February 17, 2007: Teamster drivers are often called upon to honor picket lines. The law regarding where and when workers can picket— or legally respect another picket line—can get complicated.
When union members are on strike, Teamster drivers need clear communication from our union—and we need it fast. The national UPS, freight and carhaul agreements all include strong language protecting Teamster drivers’ right to respect primary picket lines. The National Labor Relations Act also protects this right.
A primary picket line is, in general, one set up by workers against their own employer. So if workers from Company A are on strike, workers from Company B can generally refuse to cross picket lines set up outside Company A, unless their union contract says otherwise.
This is a general rule. The law regarding where and when workers can picket—or legally respect another picket line—can get complicated depending on the strike.
Pennsylvania Turnpike Strike—How Not to Build Solidarity
When picket lines go up, the IBT needs to be more efficient about getting information out to local unions and members. The recent strike on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is a case in point.
Last Thanksgiving, 1,800 Pennsylvania Turnpike Teamsters struck in a fight over job security and health benefits. UPS management told Teamsters to use the turnpike if they valued their jobs.
With management issuing threats, Teamster drivers were kept in the dark. The IBT didn’t issue a directive about the picket line until the final day of the strike. Up to that point, locals and members were left to sort out the confusion on their own.
Drivers from New Jersey locals stopped to call their local union halls before entering the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They report that business agents said they had no knowledge of a toll takers strike and could not get any information from the IBT. Other drivers from North Jersey locals say there were told by business agents to cross the line if the conditions were safe.
Some Teamster locals built strike solidarity. They posted notices stating that the tollbooths were lawful primary picket lines within the meaning of Teamster contracts.
But their efforts were hampered by lack of clear information and direction from the International.
The turnpike strike could have built strength through Teamster solidarity. Instead, the confusion caused by lack of information from the IBT has pitted Teamster against Teamster.
‘Toll Workers Were Outraged’
“Obviously, the toll workers were outraged when they saw some UPS drivers using the turnpike. Since then, I’ve been called a scab, a Teamster traitor, and a lot of stuff you can’t print,” one Local 384 feeder driver told Convoy Dispatch. “But when I called my local about my rights, they gave me no information. Our Teamster leaders really let us down.”
During the strike, UPS fired several Local 30 Teamster drivers for honoring the line. The IBT has stood up for these members; they won their jobs back and are grieving for back pay.
When Teamsters or other union members are on strike, the IBT needs to come out early with clear information for local unions so they can inform Teamster members on their right to honor the picket line.
United we win.