The Teamsters union and Overnite Transportation are scheduled to resume contract negotiations today in Chicago.
The three-day session is expected to focus on grievance procedures and other changes in operations. The last session was May 16-17, in which tentative agreement was reached on some change of operations language regarding seniority rights.
When asked if the two sides are really making any progress toward a contract, both sides used the same term to describe negotiations: snail.
"It's like watching a snail move to participate in these negotiations," said Teamsters spokesman Dave Cameron, while Overnite's Ira Rosenfeld told us, "If it's moving, it's moving at a snail's pace."
According to Overnite, a major sticking point in the negotiations remains the pension plan. "We are extremely leery about putting our people's retirement funds in the union's financially strapped Central States pension plan," Rosenfeld said. "The federal government says the Central States pension plan, where all the money is pooled from all the companies, is $5.3 billion underfunded. And right now, our pension money is in the Overnite pension fund, which is overfunded, and we would like to keep our people's retirement money going into that fund."
The Teamsters blame the slowness of the negotiations on what it calls bad-faith bargaining on the part of the less-than-truckload carrier.
"We have been in negotiations for four and a half years, 172 negotiating sessions," Cameron said. "The only conclusion that you can draw from that is that this company is carrying out on the scheme it told its workers five years ago, which is [they will] never agree to a contract despite their legal obligation to negotiate in good faith."
Cameron predicts that a contract won't become a reality until Overnite's parent company, Union Pacific, decides to sell it. "The only way anyone's going to get financing to buy this company is to come to an agreement that will settle the labor problems," Cameron says.
Rosenfeld denies the union's claim that Overnite is in dire financial straits because of the seven-month-old unfair labor practices action against the company.
While he admits the strike has cost the company a lot of money for extra security, spending $21 million in the fourth quarter of last year, he says the expenses are dropping. Rosenfeld says that only 631 full-time workers are honoring the strike at 31 centers, out of more than 10,000 freight-handling employees and 166 terminals. "At 10 of those places, you can count the number of people out on one hand," he says. "So it's not really having any effect on the day to day operations. In fact, for the first time in this company's history, we are now guaranteeing service. If it doesn't arrive on time, it goes for free."