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Recently, President Hoffa received a letter from an Overnite striker asking how much longer the unfair labor practice strike against Overnite would continue. Here is his response:

Dear Brother:

Thank you for your letter regarding the unfair labor practice strike at Overnite. It is clear that you have put in a great deal of thought into the situation we are facing. While I hope the few words I offer here will answer your questions and renew your optimism for this historic struggle, I realize, in truth, only a successful resolution of this battle will be sufficient to accomplish that goal.

First, let me make a clarification regarding one issue. You write that you hope to return to work under the auspices of a Teamsters' contract. Please remember that this is an unfair labor practice strike, the aim of which is to compel Overnite to obey the law. This is not an economic strike aimed at securing a contract. The distinction is important because striking workers have protections in an unfair labor practice strike that they do not have in an economic strike. The company cannot replace workers engaged in an unfair labor practice strike, whereas workers engaged in an economic strike can be replaced.

Regarding the essence of your letter, this protracted struggle has been both economically and emotionally stressful. Only workers with extraordinary character, determination, and courage can stay on strike for this length of time. Do not put much faith in Overnite's press releases concerning how well the company is doing. Those are for public consumption meant to calm the nerves of Overnite's customers. We believe, in fact, that Overnite has not been as successful as it is portraying. Overnite's tonnage is down and its revenues are flat.

As for Overnite's so-called "decertification" petitions, those are public relations stunts by Overnite to demoralize its workers in their quest for collective bargaining rights. In fact, as I am sure you are aware, none of those petitions have been successful. Each and every one has been thrown out because of the company's unfair labor violations. Additionally, the Labor Board has thrown out petitions because the company orchestrated their circulation, and workers signed them under company duress.

You ask how much longer will this struggle go on? It will go on until Overnite makes a binding agreement to obey the law or until a court issues an injunction against the company to compel it to do so. Let's go over the background of the Overnite campaign. The Overnite workers came to the Teamsters in 1994 seeking assistance to address their grievances and obtain collective bargaining rights. The Teamsters responded by launching one of the largest private sector organizing campaigns in the past 25 years. In 1994, 1995, and 1996, the Teamsters won dozens of elections all over the country. Overnite's response to those election victories was to launch one of the most horrific anti-worker, anti-union campaigns in recent memory. Within the first months of the organizing drive, Overnite committed over 450 individual violations. In 1995, the Labor Board sought an injunction against the company, but, under threat of budget cuts by the Republicans in Congress, the Board initiated a settlement with Overnite that was little more than a slap on the wrist. Overnite's violations of its workers' rights continued so relentlessly that, by 1997, only four additional terminals had the courage to stand up to the company and vote for Teamsters representation. As word of Overnite's violations spread across the country, workers became more and more terrified to demonstrate any interest in the Teamsters. After three years of unlawful harassment, intimidation and illegal discharge, Overnite clearly demonstrated to its workers that the price of exercising their fundamental rights was too high. Since then, it has become impossible to run a free and fair election at Overnite.

Overnite developed a "hit list" of top union activists to target for termination. By the summer of 1999, over 200 of the top union activists at Overnite had been fired for infractions fabricated by company officials. The Teamsters filed charges and workers were reinstated with back pay, but each case took years to muscle through the Labor Board. In the meantime, the damage was done. Stories about Overnite's treatment of union activists spread to the company's terminals across the country and made additional organizing virtually impossible.

As you know, the Teamsters represent less than half of Overnite's drivers and dockworkers. Now, some might ask, "What were the Teamsters thinking when they launched a strike at Overnite when they represent less than half the workers?" It's a good question, and the answer is simple: Local 667 in Memphis launched the strike because so many of their top union activists had been illegally discharged. If they did not take a stand against Overnite's unfair labor practices immediately with the workers they did represent, there would soon be no union activists with whom to wage a strike - because they would all be fired.

Everyone in the labor and business communities are watching the Overnite situation closely. All of labor is contributing to the Overnite strike fund - from the AFL-CIO, to other International Unions, to individual union members and retirees. Why? Because the Overnite situation highlights a central question: Does the right to organize for union representation exist in America anymore or can companies like Overnite willfully subvert that right?

Last month, a potential member related a story of an organizing drive he and his fellow workers are conducting. His employer held a captive meeting and told the workers that the company was going to "Overnite you." When the worker asked his boss what that meant, he was told that the company was going to do the same thing to them that Overnite was doing to its workers - harass them, intimidate them, and fire them, and even if the workers won the election, the company would never agree to a contract - just like Overnite.

As you well know, Overnite has utilized legal tactics to stall the process at every stage. It is well documented that Overnite has instituted a scheme to deny its workers their basic bargaining rights. For example, workers at Overnite's Bedford Park terminal in Chicago won their right to engage in collective bargaining in 1982 - nineteen years ago - and are still without a contract because Overnite refuses to bargain in good faith. Overnite's strategy is simple - spend millions of dollars to stall, delay, demoralize, and defeat the workers' desire for union representation. In short, Overnite fulfilled its promise to the workers that organizing was an exercise in futility. We are engaged in this extraordinary battle to determine whether the Overnite workers, or any workers in America, still have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively on their wages, benefits, and working conditions.

There is enormous pressure in this struggle and there are extraordinary sacrifices made by workers, the Teamster Locals, and the International. It has gone on far longer than anyone would have dared to imagine. It is a hard road, but is there another road we can take to preserve our rights?

I often wonder about the courageousness of those who came before us when faced with an equally daunting struggle: the mothers who walked to work for eighteen months during the Montgomery bus boycott; or Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison because he insisted that everyone should be able to enjoy the fruits of freedom. How was he able to emerge after 27 years in prison and still retain the vision of freedom for all? Will we have the courage to stay the course in our struggle against Overnite's unlawful conduct? I believe we will because we know, from the marrow of our bones, that our cause is just and that in the end we will prevail.

You ask if there will be a timely and successful conclusion to the struggle? I can only answer that it will be successful. As to whether it will be over this week, this month, or this year, only time will tell. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Overnite strikers have gotten alternative work at union companies. Your Local should be able to assist you. If not, contact David Cameron at (202) 624-8960.

Thank you again for your thoughtful letter.


James P. Hoffa
General President


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