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When Yellow Freight closed down, nearly 30,000 union jobs for truckers went with it

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For truck drivers, union jobs can be hard to find. And the field is about to get even more crowded. One of the nation's largest trucking companies shut down operations this week, eliminating nearly 30,000 union jobs across the country. Yellow Freight is expected to file for bankruptcy any day now. From member station WPLN in Nashville, Marianna Bacallao reports that the Tennessee-based company has left its drivers without a lot of options.

MARIANNA BACALLAO, BYLINE: Tracy Cullen drove for Yellow for nearly 40 years. He knows the company lost customers.

TRACY CULLEN: It's easy to lose freight. It's a lot harder to get it back.

BACALLAO: Cullen is part of the Teamsters union, which had threatened to go on strike mid-July after Yellow missed a payment for workers' health benefits. The freight company drew Teamsters back to the negotiating table with an $11-an-hour raise over the course of a few years.

CULLEN: It's like, OK, that's some legit money.

BACALLAO: But the money never came. Yellow shut down operations this week before it could pay up.

CULLEN: We have a contract. The union, my union brothers - we did not violate it. We upheld our end of the contract. They negotiated that contract. They agreed to it. There's things in it I didn't like, but I had to live with it. Things in it they don't like - you live with it.

BACALLAO: Living with it, for Cullen and all of the other union drivers, now means looking elsewhere for work.

DAVID OWENS: Oh, they won't have any problem getting jobs.

BACALLAO: That's David Owens, president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.

OWENS: A good truck driver can get a job anywhere in the country any time. There's a huge shortage of good people that we need desperately. So yes.

BACALLAO: But he says another union job will be hard to find. Tennessee, like nearly half of U.S. states, is a right-to-work state, which makes it harder for unions to get members and financial support. Owens says that unions aren't popular among the small trucking company he represents.

OWENS: We've got over 15,000 member companies, and there may be one or two that are union.

BACALLAO: Owens says the union is what broke Yellow. But driver Cullen says the union is what made Yellow.

CULLEN: We took pay cuts for several years to keep them in business. If it hadn't been for us giving back, this company would have went out of business a long time ago.

BACALLAO: Yellow has not responded to requests for comment. For NPR News, I'm Marianna Bacallao in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marianna Bacallao