Changing to Win at Overnite?

September 25, 2005: In a recent interview with the Associated Press, James Hoffa said that leaving the AFL-CIO would make the Teamsters more successful at organizing the nonunion competition because “we’re more nimble and we don’t have the big bloated bureaucracy.”

Skeptics might wonder if it’s really John Sweeney and his AFL-CIO bureaucracy that has held back Hoffa’s organizing ambitions. Four months have passed since UPS announced it was buying Overnite and the nimble, bureaucracy-free Hoffa administration still hasn’t unveiled its “comprehensive plan to both organize and win a good contract at Overnite.”

It took Hoffa two months just to issue a press release promising a plan. Two more months have passed and local leaders as well as UPS and freight Teamsters have been unable to discover this plan. The IBT billed a special meeting in Chicago as the place where officers would hear the Hoffa administration’s strategy for Overnite—but officers came away empty-handed. In fact, Overnite got just ten minutes on the agenda.

A month later, Parcel Division Director Ken Hall came to a meeting of all the New York state joint councils to brief local officers on the IBT’s Overnite strategy—but the plan, if there is one, remained a secret.

“All Ken Hall told us was that the IBT was really going to need the support of the locals to be successful. No details. No specific requests. Just a general plea for support.” said Sandy Pope, President of Local 805 who attended the meeting. “There were 100 local officers in that room and every one of us understands that UPS-Overnite is a fight that will determine the fate of our union. But we can’t beat America’s number one union buster without direction or leadership from the IBT.”

Core Industries

At the Eastern Region meeting this month, General Secretary-Treasurer Tom Keegel boasted the IBT was “restructuring to become an organizing machine” that would focus on our core industries. Keegel mentioned parking garages and janitorial services—but never trucking.

Asked about organizing targets, Hoffa told the AP, “We want to identify jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.”

Overnite is hardly the only trucking company that won’t be moving its operations to China, but it may be the most important. The fate of Teamster members’ bargaining power in the 2008 UPS and freight negotiations—and the future health of our pension plans—depend in no small measure on the IBT’s ability to put a successful organizing plan into action at Overnite.

Thankfully, some locals are starting to take the lead. In Seattle, Local 174 is forming an Overnite Task Force of UPS and freight Teamsters. The local distributed leaflets to area Overnite workers to give them a union welcome to UPS. Chicago Local 705 is organizing UPS feeder drivers to do outreach to Overnite workers about the importance of having a union behind you when UPS is your employer.

Other locals are organizing similar activities. But it will take more than good local initiatives to organize UPS-Overnite. We need a national plan.

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