The Teamsters Union said late yesterday that Ernie Soehl, president of Teamsters Local 701 in North Brunswick, N.J., has been named director of the union's national freight division.
Soehl, who is also freight co-ordinator for the union's eastern region, succeeds Tyson Johnson, who retired from the union Jan. 31 after losing his re-election bid last November to serve as international vice president in charge of the southern region. Johnson's second-in-command, Gordon Sweeton, also retired that day after losing his bid to be re-elected to the same post in the union's central region. Neither man had local positions to return to following the election.
Soehl takes over a division that has hemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of jobs in the decades following motor carrier deregulation in 1980. Established in 1964 by James R. Hoffa, father of James P. Hoffa, the current general president, the freight division flourished for years on the backs of strong economic growth and labor power. It had about 400,000 members around the late 1970s, and at the time was considered the crown jewel of the Teamsters.
However, decades of trucking bankruptcies and consolidations, combined with the rise of non-union trucking firms, drastically eroded the division's rolls. The union has said the division today represents the interests of 75,000 Teamsters, though the size of the membership is believed to be less than that.
In a statement, Hoffa alluded to the division's troubles, saying the union's "freight members continue to face many difficult challenges in an industry that is fraught with uncertainty."