Held every five years, the Teamster Convention is the top decision-making body in our union. The next convention is scheduled for June 2006 in Las Vegas. TDU members have resolved to crash the party with an action plan to rebuild Teamster power.
“Our dues are up but our union is shrinking. Officer salaries are growing and members’ pensions are being cut. Anyway you look at it, our union is getting weaker. The Hoffa administration needs a wake-up call and we’re going to give it to them at the Teamster Convention,” says Antonio Caldera of Chicago Local 743.
In late 2005 and early 2006, every Teamster local will hold an election to select delegates to the IBT Convention. TDU members recently voted to make fielding reform slates in these delegate elections a major priority for our organization in the coming year.
Nominating Candidates for Top Teamster Office
“From nominating candidates for International office to amending the constitution, the Teamster Convention is where it all happens,” said Bill Zimmerman, of Oregon Local 206, who was an elected delegate to the 1996 and 2001 Teamster Conventions.
Candidates for International office are officially nominated at the Teamster Convention. Candidates need to be nominated by at least 5% of the delegates to be eligible to run in the 2006 election.
“At the 2006 Convention, we’ll be able to nominate candidates for the International union election that will really fight for rank and file Teamsters,” Zimmerman added.
“My local officers still support Hoffa, but after the dues increase and the pension cuts, members feel very different,” says Nichelle Fulmore, a UPS package car driver in Lumberton, N.C. “It’s vital that we send dedicated rank and file members to the convention who will stand up for the rights of the membership.”
Winning New Constitutional Rights
The delegates to the IBT Convention also have the power to amend everything in the Teamster constitution.
Many of the protections Teamster members now enjoy were first proposed as constitutional amendments by reform delegates, including:
- The right to vote for international union officers,
- The right to vote for convention delegates,
- Majority rule on contracts,
- The right to vote on contract supplements and riders,
- Salary caps for international union officials,
- Sovereignty for Canadian Teamsters.
Delegates to next year’s convention will have the chance to introduce new constitutional reforms—like requiring a membership vote on any dues increase, capping bloated officers’ salaries at a reasonable rate, increasing funding for organizing the nonunion competition, and making pension fund trustees accountable to the members.
“I want to see delegates on the floor of that convention who are willing to stand up and demand that pension fund trustees be accountable to the members,” says Rick Sather of Local 638, who works at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
“We’re going to put together a strong team of delegate candidates and we’re going to make the voice of the members heard.”
Strengthening Teamster Reform in Your Local
Running for delegate can mean more than being part of a movement for national change. It can also boost your efforts to rebuild Teamster power in your local union.
Milwaukee Teamsters Tim Buban and Darryl Connell say running for delegate helped reformers win the Local 200 officers’ election.
“We ran a slate in the 2001 delegate election and won,” Buban says. “Members got to know us and what we stood for. It also built up our campaign network. There’s no doubt that winning the delegate election helped put us over the top in the local race.”
Unlike local elections, the delegate races are overseen by an independent election administrator. The election rules will be similar to those used in past national elections with important protections that level the playing field for rank and file challengers.
What You Can Do Now
TDU members are gearing up now for these important delegate races. It starts with letting members know what’s at stake at the convention and why the delegate races are so important.
“In the past, our local officers just nominated themselves and no one else ran for delegate,” says Barry Strohl, a Roadway driver in Greenville,S.C., who belongs to Local 28.
“This time it will be different. We’ve already started working to make sure that members have a choice in the delegate elections. We need to send people to the Teamster convention who will represent the members, not their own personal interests.”
To be eligible to run for delegate, candidates need to have paid their dues on time each month for 24 months before the delegate election.
Contact TDU today at (313) 842-2600 for more information or to set up a workshop on running for delegate.
Yellow Freight is about to utilize combination jobs in the Midwest to facilitate the movement of “Premium Service” (one- and two-day delivery) freight. The change of operations was modified and approved at a hearing on Dec. 16 in Dallas.
January 28, 2005: This is the start-up operation for Yellow to test out the letter of understanding that the union agreed to insert into Article 18 of the NMFA, allowing combination road-dock employees to move premium service freight. The letter of understanding clearly states that it is “not intended to divert other traffic from the present method of operation and deprive employees of premium day work opportunities.” But Yellow is going to do exactly those things.
Management initially proposed that they be permitted to divert up to 15% of existing freight to “prime the pump” in the premium service operation. After strong opposition from members and some local unions (why didn’t all locals oppose it?), management made changes. The change of operations now states that only 9% of existing freight can be diverted. That amount could still be a lot: If Yellow were to extend this operation nationwide and divert 9% of existing freight, some 1,600 Teamster jobs could get downgraded.
The other major modification was to take out several locals, including some larger ones, so there will be no premium service employees in Cleveland,Chicago, Dayton, or Cincinnati. But premium service drivers from the satellites will come into those terminals. This modification helped cool some locals’ opposition.
Most Teamsters we hear from are surprised to see just how quickly the “no diversion of existing freight” clause was allowed to be violated.
The number of initial premium service positions was reduced to just 21. So in the beginning this is a small deviation from our contract. The larger issue remains: is this an opening that management will push through and expand over and over? Or will it be contained and allow the employer to increase market share in express freight, while preserving our jobs and working conditions? That will be answered by the vigilance of the members and union leadership.
January 28, 2005: More people are working more hours than ever before in the U.S. The drive to press more production out of fewer workers is putting a squeeze on workers and their families.
Teamsters are no exception. Ask the family of a freight road driver, a UPS package car driver, or a grocery warehouse selector—nearly every Teamster jurisdiction has its own excessive overtime horror story.
Teamsters have consistently rated excessive work as one of their top concerns. In a recent survey by TDU, UPS members said that overtime was their top concern after the issues of pension and health benefits.
Family life is one casualty of excessive overtime. A Teamster may not see his or her children for more than minutes on a work night—or not at all—and then be too tired to take advantage of weekend time.
Another casualty: overworked, tired workers are more likely to have accidents. They are also more susceptible to repetitive strain injuries and back injuries. Among drivers, fatigue is a major contributor to vehicle accidents.
As the Local 206 example (below) shows, it is possible to win and enforce contract language that protects against excessive overtime.
The IBT should make this issue a strategic priority since it affects so many Teamsters, our families, and our communities.
TDU analyzed the results of a large number of local union elections, with over 100,000 total members. In many of these elections, old guard officials (often the incumbents) lost. Many other officers barely survived strong challenges from rank and file slates who ran on a platform of a new direction.
From Nashville, Tenn., to RenoNev., and from WashingtonD.C. to Cincinnati, members voted for change in many local unions.
In some cases, officials loyal to the Hoffa administration won, but by narrow margins. In New York Local 237, International Vice President Carl Haynes faced his strongest ever challenge, but survived with 53% of the vote. Reform slates took 47% in Minnesota Local 638 and 49% in Memphis Local 667.
Turning Frustration in Positive Direction
“Members are very upset about the decline of Teamster power. In TDU, we’re working to turn that frustration in a positive direction and build Teamster power,” said TDU International Steering Committee member Larry Macdonald. In November, Macdonald was elected secretary-treasurer of Georgia Local 728.
TDU members are gearing up now for 2005 fall elections, and for elections for Convention delegate that will happen in all local unions in the fall of 2005 or March-April 2006. Rank and file reform candidates consistently do well in delegate elections.
David Thornsberry of 15,000-member Louisville Local 89 recently told the TDU Convention, that, “Members are angry about the pension cuts and poor representation and they’re looking to our local election to do something about it.”
Rank and file power is on the increase. The time is now to plan to make it effective.
Two years into the current UPS contract, TDU conducted a survey of UPS Teamsters to determine what they think about their jobs, the union and issues they face in the workplace. Nearly 1,000 UPSers from across the U.S. filled in the survey. When it came down to issues, two in particular far outdistanced the others.
Pension and Health Benefits
Sixty-two percent said that pension benefits were the single most important issue facing UPS workers. Far fewer than half of respondents said they were planning to retire during the life of the current contract, indicating that pensions are front and center even for many members who are not on the verge of retirement. Seventy-two percent rated health care coverage as either first or second most important.
When asked to rate the Hoffa administration on living up to their promises on benefits, an overwhelming 95% said that Hoffa had failed to follow through. Sixty nine percent said that their plans for retirement had changed as a result.
Members also have strong and clear feelings about management non-compliance with the contract.
Sixty-one percent said that management rarely lives up to the agreement. Only 1% said that management always complies.
Most Common Violations
The area of the contract least often obeyed is the prohibition against supervisors doing our work; 59% said this provision was violated most often. Members said relief from overtime was the second most common contract violation. Subcontracting came in a close third with 13% citing it as the most common violation. Forty-seven percent said that subcontracting was happening constantly or frequently.
When it comes to the grievance procedure 50% said that it has deteriorated. Forty-five percent said that grievance panels rarely reach decisions on the merits of the cases and 87% said that horse-trading of grievances was common.
Working Safe (and Surviving Until Retirement)
Are UPS jobs becoming less safe? Eighty-one percent said that they had been injured in some way on the job. Sixty-three percent said they had to handle over-70-pound packages without help on at least a daily basis. Sixty-nine percent said that accident and injury rates have risen under the new Smart Label/Preload Assist programs.
Though UPS management does a poor job living up to the contract, there is one thing at which they are quite good: 85% said that management had in place so-called safety bingo programs, under which workers are rewarded for underreporting accidents and injuries.
Back to the Future: Preload Assist
One element of the future for UPS workers is the Preload Assist/Smart Label system. Half of the respondents say they now have these programs at their workplace, and they are quite clear about the effects. Ninety-one percent said that stop counts increased under it. Seventy-five percent said that preload positions have been reduced. Still, only 17% of respondents said preload assist was meeting UPS management expectations.
The Teamsters and UNITE HERE jointly represent about 8,000 Gate Gourmet workers nationally, with individual locations represented by one union or split (drivers as Teamsters). The IBT represents 3,500 members in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Memphis.
The notice of a strike vote came as a surprise to many members. There had been little information coming from the IBT about the status of negotiations, which are being led by IBT Western Region Warehouse Director Steve Vairma.
Gate Gourmet is demanding huge concessions, including:
- Big wage cuts with top wages for some workers as low as $8 an hour,
- Company health insurance contributions cut to $100 a month maximum,
- Eliminating pension and 401(k) plans,
- Making 15% of workers part-time employees with no benefits.
To resist this attack, the national leadership of the IBT and UNITE HERE need a plan to put pressure on Gate Gourmet and its owners, the Texas Pacific Group (TPG). TPG is a private investment company with over $13 billion in assets. It owns Burger King, Motorola, and the clothing store J. Crew, so it has deep pockets.
Reportedly the new CEO is behind the union-busting approach the company is taking.
What Is the Plan?
The union leadership has demanded that health premiums be no more that $40 per month for each worker and that important on-the-job protections be instated, along with wage increases.
What is the plan to win? That is what is needed from the IBT/UNITE HERE Council.
The Gate Gourmet Teamsters appear headed for a battle. All of labor should stand with them.
Meatpacking is dangerous work—especially at Tyson’s plant in Pasco, Wash., where Teamster members are injured at three times the national average for comparable meatpacking plants. Tyson Teamsters know they can’t beat a multinational corporation on their own. Since electing a reform leadership in 2000, Local 556 members have built alliances with unions, community groups, and human rights organizations to work together to promote workers’ rights and consumer safety at Tyson.
Working with these allies, Local 556 members have exposed corporate wage and hour violations and won a $7.3 million court settlement in unpaid wages—with another $8 million victory anticipated in state court. When a Local 556 Teamster lost his arm in a grisly accident, a union investigation revealed that the company had knowingly removed a safety mechanism from the machine.
Tyson management has responded to this stand-up local by trying to destroy it. In April 2004 management tried to get workers to decertify the Teamsters. Tyson failed and workers voted to remain Teamsters and begin contract negotiations. But instead of respecting the workers’ vote and bargaining in good faith, Tyson stalled at the bargaining table, cancelled dues check-off, and demanded a new decertification vote.
In November, Tyson threatened to impose a five-year contract that would freeze workers’ wages and eliminate workers’ union rights like dues check-off and union security—effectively ending union representation at the plant. Tyson workers responded by overwhelmingly signing a petition rejecting the company’s offer. Tyson has now agreed to meet with the union and a federal mediator on Jan. 11-13.
Local 556 Teamsters are not asking for the moon. But Tyson is trying to force Teamsters to accept an agreement that is vastly inferior to what they agreed to in numerous recent contract settlements.
In their struggle for justice at Tyson Foods, Local 556 has received solidarity from Teamster locals as well as community groups and labor organizations across the U.S., Japan, Korea and Mexico—Tyson’s largest markets. With our support, these brave Teamsters can beat the union-busters and win a contract at Tyson Foods.
Local 556 is asking members to fax and mail a letter demanding a fair contract settlement in 2005. Letters cards can be sent to Mr. John Tyson, CEO Tyson Foods, Inc., 2210 West Oaklawn Drive, P.O. Box 2020, Springdale, Ark. 72762 and faxed to (479) 290-4028.
That’s how Larry McDonald, president of Toronto Local 938, recommended a new six-year contract to over 1,000 UPS Teamsters in Ontario. Teamster officials repeated this threat elsewhere to sell a deal that was actually worse than what the company offered before the two-day UPS Canada strike on November 22-23.
The second vote came on a contract with a six-year term, instead of the previously offered four-and-a-half. In exchange the union got a tiny pension increase for full-timers, from $55 per year of service to $56.50, and an additional 15 cents per hour wage hike for part-timers. Was this worth giving the company an extra 18 months? There is not even retroactive pay back to the August 31 expiration date!
After calling a 36-hour strike, Teamster officials apparently figured that workers would “vote right” the second time, after the first deal was rejected by a 2-1 margin. To make sure, they added the threat of closure to the sales pitch.
UPS might close in Canada? The company is rapidly expanding all over the world. How likely is UPS to close up in a major industrial nation that is next door to the mother-ship U.S. market? UPS Canada gets 40% of its volume from shipments to and from the U.S.
The November 22-23 strike caught the company off guard, since they had a deal with the officials. But that deal was rejected in locals across the country.
Several important issues triggered the rejection. Full-time wages are $21 Canadian per hour, $3 behind U.S. wages. The contract (both offers) provides only 60 cents per year in wage hikes; thus Canadian Teamsters will fall even farther behind their U.S. brothers and sisters. The pension is also far below what is provided in most plans in the U.S. The settlement contains concessions, like extended progression times to reach eligibility for benefits and union wages. UPS part-timers make less than those at Purolator and FedEx in Canada and comprise some 65% of the UPS Canada workforce.
Pilots Stand Tall
The deal—announced on November 23—came just after the pilots’ union said it would honor picket lines in the United States if the Teamsters union decided to block goods coming out of Canada.
“In the last 24 hours UPS has moved management pilots from the United States into Canada,” said Captain Tom Nicholson, president of the Independent Pilots Association. He went on to say, “IPA will honor any Teamster primary picket line established in the U.S. or honor any declaration by the IBT that there are struck Teamster goods moving in the UPS system.”
In marked contrast, the U.S. Teamster leadership did nothing to extend support before or during the strike. In fact, although this was the largest Teamster strike of 2004, it was never even mentioned on the Teamster website until it was over! (Then it got five sentences, with no mention of the strike issues.) No information was issued to the 200,000 UPS Teamsters in the U.S. or even to local unions, to build solidarity across the border. There were no offers of solidarity if picket lines came to the border or to U.S. facilities or air hubs.
UPS Teamsters in Canada now have a contract, and their comments indicate they have learned a lot in the process. UPS Teamsters have not been very involved in the life of our union in Canada, but it appears that is soon to change.
January 28, 2005: The incumbents determine whether it will be a walk-in or mail-in. They set the dates. They make all the rules. They run the nominations meeting. They rule on who is eligible. They have access to all the shops. They control the printing, mailing, balloting and counting. They run the whole shebang.
Then they lose, and claim the election was stolen!
Sounds weird, but IBT President James Hoffa buys it, whenever he feels like it. He did it in Milwaukee Local 200 (reformers won bigger the second time). He did it in Washington D.C. Local 639 (his running mate lost the second time, in a sweep). He’s done it in other cases, and will no doubt do it again, until he is stopped.
The last IBT president to use this dirty tactic was racketeer Jackie Presser. But Hoffa seems to want to outdo him.
Fortunately, reformers who take office on Jan. 1 inevitably win by a bigger margin in the “vote till you get it right” rerun. That trick has never worked when reformers were allowed to take office. Teamsters resent having their vote stolen, and react accordingly.
Will Hoffa try it once again in Georgia Local 728? (The incumbent BAs ran the show, then cry-babied after they lost.) Will Hoffa try it in Georgia Local 528? (His appointed Trustee Doug Norris ran the election, and then whined after he lost.)
In 12,000-member Local 743 in Chicago, those who believe they “own” the union used a special trick. They stopped the count with reformer Richard Berg seven votes ahead of the incumbent, and ordered a quickie re-vote.
They then used even more dirty tricks, and spent an estimated $100,000 on their campaign to keep their $100,000 salaries, and won. The Local 743 New Leadership Slate is going to deal with the issue legally.
All Teamsters believe in democracy. We respect the fact that Hoffa was elected our Teamster president, and that our local union officers were elected—not in stolen elections, but in fair elections; not “vote till you get it right,” but “respect the right of members to decide.”
All Teamsters, regardless of viewpoint, need to unite to protect our right to vote. We fought too hard to win that right to let anyone undermine it.
TDU welcomes our new brothers and sisters across North America into the Teamsters. GCIU will now be an autonomous printing trades conference within our union.
Those in favor of the merger have expressed hope that the Teamsters will help them in their fight against the giant antiunion corporation Quebecor World, and will provide political clout. Support came especially from GCIU members who work alongside Teamsters at newspapers. In addition, one large California district council voted heavily for the merger. In the other regions of the country, the vote was fairly evenly split. Overall, 35,000 members voted, with 52% voting yes.
Throughout the process many leaders at all levels of the GCIU voiced strong opposition to the merger, citing concerns about the Teamsters’ ability to protect pensions or help the GCIU stabilize its membership. The Committee to Save GCIU, a union-wide group of members and leaders, also noted that the Teamster structure is more centralized and “top-down” than what they have now in the GCIU.
The GCIU carries a proud tradition of standing up to employers. Moreover, the members traditionally have a distaste for closed-door meetings and backroom deals. We invite all GCIU members to meet like-minded Teamsters by joining TDU to work for democracy and the very highest trade union principles within the IBT.