CNF Services office workers decertify from Local 11

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Employees at CNF Services Company voted 132-106 to decertify from Office and Professional Employees Local 11. It was the second union election conducted there within two months. The first election, held Oct. 2, ended in a two-vote loss for the union, which then filed several objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for employer misconduct.

The union charged CNF with violating a “24-hour rule” after the company held a mandatory employee meeting the morning of the Oct. 2 election, at which time a manager discussed the election with more than two dozen workers. The union also said it was denied access to bargaining unit members during the campaign and that CNF was bargaining in bad faith.

To ward off a lengthy NLRB investigation that likely would have ended in a ruling for a re-election, CNF said it would hold a new election Nov. 20.

About 250 employees at the Vancouver office have been represented by Local 11 for more than five decades. A five-year contract expired Sept. 30, but during negotiations for a new deal a decertification petition was filed with NLRB.

CNF did not back away from its anti-union campaign during the second election. In fact, it intensified.

A document obtained by the Northwest Labor Press on CNF Service Company letterhead — and over the signatures of Vice Presidents Keith Sawallich and Roy Swackhammer — reveals the lies the company spread to its workforce.

The biggest lie CNF officers told employees was that Local 11’s largest unit at NW Natural, was in the midst of a decertification fight and that “they are very close” to filing for an election with the NLRB.

That was news to NW Natural Vice President Mike McCoy who, according to Local 11 Executive Secretary-Treasurer Debbie Sluyter, was surprised to hear about the rumor before he read the letter.

“He wasn’t happy about the letter and he indicated that he was going to send a stern letter in response to Swackhammer,” she said.

CNF also said the wage and benefits package for “union- free employees” was “substantially better than that provided under the labor agreement.”

Sluyter called that statement laughable.

After three rounds of negotiations for a new contract, Sluyter said the company had demands on the table to cut pension and health care benefits. “They can promise employees the world, but if it’s not written in a contract it’s worthless,” Sluyter said. “I feel terrible for the employees there. As soon as is practical, I believe the company will start cutting pension and benefit contributions, and who knows what else.”

For proof, she pointed to a recent article in the New York Times that reported CNF was cutting health insurance and pension benefits for its “union-free” retirees because of underfunding and possible mismanagement.

CNF is a $4.8 billion management company of global supply chain services with businesses in regional trucking, air freight, ocean freight, customs brokerage, global logistics management and trailer manufacturing. The company is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., but was founded in Portland in 1929 as Consolidated Truck Lines — which later became Consolidated Freightways, then Leland James, and finally CNF.

CNF spun off Consolidated Freightways in 1996. Consolidated Freightways remained primarily a unionized company while CNF subcontracted and shifted its assets into non-union subsidiaries.

On Labor Day 2002, Consolidated Freightways filed for bankruptcy, putting 15,000 Teamsters drivers and several hundred union office workers (members of Local 11) out of work. A year earlier, in September 2001, 800 unionized pilots were let go when the Federal Aviation Administration shut down CNF subsidiary Emery Air.

Through the name changes and spin-offs, Local 11 maintained its union contract with CNF Services.

But, in an interview two months ago with former union-buster Martin Levitt, author of the book, “Confessions of a Union Buster,” he told the Labor Press that CNF has a history of busting unions and that there was no doubt the decertification was a calculated union-busting effort by the company.

During that interview, Levitt also predicted “the anti-union rhetoric at the Portland [Vancouver] office will intensify ... The company will use whatever source it can to divide members and discredit the union.”

Sluyter confirmed that at least three union-busters were hired by the company to run the decertification campaign.

“The company has had bigger fish to fry,” Levitt told the Labor Press. “It was just Local 11’s turn.”

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