September 26, 2023

Werner subsidiary fires 4 truck drivers after union petition filing


The Teamsters filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday to unionize all 13 truck drivers at an Erie, Pennsylvania, terminal of ECM Transport.

Later that day, ECM Transport terminated four employees, according to Teamsters Local 397. These four workers were involved in organizing the ECM terminal with the local Teamsters chapter, the union said. Terminating employees who organize a union is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. 

ECM Transport is a subsidiary of trucking giant Werner (NASDAQ: WERN). Werner acquired an 80% stake in ECM in 2021 for $142 million. Werner generated $3.3 billion in revenue in 2022. Transport Topics ranked it as the No. 17 largest for-hire trucking company in 2022.

“Local 397 believes that these drivers were fired because they engaged in concerted protected activities and because ECM desires to discourage the other drivers from unionizing,” said Ernest Orsatti, an employment lawyer who is counsel for Local 397. 

Orsatti, an attorney at the Quartini Law Group in Pittsburgh, said he will file unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board. If the regional NLRB office decides to file a complaint, a federal judge will preside over a trial that may deem this termination illegal. In that case, ECM will be forced to rehire those employees with full back pay and benefits, he said. 

Neither Werner nor ECM responded to requests for comment.

Werner truck drivers in other terminals seek to unionize 

ECM employees in three New Jersey terminals voted to unionize with the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union in August, representing a total of 26 workers. It’s unclear why the Pennsylvania and New Jersey ECM terminals chose different unions. 

Two weeks after the vote, the UFCW filed charges with the NLRB against ECM and Werner. UFCW claimed that “workers who voted in favor of the union saw their hours reduced and regular shifts were eliminated,” FreightWaves’ John Kingston reported

The 26 New Jersey workers and the 13 Pennsylvania workers are a slim fraction of Werner’s larger workforce. Per the Omaha, Nebraska-based carrier’s most recent annual report, Werner employs more than 14,000 people. Around 10,200 of them are truck drivers.

This effort only covers a few dozen employees so far, and unionization efforts at mega-carriers like Werner are incredibly rare. The relatively small unionization effort seems to have shaken top brass at Werner, however. As FreightWaves’ John Kingston reported in August, Werner CEO Derek Leathers made an in-person visit to those New Jersey terminals ahead of the unionization vote. He delivered a case against unionization.

Employees frustrated by drop in hours

Two ECM truck drivers based in Erie told FreightWaves before the petition to unionize that they hoped the Teamsters union could help them secure more pay and control over their working hours. Both drivers spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak about the organizing efforts.

Prior to Werner’s acquisition of ECM, both drivers said it was standard to receive a $1-an-hour pay raise for each additional year of work. However, both said they have not received any pay raises since Werner bought ECM in July 2021.

What’s more, the drivers said their hours have massively dropped in recent months. That has slammed their take-home pay. At the same time, both drivers said it’s become more common to work on weekends. They said they do not receive overtime pay for weekend work.

The drivers at Erie’s ECM terminal are local drivers, meaning they are paid hourly and are home each night. Employees said they largely haul goods like agricultural commodities and paper products.

“We’re hoping that we can get a little more transparency because we’re never told anything at all,” one truck driver told FreightWaves. 

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