Six months after Teamsters picket lines first appeared at Overnite's terminals, neither side is expressing hope that the strike will be settled soon. Drivers alleging unfair labor practices walked off their jobs Oct. 24 after more than four years of attempting to bring Teamsters membership to the company's 166 terminals nationwide. Despite some hints of progress in February and March, both sides now appear far apart. More negotiations are scheduled later this week in Chicago.
"The last time we met, in early April, there was no sense of movement," Teamsters spokesman David Cameron told The Press Enterprise
in Riverside, CA. "We'll see what happens this week, but the hopes are not high."
The two sides can't even agree on how many workers are on strike. Cameron said that between 1,700 and 1,800 of Overnite's truck drivers and dock workers were honoring picket lines.
But Ira Rosenfeld, director of corporate communications for Richmond-based Overnite, told The Press Enterprise
about 700 workers were striking out of 13,000 people employed by the company.
"This is more of a protest than a strike at this point," Rosenfeld said. "This has had a very minimal effect on our day-to- day operations, except that it's cost us a lot of money."
The two sides agree that some progress has been made on wage and benefit issues, but the central question of union membership keeps them apart: Overnite's spokesmen say workers have rejected Teamsters membership in the past. Union leaders insist that harassment and threats of retaliation helped sway those votes.
Cameron insisted the job action was hurting Overnite, pointing to operating income of just $500,000 in the first quarter, compared with $10.3 million for the same period of 1999.
"It's having a big impact," Cameron said. "A trucking company can't capitalize with that kind of profit."
Rosenfeld said Overnite, the nation's sixth- largest trucking firm, had actually improved its operations since the strike started. He said it had picked up customers, rather than losing some.
Wall Street analysts say the labor action will have very little impact on Overnite's parent Union Pacific. Douglas Rockel of Goldman Sachs said, "It's just a blip on Union Pacific's radar screen."
Teamster general president James P. Hoffa remained defiant. "At this point, it appears that Overnite has no intention of obeying the law. Therefore, this unfair labor practice strike will continue -- for as long as it takes," he said in a media statement.