January 10, 2008: Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, where he was organizing support for striking sanitation workers.
Today, many Teamster members still don’t have Martin Luther King Day off, even though it’s a federal holiday. Even worse, at least one Teamster employer marks Martin Luther King Day by laying off Teamster drivers without pay.
This year, Local 807 members are standing up against this practice.
Kraft Foods in Fairlawn, N.J. employs union bakers and Teamster drivers. Confectionery Local 719 members have Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday in their contract—but the Teamster drivers who are covered by the National Master Freight Agreement do not.
For years, Kraft gave the drivers the choice of working on MLK Day or taking the day off without pay. But last year, Kraft laid off every Local 807 driver without pay.
This year, Local 807 members circulated a petition calling on Kraft management “to honor Dr. King’s legacy of standing up for civil and labor rights—not to disrespect it by involuntarily laying us off on Martin Luther King Day.”
The petition goes on to say, “If Kraft is not going to give us MLK Day as a paid holiday like other union employees in Fairlawn, then the company should resume its prior practice of giving each Local 807 member the choice of working or taking the day off without pay.”
Kraft has not yet responded to the petition.
“The Teamsters should be more proactive about winning Martin Luther King Day as a contractual holiday,” said Michael Spruill, the Local 807 driver who launched the petition drive.
“Martin Luther King died supporting union members. He gave his life to win justice for all people. This country would be a shell of itself if it wasn’t for Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement,” Spruill said.
UPDATE: Local 807 members received the backing of the local union and Kraft management agreed to allow members to choose whether they wanted to work the MLK holiday or take the day off. The fight to win Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday under our Teamster contracts continues.