Members Organize to Ban Contract Brownouts

Fed up with information brownouts and contract givebacks, Teamster members in Philadelphia Local 623 and Memphis Local 667 won changes to put more member involvement in contract negotiations by reforming their local union’s bylaws.

hooker-bylaws_thumb.jpgMembers in both locals adopted new bylaws that requires the Local Union to establish a Contract Committee with rank and file members whenever a new contract is being negotiated.

The Contract Committee has to “keep the members informed during bargaining” and “unite and mobilize the membership, and, 
when necessary, labor and/or community support to win the strongest possible contract.”

Building Member Support

The bylaws reform was submitted at the first union meeting of the year in Memphis and Philadelphia. Then, members got busy building support in time for the vote on the amendment.

Tony Hawkins, a Local 667 shop steward at Riviana Foods, identified supportive stewards and activists and asked them to distribute petitions to members on their shifts and departments.

“We’ve been talking about our contract issues for the past three years, and we wanted to make sure we would have a voice in bargaining,” said Hawkins.

“We set a deadline of three days for people to collect signatures in their work areas. I checked in with everyone after two days to make sure they didn’t forget, and to ask how many signatures they had collected so far.

“If I noticed someone who supported our issue was missing from the petition, I asked about that person and we would make a plan to get their signature,” Hawkins said.

Within a week, nearly every Riviana Teamster had signed the petition.

In Philadelphia, the bylaws reform campaign was organized by Richard Hooker and 623 Lives Matter, a movement of UPS workers.

They collected signatures at shift change in the UPS parking lot. Hundreds of members signed a petition supporting the change.

Officers Change Their Tune

Member-to-member organizing mobilized support—and it neutralized opposition by local officers.

At first, local officers in Memphis tried to throw out the bylaws change on a technicality.

Then they made excuses to delay the vote. But when it became clear that hundreds of members supported the reform, the officers changed their tune.

The reform passed unanimously in a vote at the membership meeting in April.

Local 623 officers went along with brownouts and concessions in the last two UPS contracts. Facing a packed room of members, and with one eye on their local election this fall, the officers offered no resistance.

The bylaws reform was unanimously approved in Philadelphia too.

“The vote showed that if you work together and get the members involved we can win change in our union,” Hooker said.


Inform Members and Build Support

THawkins.jpg“We’ve been talking about our contract issues for the past three years, and we wanted to make sure we would have a voice in bargaining,

“We set a deadline of three days for people to collect signatures in their work areas. I checked in with everyone after two days to make sure they didn’t forget, and to ask how many signatures they had collected so far.”

Tony Hawkins, Riviana Foods
Local 667, Memphis

We Can Win When We Work Together

hooker.jpg“The vote showed that if you work together and get the members involved we can win change in our union,”

Richard Hooker, UPS (left)
Local 623, Philadelphia


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  • David Boucher
    commented 2019-06-17 06:38:27 -0400
    While this is a good first step, the members need to keep in mind that negotiations by their very nature require a certain degree of secrecy. Think of it as playing Texas Hold Em. Would you want to put all of you cards on the table or would you prefer that your hold card be kept close to the vest? Contract committees are formed and meetings held to solicit proposal ideas from the members; however, they are not designed to be a part of the actual negotiations. There will never nor should there ever be 100% disclosure of every step in the negotiation process, especially for a contract covering as many members as we have.

    We elect our union officials for a reason———to let them do their jobs——-and can replace them if they fail to do so at the next election.
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