration with both the company and the union. Northwest has successfully denied the flight attendants a new contract for four years. The workers, who years ago gave concessions to the international airline, haven’t had a raise since 1988.
Hoffa has ignored the workers’ militancy, as expressed in their sky-high 99 percent authorization to strike the airline (once conditions imposed by the oppressive Railway Labor Act are fulfilled).
Hoffa recently sent a “personal representative” to oversee the local union; perhaps, some attendants fear, as a first step leading to a full trusteeship.
What might keep frustrated workers from voting for a settlement they don’t want is a comprehensive analysis of the relationship of forces between the workers and the bosses. To date, no one has provided the workers with that kind of help and leadership.
TDU leaders have yet to make a recommendation. It may be that TDU correctly believes that the flight attendants are worn out and not likely to respond to another call to fight on. Even so, the workers should be told what their objective strength is, if only to prepare the flight attendants for the next battle with the airline.
More than that, an evaluation of the relationship of forces implicitly would help inform the workers on how to select leadership and choose tactics, as well as evaluate proposed contract terms.
Teamsters endorse Hoekstra
Teamster President James P. Hoffa’s most vocal government ally has got to be Congressman Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican. That’s true even though Hoekstra “voted against all the union’s key bills last year,”according to the Associated Press, May 28.
In the wake of the popular 1997 strike against United Parcel Service (UPS), Ron Carey seemed unbeatable in the looming union re-election. So, “led by … Hoekstra of Michigan, Congress voted to withhold funding for the [Teamsters government-run] election” (Labor Notes, September 1998).
Hoekstra also conducted McCarthyite congressional hearings designed to smear Carey’s reputation as an honest, militant union leader. Here too, Hoffa and Hoekstra worked hand in hand.
According to Labor Notes, one witness, speaking out of turn, revealed that “Hoekstra’s staff had urged him to get help from attorney George Geller in preparing his testimony. Geller [a one-time Lyndon LaRouche operative] is one of Hoffa’s campaign spokespersons.”
After Carey was removed from the Teamsters ballot by federal agents regulating the union, Hoekstra, whose own election campaigns have been financially backed by UPS, worked to get the union’s delayed election funded.
More recently, Hoekstra has worked to help Hoffa end the 11-year Consent Decree that provides for federal oversight of the Teamsters, under which the Feds sanctioned Carey’s expulsion from the union, in the wake of the Teamsters victory over UPS.
Bill Black of the Teamsters Joint Council 43 told the press that Hoekstra is “the first candidate that has stood up and said, ‘It’s time for the government to get out of the Teamsters’ business.’ He came to speak to us and that left an impression on us.” The media also reported that the national union went along with the Michigan delegates’ endorsement of Hoekstra.
Hoekstra told the Associated Press, “The only Teamsters that don’t like me are the ones that are connected to the Ron Carey regime.”
Well, not exactly. Officers of two Michigan Teamster locals lost no time in voicing their disapproval of the endorsement. Teamsters Local 406 in Grand Rapids, Mich., which has many members in Hoekstra’s district, endorsed his opponent, Democrat Bob Shrauger. “We cannot endorse him at the local level because of his voting record, and we have to reflect what our members want,” said Bob Harvey, the local’s political director.
When Fred Bennett, an agent with Teamsters Local 212 in Muskegon, Mich., heard of the national union’s endorsement, he laughed, the Associated Press reported. Bennett said that his local would support Hoekstra’s opponent “no matter who it is.”
“The international union is a lot different than the regular locals,” he added. “I don’t think Mr. Hoekstra has the best interest of labor at heart.”
A rank and filer interviewed by the Washington publication Roll Call said he was sickened by the union’s endorsement. “When I found this out, I just about puked,” said Herman Aurich, a retired truck driver and member of Teamsters Local 406 located in Hoekstra’s district.
“The rank-and-file Teamsters are not going to accept this decision of Jimmy Hoffa’s,” said Aurich, who promised he would be working to overturn the endorsement. Aurich called it a “payback” for Hoekstra’s help to Hoffa during the congressional investigation that focused on Carey. The journal reported that Hoekstra “helped pave the way for Carey’s rivals to win the union’s presidency.”
To be more than fair, let’s give the last word to Black, the Teamsters Michigan spokesperson. He told the press, “It will not be a popular endorsement with all members of this union.”