Overnite Transportation is calling on the Teamsters to end its unfair labor practices strike after a driver was seriously injured by a gunshot early this morning.
Shortly after 5 a.m., 46-year-old William Wonder was shot in the stomach just outside Memphis on I-240 north. The shot came through the windshield; another lodged in the hood.
Wonder, who was making the return run from the Memphis terminal to his home terminal in Evansville, IN, was taken to Memphis MedCenter in critical condition. His condition was upgraded following surgery. Overnite is offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.
"We are calling for the Teamsters to pull the pickets. Let's start talking again," said Tom Harmening, Overnite spokesman, in an interview with RoadStar Radio News. "This is totally out of control. The right to picket is fine, the right to protest is fine. The right to seriously hurt somebody is not."
The Memphis police are currently investigating the incident, but Overnite is asking the FBI to get involved.
This is not the first incident of violence in the strike, which began Oct. 24. There have been seven incidents of violence in Memphis alone, says Harmening, although none has been as serious as this one. In one incident, a truck leaving the Memphis terminal was just entering Mississippi when he was fired on by a pellet gun or shotgun and was slightly injured. The company is offering a $100,000 reward for information in that incident.
In Memphis and elsewhere, scattered reports of violence, and threats of violence, have surfaced throughout the strike. Bricks have been thrown at trucks and through windshields; air lines have been cut; bullet holes have been found in trailers; drivers have been pulled from their trucks and beaten.
Yesterday, the Teamsters issued a press release claiming that as the strike entered its sixth week, Overnite officials "are not confessing that they had been publicly underestimating the freight loss by upwards of 50%."
Harmening noted that while freight volumes did indeed drop 9% last week compared to the previous week's 6%, those numbers do vary week by week normally. He said the average freight loss is around 6% for the strike period compared to the same period last year.
"We've never said there was no effect," Harmening said. "We have said minimal effect; we have said timeliness is at pre-strike levels. Overnite is part of a publicly traded company. We cannot make up numbers and release them."
Harmening also said the Teamsters' claim that Overnite has spent approximately $26 million on its strike contingency plans, "almost equal to its profits of $27.6 million for the first three quarters of 1999." Harmening says while figures are currently being calculated for the strike period through November, the amount spent on the strike is not nearly what the union claims. "We're still a very profitable company."