January 18, 2010: This month our nation and Teamster members remember and celebrate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and countless other civil rights activists.
But for many Teamsters, Dr. King’s fight continues.
Thousands of Teamsters still face discrimination, even at some of the biggest Teamster employers. Just ask UPS Teamsters in Lumberton in rural eastern North Carolina.
UPS management targeted Black and Native American drivers and imposed harsher discipline on these drivers.
UPS drivers got organized and they filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Their charge is now being investigated.
UPS isn’t alone. On Dec. 10, the EEOC filed suit against YRC. They charged that that Black Teamsters at the Chicago Ridge terminal faced stricter discipline and got the worst job assignments.
Workers at Chicago Ridge even saw a hangman’s noose and racist graffiti put up in the terminal.
The Right to Organize
Dr. King died fighting for workers’ right to organize in Memphis.
But the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has been held up in Congress by corporate lobbyists and weak politicians.
The new law would make it easier for workers who want a union to organize, and it would impose harsher penalties on employers who break the law and harass or fire union supporters.
Our union supports the Employee Free Choice Act. Passing EFCA would honor what Dr. King died fighting for—and help hundreds of thousands of workers exercise their right to organize.
“Martin Luther King said you have to stand up for the right thing, even if it’s not popular,” said Nichele Fulmore, a Lumberton Teamster in Local 391.
“We still have people who don’t want to do the right thing—in management and also in this union. They’re happy when members are divided. As rank and filers we must stand up for what is right even if this means standing up to union leaders. Remember Dr. King also said, ‘An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
Martin Luther King’s Fight for Worker Rights
In 1968, two Memphis garbage workers were crushed to death by a faulty garbage truck compressor.
Thousands of Black garbage workers went on strike. The city of Memphis refused to recognize their union or negotiate. Trash piled up.
With signs saying “I Am A Man,” Memphis workers brought together a broad coalition of labor, religious, and community members and leaders—including Dr. Martin Luther King.
On April 3, King delivered a powerful speech to the striking workers and called for a mass march of strikers and community supporters. The next day he was shot and killed.
The workers held their march. The city gave in to strikers’ demands, and the workers in Memphis won the right to organize and have a union contract.
You can listen to King’s speech and read an account of the strike here.