Building Union Power by Putting Members First

The newly-elected Members First Slate is living up to its name in the 14,000-member Local 135.

135.strike_thumb.jpgTeamsters in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan swept the Members First Slate into office in the 14,000-mem-ber Local 135 last fall.

Less than one hundred days into their first term, the new leadership is living up to its name and rebuilding union power by putting members first.

Members are stepping up. In the past, Local 135 general membership meetings might draw little to no attendance. But 271 members turned out for the first General Membership Meeting of the year—on New Year’s Day no less.

Sean O’Brien and Fred Zuckerman swore in President-elect Dustin Roach and the new Executive Board.

Contract Campaigns

Under the previous leadership, Local 135 business agents were banned from communicating with members about negotiations.

In the new Local 135, closed-door negotiations are out and contract campaigns are in.

More than 200 members attended a Contract Campaign Summit to learn about the local’s new approach to contract negotiations.

“You build bargaining power by informing, uniting and involving other members,” said Dustin Roach. “That’s what we ran on and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Roach set the tone for the local’s new fighting spirit by spending the days before his swearing in on the picket line with striking MonoSol workers in northern Indiana.

The month-long strike won major improvements, including pay increases, additional vacation, an improved healthcare plan, and protections against excessive overtime.

“We’re sending a message to every employer. Local 135 members are through taking givebacks and moving backwards,” Roach said.

Coordinated Bargaining

Local 135 is also using coordinated bargaining to build members’ leverage at the bargaining table.

At Sysco they are teaming up with Louisville Local 89, where members are also in contract negotiations with the food distribution giant.

Sysco Teamsters from both locals sat in on each other’s contract negotiations and launched a coordinated Contract Unity Pledge, with members pledging to stand together to win on wage increases, better healthcare, protection from harassment on the job, and other contract issues.

The slogan for the coordinated contract campaign at Sysco is “Stronger Together.” The same principle is being put to work by more than 1,200 Local 135 members in the grocery industry at Kroger, Transervice, Quickway, and Zenith, who share similar conditions but work under separate contracts.

“We’ve got many employers but we all work for a common big boss and that’s Kroger,” said Vance Smith. “We’re going to stick together to win the contracts we deserve.”

Education for Union Power

The new leadership has hit the ground running with an aggressive schedule of educational trainings and strategy meetings.

Two hundred members attended a Contract Campaign Summit to pre-pare for contract negotiations and brainstorm ideas for contract campaign actions at UPS, Sysco, and Kroger-related employers.

Local 135 also hosted a shop steward training open to any interested member, featuring speakers from the IBT Training and Development Department.

Local 135 is teaming up with TDU and Labor Notes to hold a day-long educational conference for Teamsters and members of other unions.  

Putting Dues to Work for the Members

New leadership has also implemented financial reforms to eliminate waste and put members’ dues to work building union power.

The new executive board put an end to bloated severance pay and vacation pay-outs after the previous leaders racked up around half a mil-lion dollars in pay-outs on their way out the door.

The new leadership has also reduced their own salaries.

The local has added five business agents. Two of the new BAs are women, joining Secretary Treasurer Sarah Revard, who for years was the only woman on union staff.

Active Rank and File

The rank-and-file members who brought the 135 Members First Slate into office have not stopped organizing.

They launched an Indiana TDU chapter to keep building union power from the bottom up.

“You’re the force multipliers for our local,” Dustin Roach told TDU members. “Rank-and-file power is how we got here, and we’re not going to stop.”

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