Dispute Over Restructuring Between Yellow, Teamsters Gets More Strident

  • Dispute Over Restructuring Between Yellow, Teamsters Gets More Strident

    Dispute Over Restructuring Between Yellow, Teamsters Gets More Strident

    The conflict between the Teamsters union and Yellow, the largest unionized US trucking operator, is getting hotter, with Teamsters general president Sean O’Brien referring to the carrier’s planned merger of its regional and national operations in the eastern US as “despicable” on Twitter.

    But the battle remains, for now, a war of words, with the second-largest US less-than-truckload (LTL) provider characterizing Teamster opposition to the merger plan as a “bad faith attempt to obstruct that modernization — the first phase of which has already been approved and implemented in the western region.”

    The Teamsters union approved that change of operations last year, Yellow noted in a letter Thursday to John Murphy, the Teamsters’ national freight director. “The company’s single-minded mission has been — and continues to be — to modernize its network to meet our customers’ needs,” Yellow said in its letter, sent by Bryan Reifsnyder, the company’s senior vice president of trucker relations.

    Failure to modernize would “irreparably damage and destroy the company and cost 22,000 [Teamsters] members their jobs,” Reifsnyder said in the letter, which was a response to a Wednesday memo from Murphy that suggested reopening Yellow’s contract.

    “The appropriate way for Yellow to pursue” the network and work rule changes it seeks “would be to reopen the current agreement [and] engage in legitimate, transparent, and full bargaining,” Murphy said in that memo. Copies of both Yellow’s letter and Murphy’s memo were obtained by the Journal of Commerce.

    ‘Militant, unified’ Teamsters 

    The war of words doesn’t pose an immediate threat to customers, current shipments, or operations at Yellow, which has survived more than one near brush with destruction in the past 20 years. Yellow’s contract with the Teamsters doesn’t expire until next year.

    But the dispute that escalated over the past month comes as the Teamsters enter talks with two other LTL carriers. And the longer the dispute with Yellow continues, the more concerned shippers will become.

    The dispute also precedes national contract talks between the Teamsters and UPS scheduled to start in April and comes as O’Brien and other Teamsters take a more aggressive posture on Capitol Hill and in labor disputes across the US, including strikes against food service company Sysco.

    “We are more engaged, militant & unified,” O’Brien said in a March 22 tweet.

    In its letter this week, Yellow argued the restructuring will help it compete with nonunion LTL carriers and meet customer demands. Yellow “has tried to negotiate in good faith with the [Teamsters] to implement the necessary operational changes in a way that will minimize disruption to its workers,” the company said.

    The Teamsters, in their memo, said the proposed changes would alter established work rules and violate various local union agreements concerning the use of dockworkers. “The proposal sought to force road drivers to work the dock,” the memo said, calling it a significant rewrite of the current contract.

    Yellow has shrunk its terminal network in recent years but remains an important source of LTL capacity for shippers. The company’s subsidiaries handle about 49,050 shipments a day, about 8 percent of the total LTL market in terms of daily shipment count, according to SJ Consulting Group data.

    Any challenge to Yellow’s ability to provide that capacity and handle those shipments is a concern to LTL shippers. A shipper who discussed the situation at Yellow with the Journal of Commerce this week said they are waiting to see how the dispute unfolds. “We’ve been here before,” the source said.

    Shippers would like to see a resolution. Yellow said communication lines are open. “If the Teamsters are serious about reaching a resolution, dispense with the posturing and let’s have a serious discussion,” Reifsnyder said in the company’s letter.

    By: William B Cassidy / JOC

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