The nation's trucking system has begun to feel the strain of the week-old Teamsters strike, as some non-union firms Wednesday said they are being overwhelmed with orders and customers are experiencing more frequent and lengthy delays.
"We are maxed out," said Jeff Jordan, a spokesman for Overnite Transportation Co., a non-union trucking company based in Richmond, Va. "More of our terminals are approaching gridlock simply because there is so much moving."
Overnite's shipments are running two or three days late as customers shift away from the 20 trucking companies now struck by about 70,000 Teamsters. "We are trying to accommodate our customers as best we can," Jordan said. "That's getting harder and harder to do."
A doubling of orders in the past week has led Superior Fast Freight of Irwindale to hire 17 additional drivers and 10 more terminal dock workers, said President Richard Castro, whose company operates with non-union workers in California.
"It is still growing," said Castro of shipping volume.
While delays and customer frustration grow, there are no signs that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Truck Management Inc., which represents the trucking firms' labor negotiations, are anywhere near a resolution.
Negotiations broke down March 31 over the companies' proposal to expand the number of part-time workers in their terminals, make greater use of railroads and use binding arbitration to settle contract grievances.
The strike originally was called against 22 trucking firms, but one firm has since closed and another agreed to negotiate with the Teamsters separately. Three other firms have also asked for interim agreements with the union, but the Teamsters have yet to respond.
Customers large and small have adjusted their deliveries to deal with the strike. For example, Pivot Rules, a New York-based casual apparel producer, found alternative carriers along the West Coast--United Parcel Service among them--to serve its Seattle warehouse.
The strike will lead to some inventory shortages at many smaller retail stores if it extends into next week because many retailers order products every two weeks, said John Galles, executive vice president of National Small Business United, a Washington-based trade association with 6,500 members.
"There's been limited impact at this point, but the strike would have greater impact over time," Galles said. "If it continues, the little guy--the small retailer--will be hurt most, and that's a tragedy."
Galles said owners of auto parts shops and small furniture stores would be most affected.