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UE a Perfect Fit For
Independent Truckers’ Union


An Internet search for an independent union connection brought the Bethlehem Drivers and Dockworkers Union (BD&DU) to UE. And the employees of Penske Transportation Services Inc. here liked what they saw.

On Sunday, Oct. 3 these long-haul truck drivers and dockworkers voted unanimously to affiliate their union with UE.

UE "fit us to ‘T’," says BD&DU President Les Koch.

Previously the Penske employees had not been so enthusiastic about belonging to a national union — and with good reason.

The Bethlehem facility was opened as Penske shut down a Passaic, N.J. facility. The company informed its new employees they were now members of a certain large AFL-CIO union and covered by a five-year contract that followed the company from Passaic.

"The more we questioned it, the more we didn’t like it," recalls Pres. Koch. "The company told us, ‘talk to the nice union man.’ The nice union man said, ‘stick it up your nose, boys, we’re the union.’"

If the Bethlehem workers were unhappy about not having a choice about their union or a say in their contract, they received little encouragement from the union’s operations. Workers seldom saw a union representative; when he came, he met alone with the boss. They don’t recall one issue ever being resolved in their favor.

As a result, says Koch, "The company’s really ripped us off the last few years."


Workers made two unsuccessful attempts to decertify the AFL-CIO union and an unsuccessful attempt at "de-authorization" of dues. Eventually they organized themselves into the BD&DU. The independent union overwhelmed the AFL-CIO union by a nearly three-to-one margin in a representation election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

Penske recognized the independent union but balked at negotiations. The boss has occasionally reminded the BD&DU there is no contract.

No contract means no automatic dues deduction. Dues are hand-collected; 36 of the 43 workers currently on the payroll are paid up.

Although enjoying their independence, BD&DU members also appreciated the advantages of affiliation with a national organization. An Internet search for a "federation of independent unions" turned up UE. The truckers did some further investigation, checking on UE’s background and contracts. This led to a late August meeting with Intl. Rep. Bruce J. Klipple. Discussions followed between the veteran UE staff member and the BD&DU executive board.

Local 111, ICW Pres. Duane Yaindl — whose independent union affiliated with UE six years ago — addressed a membership meeting, explaining how the union works and the mechanics of affiliation. The executive board recommended affiliation and the membership agreed, approving special balloting on Oct. 3. "It went pretty fast," comments Les Koch, now president of UE Local 112, BD&DU.


Not long after, Penske management contacted Local Pres. Koch to say negotiations could begin soon. "They’re nervous about us," he says. "We’re a wild card." Talks will begin in early November.

Penske has a $2.5 billion contract with GM and recently secured a $4.9 billion contract with Ford. The new UE members collect auto parts from plants on the East Coast, storing and consolidating at the Bethlehem facility before hauling them to Ohio. The big auto companies require on-time shipment. The Penske truckers also haul some Chrysler products and for Wal-Mart and other retailers.

Already thinking about the future, Les Koch contemplates the Bethlehem facility’s crucial location near major interstate routes as a springboard to UE organizing at other trucking companies.

UE News - 10/99

Home -> UE News -> 1999 Archives -> Article

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