February 21, 2008: Die-hard Freight Teamsters swallowed a bitter pill when the National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA) was approved by a two-to-one margin.
When the most concessionary freight agreement in history was first proposed, freight Teamsters were shocked by the givebacks. That shock turned to anger and a nationwide Vote No movement.
In freight locals across the country, working Teamsters rejected the contract, including New Jersey Freight Local 641, Worcester Local 170, Philadelphia Local 107, Pittsburgh Local 249, the Central Pennsylvania Region, Atlanta Local 728, Cleveland Local 407, Youngstown Local 377, Cincinnati Local 100, Detroit Local 299, Milwaukee Local 200, Rockford Local 325, Seattle Local 174, Portland Local 81, and San Francisco Local 85, and more.
The opposition to the NMFA concessions cut across our union’s political lines. In reform locals and Hoffa strongholds, tens of thousands of freight Teamsters said No to the givebacks and Yes to uniting to defend our contract.
But when the final ballots were tallied, Yellow-Roadway and ABF got what they wanted: utility employees, part-time dock workers, outsourcing road work to carriers who aren’t covered by the NMFA and more.
Why the Contract Passed
Why would the contract pass by a wide margin in some locals, and be defeated in others?
After all, freight Teamsters everywhere understood that the concessions gave away decades of struggle by our union. And the International Union mounted the same sales job everywhere to convince Teamsters that the concessions were necessary to keep the corporation competitive.
So why did the vote tally vary so widely from local to local?
The answer is that in some areas, Teamster members believed their solidarity would make a difference. They saw their fellow Teamsters speaking out and passing out Freight2008 bulletins. They sensed a commitment that other union members wanted to stand up to employer takeaways, not lay down and say “nothing can be done.”
They had the same fear that others had, but they voted No for the future because they saw enough members around them taking a stand, and they wanted to be part of that kind of union solidarity.
“Freight Teamsters in Milwaukee cast an informed vote because of the information we got from TDU and the Freight 2008 website. That’s what made the difference,” said Darryl Connell, an ABF Teamster.
“Local 200 members knew what the problems were with this contract. We saw our fellow Teamsters standing up and we voted the contract down,” Connell said.
We needed to strengthen that network of freight Teamsters who are sharing information and standing united. Where we had it, the contract was rejected. During the short period that the International Union allowed for contract discussion, that movement grew. But not fast enough.
The positive side of this story is that over 1,000 freight Teamsters participated in the Freight2008 network. We need to continue to keep in touch, to reinforce each other, to build a national army of freight Teamsters who are willing to work together to rebuild our union’s power.
A Turning Point
Some freight Teamsters say this marks the end of the line for the National Master Freight Agreement. We don’t think so.
But the wholesale concessions in the 2008 Freight Agreement does mark a turning point—and point to two possible futures for our Teamsters Union.
The Hoffa administration stands for leveling the playing field in our industries by bringing us down toward the nonunion level.
Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the Freight2008 network believe we can defend and improve our contracts and benefits—by mobilizing the power of Teamster solidarity and organizing the nonunion competition into our national contracts and benefit funds.
“I called my business agent to see where the local stood on the contract. He told me they were recommending a Yes vote. That one call convinced me that I needed to join TDU,” said George Roussopoulos, a 28-year Teamster and Local 294 member at USF Holland.
“I’m done playing games. We can’t throw away what our union built up. We need to stand up for the next generation and I’m prepared to do my part,” Roussopoulos said.
The future of our union is at stake. Our brightest days can be ahead of us if we work together. Let’s do it.