by Bruce Blake, Local 848, Retired
May 9, 2007: Operating on the principle that a strong union is built on rank-and-file involvement, the majority of Local 848 drivers at the Vons grocery warehouse in Los Angeles signed a petition asking for a shop steward election. Local 848 Secretary-Treasurer Jim Santangelo agreed to the petition—but denied members an honest vote.
“The election was a total fraud,” says Howard Palmer, a Vons driver. The members wanted an election at the yards but Santangelo insisted on a mail vote. “A mail vote wrought with improprieties,” Palmer said.
Ballots were mailed to the wrong members in different facilities; there were candidates on the ballot who did not request to run; there was no process to challenge questionable ballots; no eligibility check; observers were kept so far from the counting process they were rendered useless; the returned envelopes were mailed to the local so anyone could discard ballots cast for candidates they did not support; and even more.
“All we want is a fair election, is that so much to ask for?” Palmer said.
An IBT Western Region Vice President and Joint Council 42 President, Santangelo has a history of violating members’ democratic rights. During the 2006 International election almost a dozen charges were upheld against Santangelo for violating member’s rights and election rules.
A recent National Labor Relations Board settlement required Santangelo to post notices that he would not threaten members with physical harm, intimidate members, or refuse to accept and process grievances for arbitrary or discriminatory reasons.
Vons drivers are not the only union members that are getting fed up with the strong-arm tactics. Members at Unified Grocers, Coke, US Foods, and Sysco are also beginning to demand change.
Jim Lewis, a Vons Driver and long time Teamster says that members need to stand up for what is right. “It is our civic duty to stand up to our officials and hold them accountable. Working Teamsters need to demand that our rights be respected and not let officials intimidate them.”