A federal judge will hear arguments Dec. 16 on whether to dismiss a lawsuit that could reshape unionized trucking and threaten the survival of YRC Worldwide.
At stake is whether ABF Freight System can sue YRC and the Teamsters union and enforce its claim to be a member of the same national labor contract as YRC.
It's an unprecedented case pitting two of the largest unionized less-than-truckload carriers against each other as rivals not on the highways but in the courtroom.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright may determine Thursday whether ABF has the standing to sue the Teamsters and three YRC operating companies.
The one-day hearing begins at 10 a.m. Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock.
The lawsuit challenges the legality of three rounds of contract amendments YRC negotiated with the Teamsters that saved the company from bankruptcy.
Those agreements cut wages 15 percent at nationwide LTL carrier YRC and regional carriers Holland and New Penn, while suspending pension contributions.
The concessions saved YRC hundreds of millions of dollars and paved the way for new lending agreements that protected its liquidity as it reorganized.
But ABF accused the Teamsters and YRC of cutting a "sweetheart deal" that tilted the industry playing field in YRC's favor, leaving ABF with higher labor costs.
That was illegal, ABF argues, because its workers are covered by the same multi-employer contract as YRC Worldwide, the National Master Freight Agreement.
ABF says any relief provided to YRC Worldwide should have been "industry-wide" and extended to ABF, the only large carrier in the NMFA not owned by YRC.
YRC and the Teamsters insist ABF does not belong to the NMFA as it withdrew from the industry bargaining unit in 2008 to negotiate its own parallel contract.
ABF argues the interim contract it signed in 2008 makes it part of the NMFA, noting that its employees voted on the 2008 NMFA alongside YRC Teamsters.
It also wants $750 million in damages, the amount of competitive harm it claims it is suffering as YRC and the Teamsters extend their concession deal through 2015.
ABF wants the court to strike down YRC's contract amendments, which would immediately jack up its costs and unravel the company's long-term recovery plan.
If YRC and the Teamsters prevail, ABF may be forced back to solo negotiations with the Teamsters. It failed to win independent concessions earlier this year.
No matter who wins, the lawsuit may be the final break for the NMFA, a historic multi-employer master contract first negotiated in 1964 by James R. "Jimmy" Hoffa.
The NMFA once covered hundreds of companies and hundreds of thousands of workers, but its scope dwindled after trucking deregulation in 1980.
Today, most LTL carriers are nonunion companies and the largest Teamster operators are YRC Worldwide, ABF and UPS Freight, which has its own contract.
-- Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com.