Overnite Transportation, Richmond, VA, announced yesterday that it is suing Teamsters President James P. Hoffa and other union executives, alleging the Teamsters engaged in a host of illegal activities, including attempted murder, aimed at extorting a labor contract.
A 225-page suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Jackson, TN, alleges a pattern of racketeering activities that includes 57 acts of attempted murder and 131 acts of extortion, as well as numerous violations of Tennessee law.
Jackson is the home of one of Overnite's 166 service centers. Overnite also calls it the "epicenter" of many shooting incidents that occurred in Nashville, Memphis, eastern Arkansas and northern Mississippi. The worst of these happened Dec. 1, when an Overnite driver was seriously injured by shots to the stomach outside of Memphis.
The suit alleges a scheme to "put Overnite out of business if Overnite and its employees do not agree to collective bargaining representation by the Teamster International and its affiliated locals and to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement proposed by the Teamster International."
The suit seeks damages of more than $5.2 million for security expenses, damage to Overnite property, damage to the property of Overnite employees, and costs of replacing workers who missed work. The suit also seeks an unspecified amount of relief for lost profits and other damages. Because the defendant's actions are continuing, the damages are increasing daily.
Overnite is seeking the triple damages authorized by the Racketeering Influenced and Corruption Organization Act (RICO), which could bring the amount of the award to more than $15 million.
The suit claims the defendants violated the RICO Act by recruiting Teamster members from unionized competitors to picket Overnite facilities, persuade workers to strike and persuade Overnite customers to discontinue using Overnite, and then unlawfully supplementing those efforts with a pattern of criminal activities.
The suit claims that within days of Hoffa's May 1, 1999, installation, Hoffa, Phil Young, Central Region Vice President and Director of Freight Operations, and representatives of a number of Teamster locals met in Chicago to discuss how to force a Teamster contract on Overnite and its employees. It was at that meeting that Hoffa threatened a nationwide strike. Ten days later, on May 13, Young wrote a letter to Teamster locals, asking them to use people employed by Overnite's competitors to contact Overnite customers and warn them that the Teamsters International would strike if the company did not settle the contract and other disputes on terms favorable to the union.
Young was scheduled to stand trial yesterday in Cook County Circuit Court on two charges of battery and illegal trespass in connection with a violent demonstration June 15, 1999 at Overnite's Bedford Park-Chicago Service Center, but the trial was delayed at the last minute due to procedural maneuvers.
The Teamsters have been staging an unfair labor practices action against Overnite for three months. There have been no talks between the less-than-truckload carrier and the union since Sept. 17. There is no contract between the company and the union.
Hoffa denounced the suit, citing recent reports of the company's financial woes as the reason for the action.
“This lawsuit is a smokescreen by company officials to distract public and media attention from Overnite's troubling record of harassment and intimidation of its own employees," Hoffa said. "After 14 weeks of denying that the strike was having an impact on the company, last quarter's reported losses sent company officials running for cover from their own shareholders. The filing of this desperate lawsuit is a clear sign that we are winning the strike."
Teamster attorneys are currently exploring the possibility of a counter-claim, in which Overnite and its managers would be held accountable for filing a frivolous lawsuit against the union.