PHILADELPHIA -- Deregulation has eroded the organizing power of the Teamsters in the trucking industry, but the future of the nation's largest union is anything but dismal, according to a University of Pennsylvania professor.
'They are going to see the percentage of their membership in the trucking industry decline and they are aware of that,' Wharton School associate professor Charles Perry said Thursday. 'But I don't think they care.'
Perry, author of a book called 'Deregulation and the Decline of the Unionized Trucking Industry,' said Thursday the power of the Teamsters in their industry has been on the decline since the mid-1960s.
However, the 160,000 Teamsters working in the trucking industry make up less than 9 percent of the union's total membership of 1.8 million, he said.
'The character of the trucking industry has changed radically between 1964 and 1984,' Perry said. 'They are going to be confined to a limited segment of the (trucking) industry and the industry is shrinking.'
The industry has changed because of efforts to deregulate trucking since the mid-60s and mandatory deregulation in 1980, Perry said.
Before 1964, the Teamsters were laregly successful in unionizing the trucking industry or neutralizing non-union competition, Perry said. However, after 1964, non-union firms made serious inroads into the industry.
The Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated trucking, simply encouraged more entries into the non-union field, Perry said.
Deregulation increased the amount of small non-union firms which often are privately owned and haul their own freight, he said.
However, the union is likely to remain strong in other firms, such as United Parcel Service, which is a high-cost, high-service carrier needing point-to-point delivery of small amounts of freight.
'The small firms are not in competition with UPS. But deregulation confines the union to the less-than-truckload segment,' Perry said.
Perry said a survey of trucking firms in 1983 found that 50 percent of unionized firms had won wage concessions from Teamsters locals in the previous year. In addition, in some areas, concessions were more the rule than the exception.
But for all the problems the union is having in the trucking industry, trucking is only part of the union.
In addition to Philadelphia school principals who recently voted by a 4-1 ratio to join the Teamsters union, the union has members in the insurance, chemicals, aerospace, airline and many other industries.
Also Teamsters represent some police officers, firefighters and garbage collectors.
'They are a true conglomerate,' Perry said. 'Why should they spend time, energy and resources in trucking? It's only a small of the union.'
'They are a highly pragmatic union and they certainly aren't having problems getting new members,' he said.