November 21, 2012: The biggest Teamster dairy in New York, Elmhurst Dairy, has been trying to cut costs by dumping higher-paid senior workers for years. This fall, the company offered Teamsters a buyout, but few members took the offer.
So management turned to union-busting instead. Last month, the company laid off the 42 highest seniority Teamsters at the Dairy and replaced them with new hires who start at just $10 an hour.
"Elmhurst thinks they can do anything and they're trying to break the union," says Hammey Boureima, a Local 584 member who has worked at Elmhurst for 15 years. "If the union doesn't stand up and fight, all the companies will do the same thing." Hammey has five children and is not sure how he's going to cover rent this month.
The diary workers set up their own pickets outside the plant and were discussing plans to reach out to the public and major Elmhurst customers to win support for their reinstatement. Political officials spoke out against the firings, and Local 584 and Joint Council 16 issued a call for a rally scheduled for October 24th.
But the company responded by filing for a temporary restraining order against any work stoppage, strike or other interference in the company's normal operations (but not prohibiting leafleting or other outreach to the public or Elmhurst customers.) The Joint Council cancelled the rally and the Local backed off the plans to reach out to Elmhurst customers.
"After they cancelled the rally, the union told us to meet the following Monday and that we'd be leafleting customers and reaching out to the public," says Chester Rodman, who has worked at Elmhurst Dairy for 7 years and has 20 years as a Teamster in the industry. "That Monday happened to be the day Hurricane Sandy hit. Since then, and it's been more than two weeks, we’ve heard nothing about the leaflets or plans to reach customers and demand we be brought back."
The union and company are entering into arbitration over the layoffs and the Local has filed NLRB charges against Elmhurst Dairy for breaking the union contract.
Members voted overwhelmingly to contribute an hour's pay per week to assist the Elmhurst Dairy Teamsters. But none of the Elmhurst workers has yet received any financial assistance from these contributions.
Local 584 members are discussing possible actions and asking what the union's plan is.
"We can't just sit around and leave it up to the courts," said TDU member Shermon Connor, a delivery driver at Tuscan Beyer Farms. "We need to be reaching out to customers and the community to demand Elmhurst bring these guys back to work."