May 1, 2008: Local 804 has a proud history as one of the most powerful locals in our union. Local 804 members were pioneers in the fight for strong Teamster pensions—winning 25 & Out pensions before the rest of the country. The Local 804 supplement is one of the strongest at UPS.
“Brown can’t move a package in New York City without a Local 804 Teamster. That gives us power, and our local used to use it to win top contracts and pensions,” says Tim Sylvester, a 29-year Teamster and Local 804 shop steward in Queens.
“Local 804 members used to feel that power,” Sylvester said. “We want to bring the pride and the power back.”
Local 804 has faced a series of setbacks since the historic UPS strike.
The local’s legendary president Ron Carey, the first democratically-elected General President of the Teamsters, stepped down shortly after the strike after an illegal fundraising scheme by his campaign aides was revealed. Carey was later barred from the union even though he was found not guilty in court of any role in the scandal.
After Carey’s removal, Local 804 officers threw their allegiance behind Hoffa and have gone along with his closed-door bargaining style.
“That was a big blow,” said Pete Mastrandrea, a feeder driver and 33-year Teamster. “Local 804 had always been about standing up. But our Executive Board started to take the path of least resistance.”
Pension Cuts, Concessions
“We went from a local where information was power to members basically being kept in the dark,” said Jim Reynolds, an alternate steward.
In November 2006, members were completely blindsided when the Local 804 Pension Fund announced a 30 percent cut in pension accruals. One year later, Local 804 officials negotiated a concessionary contract with UPS.
“That’s when it really hit the fan,” Reynolds said. He and other Teamsters started holding meetings of concerned members from across the local. They launched a Vote No campaign and helped defeat the contract by a three to one vote.
Local 804 negotiators and UPS were forced to return to the bargaining table. UPS agreed to reverse the 2006 pension cuts, and took other concessions off the table, including its demand to eliminate 25 & Out pensions for new Teamsters.
After the contract vote, leaders of the Vote No campaign got together to propose positive changes.
“We wanted to get to the root of the problem, one of which is the lack of information members were getting from our union,” Reynolds said.
Volunteers circulated petitions to change the Local 804 bylaws to require officers to keep members informed during bargaining and to report on the pension and welfare funds at every membership meeting. Two thousand members signed each petition.
Last month, the bylaw changes were approved by more than 90 percent. Even Local 804 president Howard Redmond endorsed the proposals.
“After such an overwhelming number of members signed, the changes were pretty impossible to oppose,” said Mark Cohen, a package car driver from Brooklyn.
“There’s a lot of frustration. Not everybody is ready to take the next step and get involved. But more and more people are saying things have got to change,” said Cohen.
“The good thing about the petition was that members got over the fear of putting their name on something, the fear that if you speak out then somehow you’re going against the union. We’re behind our union and we want to make it better.”
Local 804 members once enjoyed the best pensions at UPS. But not anymore. Many UPS Teamsters now have superior pensions, especially for 30 & Out. Most UPSers will see their pension accrual climb over the life of this contract. The 804 pension accrual is frozen at the 2002 level of $144 a year.
Members are using their rights under the Pension Protection Act to request information from the pension plan to look at why the fund developed funding problems and investigate what can be done to improve benefits in the future.
“The last couple of years have been a real wake-up call as far as our pension is concerned,” said Bill Reynolds, a package car driver on Long Island and one of the members who has pressed the fund to release the documents.
“I was told by an Executive Board member that I could sleep sound at night knowing that my pension is safe—and one month later the fund announced a pension cut,” Reynolds said. “Members are realizing we have to be better informed and more vigilant about protecting our benefits.”
Other Teamster pension funds have complied with these information requests—but the Local 804 fund has refused to turn over the documents. Members are now working with TDU pension attorney Ann Curry Thompson to get the information they are entitled to.
Local 804 members are also working together on the shop floor—where strong unionism starts.
“Management is always pushing people to work faster. I don’t like the intimidation tactics or the harassment,” said Rob Glovitz, an inside worker and steward.
“We want things to be done right—to stop supervisors from working as much as possible, to eliminate favoritism, to make people feel comfortable that they can come to work without being harassed,” said Glovitz.
“The union is about more than the union hall. We’re the union—the ones who move the packages. If we want to make things better, it’s up to us.”
Restoring the Power
“We all have a responsibility to leave our union stronger than it was when we got here. That’s what Local 804 Members United is all about,” says Tim Sylvester.
“This board takes the position that if you speak out, you’re trying to divide the union. It’s totally the opposite,” Mastrandrea says. “When members voice their opinion, it strengthens the union because we’re setting our course together. What the membership is saying now is we want to see our local stand up and take action on the problems we face.”
“You hear so many stories about how it used to be, how the company used to fear our local. I don’t see that anymore,” said Mark Cohen. “No one wants a fight at work everyday—but we do want respect. We’ve got to work together and act like a union in the center. That’s where it all starts.”
“It’s up to all of us to take the next step, to hand out information, come to a meeting, to get involved.”