Members Petition Kraft to Respect MLK Day
January 10, 2008: Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, where he was organizing support for striking sanitation workers.
Today, many Teamster members still don’t have Martin Luther King Day off, even though it’s a federal holiday. Even worse, at least one Teamster employer marks Martin Luther King Day by laying off Teamster drivers without pay.
This year, Local 807 members are standing up against this practice.
Kraft Foods in Fairlawn, N.J. employs union bakers and Teamster drivers. Confectionery Local 719 members have Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday in their contract—but the Teamster drivers who are covered by the National Master Freight Agreement do not.
For years, Kraft gave the drivers the choice of working on MLK Day or taking the day off without pay. But last year, Kraft laid off every Local 807 driver without pay.
This year, Local 807 members circulated a petition calling on Kraft management “to honor Dr. King’s legacy of standing up for civil and labor rights—not to disrespect it by involuntarily laying us off on Martin Luther King Day.”
The petition goes on to say, “If Kraft is not going to give us MLK Day as a paid holiday like other union employees in Fairlawn, then the company should resume its prior practice of giving each Local 807 member the choice of working or taking the day off without pay.”
Kraft has not yet responded to the petition.
“The Teamsters should be more proactive about winning Martin Luther King Day as a contractual holiday,” said Michael Spruill, the Local 807 driver who launched the petition drive.
“Martin Luther King died supporting union members. He gave his life to win justice for all people. This country would be a shell of itself if it wasn’t for Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement,” Spruill said.
UPDATE: Local 807 members received the backing of the local union and Kraft management agreed to allow members to choose whether they wanted to work the MLK holiday or take the day off. The fight to win Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday under our Teamster contracts continues.
Labor Notes: Nichele Fulmore—Standing Up for Women Leaders in Our Unions
May 1, 2007: Nichele Fulmore has been a package car driver at UPS in Lumberton, North Carolina for over 12 years. She is a member of Teamsters Local 391 and has been a full-time steward for two years. She began organizing to reform the Teamsters when she realized that “things weren’t right, especially when members are kept in the dark.”
As part of our ongoing “Women Leaders in Our Unions” series, read more about how Nichele is standing up for the women, and men, in her local.
Labor Notes: How many other women in your local do the kind of challenging physical work you do?
Nichele Fulmore: There are only two other women drivers in my building, out of about 40 drivers. I was the only woman for at least five years.
The work is really tough physically—we have to be able to lift up to 70 pounds and the older trucks don’t have power steering. The job just wears you out when you’re out driving and lifting all day long, sometimes for 10-12 hours at a stretch. I think the fact that this is such a challenging job physically deters a lot of women from taking this job. I grew up working, so I was pretty sure I could manage it.
LN: UPS is pretty demanding when it comes to the physical requirements, isn’t it?
NF: Yes. When I was pregnant my doctor put me on a 20-pound weight restriction and UPS just treated me as if I had an off-the-job injury. So the best I could get was short-term disability through the union while I was off work, but when that ran out, I spent all my time trying to figure out how to keep my head above water financially. I filed a grievance with the union, but we lost it.
TDU (Teamsters for a Democratic Union) put me in touch with other women at UPS who had the same problem. We tried to build a campaign around this issue because it’s happening to pregnant women everywhere—except in California, where the law says that you are allowed to request light duty while you are pregnant. It’s tough to get women organized around this issue because we are such a minority in the trucking industry and we’re all afraid for our jobs, especially in the South.
It’s good we raised this issue though, because it made people more aware of this injustice. Anytime you try to change something that is wrong, there is going to be a struggle. We have to continue to get more members involved—including men—so that we can tackle this issue, and others, more effectively.
When I talked with my male co-workers about it, I asked them, “Would you want your mom, wife, or sister put out of work just because they are pregnant?” It’s an issue for everyone.
LN: How do you and your women co-workers deal with the male-dominated culture at UPS?
NF: We’ll talk amongst each other as much as we can, to give each other support. I’m the steward also, so if they have problems then they take it up with me. We definitely started to stick together more once we got so we would trust each other.
In the beginning you want to see if someone will respond to favoritism from management, by accepting easier routes and stuff like that. So even among women you need to prove yourself. It does make it harder for women though, because we are also having to prove to the men that we can do “their” jobs as well as they can. So you’re working harder, making sure you follow the book, and not complaining about your job.
LN: I know that you also spend a fair amount of time connecting with workers in other unions. Why?
NF: That’s right. I’ve been trying to make contact with different unions in my area. We’re—organized labor, that is—a minority here in North Carolina and so it’s important to try to build some solidarity between us. So I did some picket line support with the striking Goodyear workers recently together with some other rank-and-file Teamsters. We bought a hog and cooked it on their line and also donated some turkeys for Christmas.
Lately I’ve also been going out to meet meatpacking workers at Smithfield. I was just there a few weekends ago. Some Spanish-speaking guy came up and hugged me. I don’t speak Spanish, but we understood each other. I never felt so much inner joy as at that contact. The only difference among people that exists in the world is between men and women; all the other differences we create and we need to work to break those walls down.
LN: If a woman asks you for advice on becoming active in her workplace and union, what would you tell her?
NF: Know your stuff, and educate yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you know is right. Take leadership positions, run for steward and such, when you can, as that will encourage other women and will start to focus the labor movement on issues that are important to women.
And look for role models and try to learn from them. I did a lot of reading on Dr. King. I’m still amazed at the kind of stand a woman like Viola Liuzzo took during the civil rights movement—she was a white woman from Detroit whose husband was a Teamster and who traveled down to Selma, Alabama to join Dr. King on his march to Montgomery, only to be shot by KKK men soon after the march ended. She wanted to come and make a difference and that really inspires me.
by Marsha Niemeijer for Labor Notes magazine
Read more at Labornotes.org.
Martin Luther King Holiday: Why Not Now?
March 5, 2007: On Jan. 15, Local 728 proudly joined in the Martin Luther King Day march here in Atlanta, Dr. King’s home and also the headquarters of UPS.
It’s time for UPS to recognize the Martin Luther King holiday that our country celebrates, but too many corporations ignore. If we win this at UPS, we can take that win to lots of other Teamster employers.
One of UPS’s two big competitors, the Postal Service, already observes this holiday. If UPS were to come on board, pressure could then be put on FedEx to do the same. There would be no competitive disadvantage at all to UPS.
It’s time to recognize Dr. King and the nonviolent struggle for equality for all Americans. Furthermore, how long has it been since we won a single new holiday in our contract?
To our union negotiators: this is an easy one. Please do the right thing, and insist on the holiday in the UPS contract.
Local 728 Business Representative
BLET Fails Trainmen in El Paso
October 18, 2006. When the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers merged into the Teamsters two-and-a-half years ago, they added the words “and Trainmen” to the end of their name to signal that they welcomed conductors, brakemen, and switchmen (collectively know as trainmen). But now events in El Paso have led some to question how deep the commitment goes to these new Teamsters.
Two Unions Compete for Membership
Most trainmen are currently represented by the United Transportation Union (UTU), but across the country, there have been groups who felt dissatisfied with the UTU. In some cases, trainmen have been unhappy about the culture of corruption that landed prison sentences for top officers in 2004. Others simply felt that local leaders weren’t up to the job. El Paso is one place where nearly 100 Union Pacific trainmen, the majority Latino or Black, made the switch to join the BLET.
Rail Teamsters work under unique labor law and contract provisions that allow union members to switch back and forth between the UTU and the BLET. The BLET bargains the national agreement for the engineers, the UTU bargains for the trainmen, but members can belong to either union and be represented at early stages of the grievance procedure by whichever union they belong to.
When El Paso trainmen started flooding into the BLET to avoid what they say was poor representation by the UTU, they were warmly welcomed by the local BLET division. But at higher levels, they have been left to fend for themselves as the UTU has initiated a change to prevent them from receiving any representation from the BLET. UTU members are voting on whether to ratify the change.
No Response from BLET
Threatened with losing one of the largest trainmen units in the BLET, one would expect the national officers to swing into action. After all, the large numbers of BLET trainmen in El Paso used to be a feather in the union’s cap when it was at war with the UTU back in 2004. Now that the two unions have called a truce and have pledged to stop raiding each other, it ought to be even easier for President Don Hahs to get the UTU to call off hostilities in El Paso.
Chris Woods, Vice-Local Chairman for the trainmen in El Paso is demanding answers from Hahs. In a letter sent last week, he questions why Hahs is willing to ignore this obvious breach of good faith. He points out that many of the members he represents are minorities. He writes:
“Fully aware that the BLET, in its origins, had other than a favorable impression of ‘minority’ employees, when it came to the issue of the position of Locomotive Engineer, [is] a matter well documented in not only the language of original BLE Constitution, but also, actions that were overturned in precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court decisions. As such, it could be questionable, in my mind and the minds of those I represent, as to why the BLET has allowed this current matter to progress to its current stage.”
Time is of the essence if Hahs is to act. Ballots are in Oct. 19.