February 5, 2005: The contracts that cover about 8,000 Teamster drivers, warehouse workers and office clerks in the Southern California grocery industry are set to expire Sept. 15, 2005.
Coming on the heels of last year’s grueling four-and-a-half month strike and lockout of the UFCW store clerks, these negotiations are sure to be some of the toughest and most demanding in recent history.
Are the employers in a position to take us on like they did the clerks? Is the Teamster leadership prepared to battle the company if necessary? These, and many others, are the questions that rank and filers are asking.
“We will never know exactly what the companies are going to do, and sometimes it is difficult for us to be certain what our Teamster leadership will do. But one thing is for sure: the rank and file grocery industry Teamsters had better be prepared for whatever possibilities we may face,” says Chuck Robinson, a driver for Albertsons.
A New Era
These negotiations mark the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. The long-time union negotiating chair, Jerry Vercruse, passed away last year and the new chair is IBT Vice President Jim Santangelo, who is also the head of Joint Council 42.
Santangelo did an abysmal job during the UFCW strike, so rank and file Teamsters had better be prepared if we want these negotiations to be a success.
I recently contacted the California State Attorney General’s office and obtained a copy of the “Mutual Strike Assistance Agreement” that Ralphs (Kroger), Albertsons, and Vons (Safeway) entered into prior to those negotiations.
Mutual strike assistance? I thought these employers were supposed to be competitors! When it comes to taking on organized labor, these employers are allies and they are united.
Teamster Unity Needed
As Teamsters we need to send the employers a signal that we are just as prepared and united. Management needs to get that message from our leaders—but that’s not enough. The employers need to see the same determination from the ranks. They need to see us getting informed, involved and prepared to take action if necessary to defend our contract and our benefits.
Our union needs a coordinated campaign—with regular contract campaign updates, stickers, petitions, t-shirts, rallies and action days. We need to build a member-to-member communication and mobilization structure to maximize Teamster participation in these activities.
The best way for us to avoid a strike is for the companies to see that we are prepared for one. They need see that members are capable of quickly spreading information and taking rapid action. We can demonstrate that ability by building a strong, effective contract campaign starting now—not waiting until negotiations hit a crisis point.
We also need to make a break with the traditional dinosaur methods of contract negotiations. Rank and filers need to be a part of the negotiating committee, not just officials and business agents.
Rank and file members are the ones most affected by the contract and we deserve a seat at the bargaining table. We should be part of formulating the proposals that are presented to management.
When an offer is ready to be voted on we need to demand that we have an informed vote.
We need ample time to thoroughly review the proposals, and we need everything available in writing. No reading from the podium or side agreements popping up after the vote.
Power of the Rank and File
Teamsters in the grocery industry need to realize the power we possess and the positive gains that we can achieve if we exercise that power effectively. The power of the rank and file is the key to obtaining a quality contract.
It’s our future. Let’s fight for it!
Frank Halstead, Shop Steward
Local 572, Ralphs Grocery Co.