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Small LA-area trucking company ousts Teamsters; new rules from Trump’s NLRB aided decertification

Faced with changes approved last year, union did not mount challenge to decertification petition

The Teamsters union has been decertified at a California trucking company, an action that was aided by a change in labor rules undertaken by a National Labor Relations Board with a majority of Donald Trump supporters as board members.

After having voted to be represented by Teamsters Local 986 in 2019, workers at KWK Trucking in the Los Angeles area were able to decertify the union after a petition effort reportedly obtained roughly 80% of the signatures of the workers at the company.

KWK is a relatively small company. CarrierLists data shows it with 21 power units.

The National Right to Work Committee aided the effort to decertify the union. In its statement regarding the decertification, the organization — which often engages in efforts to oppose unions in a variety of settings — said a Trump administration change in the rule allowed the process to work itself out quickly.

The petition drive was led by employee Elisea Haro, who was then aided by the Right to Work Committee. In a statement released to FreightWaves through that organization, Haro said of his motivation: “The union never came in to talk to us, or negotiate a contract, or represent us. They disappeared.”

Patrick Semmens, a vice president with Right to Work, said that before the rule, union officials could slow or thwart decertification elections through a series of what he called “blocking challenges.” “The union will make allegations against the company or employer which then gets used to block a vote, keeping the union in power while the vote gets adjudicated,” Semmens said. “And so the workers’ right to vote gets put on hold until that’s dealt with.”

But under the rule change approved by the NLRB, blocking a decertification vote that has been requested by the rank and file through the petition process is far harder, Semmens said. In the case of the Teamsters’ representation of the workers at KWK, once the petition was submitted to the NLRB, the union quickly backed away and did not challenge it, he added.

An email and phone calls to Teamsters officials were not returned by publication time. 

The rejection of the union marks a quick turnaround. Just two years ago, the Teamsters touted the victory at KWK Trucking by a vote of 83-23. In a prepared statement released at the time, the Teamsters said KWK was primarily a contractor for DHL Express. 

“The drivers remained strong and united throughout the entire process and were not fazed by the company’s union-busting tactics,” Chris Griswold, secretary-treasurer of Local 986 in South El Monte, said in the victory announcement two years ago. 

KWK has no apparent web page, and a message left on a number for the company was not returned by publication time. 

The rule change was approved in April. The announcement of it, in a prepared statement issued by the NLRB, said the board had “finaliz[ed] rulemaking to protect employee free choice.”

Under the National Labor Relations Act, Semmens said, workers at a place of employment represented by a union can request, through a petition, a decertification vote at any time except in the first 12 months after the vote that approves a union. That is not new. “But the NLRB over the years created all these other restrictions to that right,” he added.

The current majority of Republicans on the NLRB is set to stay in place until at least August, Semmens said. After that, Democrats would be expected to be in charge. But Semmens said elimination of the rules that made it more difficult for the Teamsters to challenge the decertification could only be accomplished through a formal rulemaking process, rather than through a quick mandate handed down by the board. It couldn’t happen overnight. 

The speed at which the decertification moved is evident in the NLRB’s case page on the KWK withdrawal. The petition was filed with the NLRB on Feb. 12. By Feb. 18, with the Teamsters choosing not to block the effort, the union was decertified.

According to the 2019 release announcing the successful vote to unionize, there were at that time three other KWK facilities in the regional jurisdiction of Local 986. 

Decertification elections are not rare, though their numbers are declining. When they do get held, unions lose far more than they win. For the most recent three years for which data is available through the NLRB — 2017 through 2019 — unions were the loser in votes by margins of 101-60, 109-50 and 118-59. However, in most years when you add in the number of petitions that were dismissed or withdrawn, the number of successful attempts to decertify the union is less than the number that are unsuccessful. 

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.