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
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
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."
FORM AN INDEPENDENT UNION
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
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.
TALKS TO BEGIN IN EARLY NOVEMBER
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