NEMF, a big carrier with a colorful history, goes bust

February 13, 2019

John Bendel

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New England Motor Freight, a New Jersey-based LTL, filed for bankruptcy this week, just one year after its 100th anniversary. With 1,550 power units, 40 terminals and 3,700 employees, NEMF, as the company is known, is the largest carrier to fail since legendary Consolidated Freightways died in 2002, putting 15,000 Teamsters out of work.

Over the years, NEMF has been associated – at least in the press if not directly – with the likes of Jimmy Hoffa, a Supreme Court Justice, and the Beatles.

That’s a lot of name-dropping for a North Jersey trucking company.

NEMF began in 1918, hauling products for Nabisco bakeries, or so goes the unverified history. It acquired the name New England Motor Freight around the time it was bought by Farmland Dairies of Bergen County, N.J. Farmland sold the carrier in 1977 to Myron Shevell, a New Jersey trucking executive known as Mike. Mike is still around at 83.

Before taking over NEMF, Mike Shevell and his younger brother, Dan, operated an LTL outfit called Eastern Freightways. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Eastern began buying out other LTLs. These days, one carrier acquires another for its customer list and more often for its drivers. In those regulated days before 1980, it was usually for operating authority – the right to pick up, deliver, and haul in specified areas.

Unlike its competitors, Eastern drivers peddled most local freight in its core New York City area not from straight trucks but from 40- and 45-foot trailers. It was a tough way to do things, but they were good at it.

An aggressive Eastern Freightways grew quickly, and in one spectacular burst nearly became one of the largest carriers in the U.S. That was in 1975 when the Shevells attempted to take over Associated Transport, an LTL many times its size. Unwieldy and inefficient, Associated Transport had its headquarters in midtown Manhattan on pricey Madison Avenue – not a sign of frugal management. The spectacular burst proved fatal.

The merger resulted in the collapse of both companies. Dan Shevell shot himself to death during the debacle. The family was still sensitive about the subject, refusing to even acknowledge it when I proposed a profile of the company for Heavy Duty Trucking magazine 25 years later. The profile never happened.

In any case, Mike Shevell carried on, buying NEMF from Farmland Dairies in 1977. NEMF had 55 units, four terminals, and a contract with the Teamsters at the time. Under Mike Shevell’s leadership, NEMF began to grow. It continued to grow even after deregulation three years later in 1980. That’s the year other Teamster LTLs began to die as nonunion truckloads sprang up everywhere. First the old-time LTLs lost what truckload business they had. Then they lost their large LTL shipments.

In the years that followed, Teamster LTLs failed one after the other. Meanwhile, nonunion LTLs grew. So did unionized NEMF.

It wasn’t impossible for a union LTL to grow then, but it was remarkable.

Maybe it was Mike Shevell’s business savvy. He served as chairman of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association and vice chairman of the board of directors of New Jersey Transit. He was a regional director of the Bank of New York and a member of the National Defense Executive Reserve of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Impressive credentials.

He also dealt with mobsters. They included Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, widely believed to have ordered the hit on Teamster legend Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. Hoffa’s body was never found.

During the 1980s as NEMF was growing, the U.S. Justice Department was investigating the Teamsters Union. The U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey was specifically after notorious Local 560, run for years by Provenzano and his brothers.

According to court documents filed by the New Jersey federal prosecutor, “throughout the period between late 1975 and mid-1986 Myron Shevell, on behalf of NEMF, cultivated a corrupt relationship with certain officials of Local 560 including Anthony Provenzano, Stephen Andretta, Henry Slyboom, Daniel Rubino and Peter Granello as a result of which NEMF obtained sweetheart benefits from Local 560.” According to the filing, Local 560 officials conspired with Shevell to “sabotage grievances” against NEMF.

That’s one way to make union problems go away.

The U.S. prosecutor who brought those charges was Samuel Alito, now a conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alito’s charges never went to trial, so Mike Shevell does not have a criminal record. The Teamsters Union was essentially taken over by the U.S. government in 1989. No criminal behavior on the part of Shevell or NEMF has been reported since then.

In 1994, Mike Shevell launched a truckload operation and in a surge of nostalgia named it after the family’s first company, Eastern Freightways. The new Eastern Freightways used the same logo and colors of the original. Eastern has also shut down as part of the NEMF bankruptcy.

Oh yes. The Beatles connection.

Mike Shevell’s daughter Nancy was a vice president of NEMF. Reportedly worth $200 million, she played a major part in running the company. In 2011, Nancy Shevell married former Beatle Paul McCartney. Ringo was at the wedding.

John Bendel

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon, and longtime truck writer, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer for New York Times. There’s more, but in short, his insight and matchless style of writing makes “Gizmos and Gears” a runaway reader favorite.

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