November 4, 2004: On October 27, members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE), who lay and maintain railroad tracks, voted by a large margin to merge with the IBT. They are now the BMWE Division (BMWED) of the Teamsters Rail Conference. Following is a message to these new Teamsters from TDU International Steering Committee member Frank Halstead.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the BMWED,
Welcome to the Teamsters! We are honored that you have chosen to merge your union with ours, and we look forward to lending solidarity to your fight for good working conditions.
We know that since your union’s founding in 1887, your members have worked hard to establish the wages and benefits you enjoy today. We believe we can learn from your struggles and hope that we can get to know you better in the years ahead.
TDU’s mission is to bring membership control to our international and local unions. We know that a united and informed membership is essential in order for a union to be effective. At grievance hearings, during contract negotiations and in political lobbying, members must be at the center of the union. TDU members are on the frontlines for our union.
Unfortunately, IBT officials sometimes fail to take on the struggles that matter most to those of us who pay the dues. In the last year, Teamsters have seen pension cuts, fraudulent contract votes, stolen officer elections, and continued corruption. But in the IBT there are also thousands of rank-and-file activists and good officers who are working to build a powerful union by making it accountable to the members.
By joining TDU, you will have the opportunity to meet some of those activists—maybe you are already one yourself! Call our national office in Detroit, (313)842-2600, any time to request a bundle of our newsletter Convoy Dispatch, to join TDU, or to give us your feedback on the merger.
TDU International Steering Committee
Los Angeles Local 572
November 4, 2004: TDU members at our organization’s convention took time to do a little campaigning and to elect the TDU International Steering Committee (ISC) for the coming year. The committee has 15 members and three alternates. Six of them will be new to the ISC.
The new brothers and sisters represent the strengths and diversity of the Teamster reform movement. Joining the ISC will be:
- Richard Berg, a hospital worker in Chicago Local 743, who has served as a steward and business agent and is currently running for president of his local;
- Dianne Bolton, the president of Seattle Local 174, a Teamster reform leader and a UPS feeder driver;
- Gil Clark, a steward in St. Louis Local 688—St. Louis will be hosting our TDU Convention next year;
- Toni Jackson, an inside worker at UPS in Memphis Local 667 and a relatively new reform activist;
- Bob McNattin, a ready-mix driver in Minneapolis Local 120, who helped spearhead a successful contract campaign of Minnesota ready-mix drivers;
- Sam Putinja, a steward at Purolator in Toronto Local 938, who helped the reform movement carry that large local by a 2-1 margin in the last IBT election.
The Members First Slate, headed by president-elect Randy Brown, won the Local 728 election on November 19.
The election marks a victory for all the members of Local 728, and the Teamster reform movement. Georgia Local 728, which has statewide jurisdiction in the UPS and trucking industries, has over 6000 members and is the second largest local in the Southern Region of the IBT.
Members First won five positions. The Experienced Slate, consisting mainly of the current business agents, came in second, and narrowly won the vice president position and one trustee. It was a close race between those two slates, with the PQR and Cornerstone slates finishing third and fourth.
November 4, 2004: I am a Locomotive Engineer on the Union Pacific Railroad with 34 years of service, and am on my third term as president of Division 724 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). Before our merger this past January into the Teamsters, we were the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE)—the oldest existing union in America. Our members enjoyed one of the most democratic union constitutions in existence. We had the powers of recall, referendum and initiative: By a vote of the membership, we could remove International officers or change our Constitution.
It was not easy to relinquish that democracy and join the Teamsters. With the merger, we lost recall and referendum, and made rank and file initiatives subject to veto by the president of the IBT.
Nevertheless, I supported the merger for two reasons. First, we were a small union with only about 35,000 members. Federal laws and agencies that govern railroads make it extremely difficult, with such small numbers, to represent your members’ interests in today’s world of state and national politics. We desperately needed the Teamster influence when supporting our members’ needs.
A House Divided
Second, the union house of railroad operating crafts had been divided for decades. The BLE bargained contracts for engineers and the United Transportation Union (UTU) bargained for trainmen (conductors, firemen and brakemen).
Train crews once were five people, and the UTU gave away three of those positions with almost no fight. They also worked with the carriers to establish a two-tier pay system that set a substandard wage for trainees and set a lower pay rate for new hires.
A pattern had been set. The railroads would negotiate with the UTU to eliminate jobs and work rules, and then, using provisions of the Railway Labor Act, force the same contracts on the BLE.
Eventually, the UTU withdrew from the AFL-CIO in order to avoid heavy fines resulting from attempted raids on the BLE.
We felt that by joining the Teamsters we would get sorely needed help in our struggle with the carriers and the UTU. Our leaders told us we would get that help, but as of yet we have not seen it.
I searched for a way to get the help we needed. In my search, I heard about the TDU. Teamsters for a Democratic Union? Could it be real? I cruised the TDU website. I read the Convoy Dispatch. With a little glimmer of hope, I sent off a check for membership. To see for myself, I decided to attend their annual convention.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I had only been a Teamster for ten months. I was driving 500 miles by myself to meet with people I didn’t know. Would I be welcome as a Teamster? Would they care about our problems on the railroad? It seemed I had a thousand questions!
They’re for Real!
From the first handshake and introduction, I was home! I found a group of enthusiastic people who are working hard to bring reform and democracy to a union they love in spite of its own internal problems. They weren’t abandoning their union; they were effectively struggling inside the system, leading a movement to improve the lives of rank and file Teamsters. They are united in their efforts!
They are educating and supporting rank and file members who are resisting the legacy of corruption, and instead promoting member involvement and democracy.
Before TDU, I was a member of the BLET who just happened to belong to the Teamsters Rail Conference. TDU has given me the pride and knowledge to look anyone in the eye and say, “I am a Teamster!” An active TDU membership within the BLET can bring about positive changes, the same as TDU has been doing for thirty years in the IBT.
I urge not only every BLET member, but also all Teamsters everywhere, to join TDU, distribute copies of Convoy Dispatch to other Teamsters and let them know there is a way for each of us to bring a positive change to our jobs.
Ed Michael, Union Pacific Railroad
BLET Division 724
Teamsters Rail Conference
November 4, 2004: Yellow Freight has proposed to add Premium Service boards at 33 terminals in Pennsylvania and across the Midwest, in a change of operations slated to be heard on Dec. 7 in Chicago. At the same time a separate proposed change of operations will be heard, to establishe sort-hubs in Coldwater, Mich., and Cincinnati and Richfield, Ohio.
The new Article 18 (and a “Letter of Understanding”) of the 2002 NMFA allows management to open a new board of combination employees (road-city-dock) to do “Premium Service” work only.
The letter of understanding states that this is “not intended to divert other traffic from the present method of operation and deprive employees of premium day work opportunities or reduce the present Monday-Friday work weeks.”
The contract provides that only new business in same-day, next-day and second-day market will be moved by a Premium Service board, with the goal of expanding service and jobs. The proposed change does not specify what this freight may be.
Most of the 33 affected terminals will start with just one Premium Service driver, with the largest ones (Chicago, Detroit) adding four or five.
This is a foot-in-the-door, to start up the operation in the Midwest and then expand it.
Will road boards like Cleveland lose their turn-around runs, as premium service drivers get based in scattered terminals around the Midwest?
Who will police this operation? If one premium service pallet is on a trailer, can the trailer be loaded with regular freight?
Yellow has proposed that only local cartage workers can bid on the jobs; the contract states, however, that CDL-qualified Teamsters can bid on the jobs, as determined by the Change of Operations Committee.
Because this operation has the potential to undercut existing jobs, classifications and conditions, our union needs to establish clear guidelines and police it carefully.
Note: Check your contract book—the four-page “Letter of Understanding” in Article 18 that allows Premium Service combination workers is not included in the book! If you need a copy, contact your local or TDU. You’ll need the language to enforce it.
November 4, 2004: A non-union operator seems to be taking over the ABF cartage operation in Charlotte, N.C.
Millenium Express, a non-union cartage company, now actually rents part of the ABF dock. They use ABF’s pallet jacks and forklifts, load ABF freight onto six non-union trucks, and make deliveries and pick-ups. This has been going on for eight months and is expanding!
The excuse is “overflow freight.” Eight months of sudden overflow?
ABF is apparently exploiting Article 40, Section 4, of the Carolina Supplement to the NMFA, and the fact that Local 71 seems to allow union freight jobs to go non-union.
There are too many Teamster jobs contracted out in the freight industry. It’s time for our union, at the highest level, to just say no and enforce the contract.
November 4, 2004: Gate Gourmet, whose 10,500 employees provide food services to airlines and railroads, is trying to break our union. The current contract expired June 1. Management is demanding big wage and benefit cuts that they know workers will not accept.
Under the company proposal, wages would be cut by as much as $5.02 an hour. Members’ pension and 401(k) would be eliminated. The company contribution to members’ health insurance would be capped at $100 a month. High seniority workers would lose two weeks of vacation a year.
Gate Gourmet workers are jointly represented nationwide by the Teamsters and another union, UNITE HERE. IBT Western Region Warehouse Director Steve Vairma has led negotiations.
Gate Gourmet tried to weaken workers’ bargaining position earlier this year by creating a spin-off company, Gate Serve. They voluntarily agreed to recognize the IBT and UNITE HERE.
The unions, in turn, agreed to a contract with much lower wages and benefits than Gate Gourmet.
Demands Were Predicted
When our union made this bad deal, TDU predicted that management would demand these same concessions from Gate Gourmet Teamsters. Now they are. The concessionary contract Gate Gourmet is proposing is almost exactly the same as the one our union already agreed to at Gate Serve.
Concessions won’t stop a ruthless employer. The IBT and UNITE HERE need a coordinated plan to take on Gate Gourmet. Members are willing to fight.
“They are taking the food off of our families’ tables,” says Los Angeles Gate Gourmet worker Ana Miranda. “We need to stop them. Local 572 organized a rally here recently, and it’s a start. We need more action.”
November 4, 2004: Hundreds of Teamsters attended the 29th annual TDU Convention in Cleveland last month to chart the course of the reform movement for the coming year.
Speakers blasted James Hoffa for the decline of Teamster power on his watch. TDU members have their eye on the 2006 IBT election, but our convention voted to put the focus for the coming year on strengthening our movement at the grassroots—to build at the bottom so we can win at the top.
The convention adopted a resolution to “Save Our Union.” The piorities it defined include: developing new rank-and-file leaders, building model local unions, electing more reform leaders to local union office, and continuing to lead the fight to defend our benefits from attacks by employers—and even by our union trustees.
Activists with the Central States Pension Improvement Committee held a special meeting at the convention and defined an action plan to win more accountability and fight to reverse the pension cuts. (See page 6 for a report.)
The convention also looked ahead to 2006. Members resolved to run delegate slates in over one hundred local unions in the 2005 and 2006 elections, where members will choose their representatives to the 2006 IBT Convention.
Laying the Groundwork
To lay the groundwork for a challenge to Hoffa in the 2006 election, the convention resolved that, “TDU will support the formation of a broad committee of respected leaders who can start outreach, a search for slate members, and fundraising.”
“It’s too early to announce a full slate for 2006, but not too early to lay the groundwork for a campaign,” the resolution said.
With Teamster power declining and our union in jeopardy, it’s up to us—the rank and file, and concerned officers—to organize for change. TDU’s got the nationwide network that can redirect the future course of our union, but only if we all do our part. Get involved today.
November 4, 2004: On Nov. 9 federal judge Kathleen O’Malley issued a temporary restraining order against James Hoffa’s trusteeship of Cleveland Local 293.
Hoffa’s trustee was sent packing and the 1,700 members of Local 293 got their local back, with the elected officers back in office.
Hoffa placed the local into trusteeship on Sept. 20, alleging serious problems including that Local 293 had undermined a strike by Local 348 against a beer distributor. Members, including the officers, went to court and proved that the allegations were not only false, but were a pretext for Hoffa to take over the local.
Judge O’Malley stated in her decision that “The Court was surprised by the lack of any meaningful justification for the imposition of a trusteeship in this case.” The judge noted that there is a very high standard for the members to overturn a trusteeship less than 18 months old, but in this case Hoffa had no good-faith reason for the action, and in fact acted in bad faith.
James Hoffa has increasingly used political trusteeships (and threats of trusteeship) and his power to overturn local elections any time he doesn’t like the results. This court decision shows that there are limits to just how much he can abuse his powers.
November 4, 2004: The Independent Review Board (IRB) on Oct. 14 charged Joseph Bernstein with associating with Billy Hogan, who was banned from the Teamsters in May 2002.
Bernstein, the president of Chicago Local 781 and vice president of Joint Council 25, faces a hearing and likely removal from our union as well as the loss of his $218,441 salary.
Bernstein admitted under oath to having at least three meetings with Hogan, one of which was observed by a RISE investigator in October 2003. Seven days after that three-hour meeting, Hogan’s son Robert was nominated to be on the Joint Council 25 Executive Board.
Bernstein, however, claimed that in their three hours together the two men didn’t discuss union business, and he didn’t even know what Hogan’s occupation was at that time.
The IRB suspended Bernstein from office once before. In 1992 he was found to have used over $50,000 in union dues money to pay his country club golf fees, and had to repay the union when he was caught.
Hogan, formerly the top Teamster in Chicago and Hoffa’s initial choice as running mate, was removed from the Teamsters in 2002 for attempting to make a sweetheart deal in the Las Vegas convention industry. The deal would have benefited a company owned in part by Hogan’s brother.
The IRB report credits Ed Stier’s RISE program with doing some of the investigation leading to this charge against a powerful Chicago official. It is the first IRB charge brought since May, when Stier turned over to the IRB a 300-page report on Teamster corruption. Stier and the entire RISE staff resigned at that time, blaming Hoffa for blocking investigations and covering for corrupt officials, especially in Chicago.