December 28, 2009: Members are uniting for change in Puerto Rico under the banner Teamsters Making the Difference.
“We are proud to be Teamsters—but we are not proud of Local 901 leaders who have put their own interests ahead of the members,” said Humberto Miranda, a Local 901 Teamster and a member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
“We’re organizing to restore democracy, integrity and power to our union,” Miranda said.
That battle is far from won. But corrupt local officials are on the defensive.
Local 901 principal officer German Vázquez is on his way out after being caught in an embezzlement scandal. (An investigation by the Independent Review Board found that Vázquez gave himself four improper pay hikes totaling $55,532).
The Department of Labor is suing Local 901 for election violations, charging that the local ran last fall’s voting to illegally favor the incumbents.
And the National Labor Relations Board is taking action against Local 901 officials—charging them with retaliating against members for supporting the reform candidates for union office. An NLRB trial that begin in December will continue next month.Rigged Election Leads to Cascading Charges
When union reformers formed a slate in last fall’s Local 901 election, the Executive Board was not about to risk a clean election.
Local 901 held a walk-in vote with more than 90 polling places. Officials blocked observers from entering the voting sites. They seized control of ballot boxes and blank ballots. The Department of Labor has sued Local 901 for violating members’ rights to a free and fair election, and is demanding a new, fair vote.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Local 901 officials also expelled three of the reform candidates—Mara Quiara, Migdalia Magriz and Silvia Rivera—from the union and fined them $10,000 each on trumped-up charges of leading an illegal 3-day strike at Coca-Cola.
Backed by legal representation, the reformers are fighting to win their reinstatement.
How ridiculous are the charges against them? Consider this: None of the charged Teamsters work at Coca-Cola. Their sole connection to the Coke strike was that they came to the picket line to show support to fellow Teamsters. And the NLRB has determined that the strike was not illegal and charged Coca-Cola for unfair labor practices.
Not only do Local 901 officials have no case; they themselves face legal charges for violating members’ rights at Coke. The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against the union for failing to represent strikers who were illegally fired by Coke—charging that Local 901 officials refused to represent the members because they supported reform candidates for union office.Organizing for Change
While Local 901 officials prepare their legal defenses, members are organizing for change.
They are holding rank-and-file meetings and building a grassroots communication and information network. Many members are joining TDU.
“Local 901 belongs to the members. We’re coming together to restore our union to what it can and should be,” said Eliot Rodríguez, a Local 901 Teamster from BFI Waste.
This story is part of a series on TDU.org. Click here to read about other Teamsters Who Made a Difference in 2009.
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