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.”
May 9, 2007: Local 743 Secretary Treasurer Richard Lopez has seemingly disappeared while Provident Hospital lays off Local 743 members. Lopez who workers tell us is responsible for Provident has refused to return calls of laid off workers.
Other unions have worked with officials from Cook County, which owns Provident Hospital, to find new jobs for workers set for lay off. Some unions are working with other employers to find jobs for those laid off. But not Local 743! Workers can not even get a hold of Lopez. Laid off worker Diane Davis was frustrated with Lopez’s inaction, “I paid union dues and get nothing for it.”
“Where is my union dues going, “ wondered Yvette Gardner a laid off unit clerk. Some unions fought the lay off. The 743 New Leadership Slate helped organize Local 743 members as well as residents of the Woodlawn community to protest the cuts. We joined nurses, doctors, patients and even Reverend Jesse Jackson showed up on the picket line to protest the cuts. But our union officials were nowhere to be found.
Lopez replaced Diane Strickland as Local 743 Secretary Treasurer. Laid off PCAs and Unit Secretaries have appealed to Strickland’s daughter, a steward at Provident Hospital. These appeals have been met with misdirection. Strickland seems to be helping Lopez avoid doing his job. “Deceit and lies! Misinformation from the union steward, Debra Strickland...She needs to be replaced!” said Verna Swan.
But while the union plays games and just hopes that the workers will go away, there is an economic reality that these workers are facing. “I have a mortgage, car payment and a son in college. For my life style, unemployment will not cut it, “ said PCA Jacqueline Rice. While Lopez lives a six figure life on our union dues money we must try to figure out how to make ends meet.
This Fall Local 743 members will have a chance to replace Richard Lopez and the rest of his sorry crew.Read more at the Local 743 New Leadership Slate website.
The longshoremen of Local 1588 in Bayonne, NJ knew their place—they worked and kept their mouths shut. When your past union president, an exboxer named John DiGilio, is found floating in the Hackensack River with two bullet holes in his head, you don’t ask too many questions. When the man who usurped the local from him threatens to settle disputes with a blowtorch to the crotch, you don’t go to the union office to voice concerns about benefits or safety issues.
April 2, 2007: On March 21, it was no normal monthly meeting at Chicago Local 726. The hall was packed with hundreds of members, with many people in the hallway. They wanted to change their local union bylaws to have the right to elect working Teamsters to their bargaining committees.
Fighting for the Future, the grassroots movement in Local 726, put forward three bylaws changes and encouraged members to attend.
The union leadership brought people too, but they couldn’t match the outpouring of rank and file desire for change. So they refused to allow an honest vote.
Mario DiFoggio summed it up. “It was clear that the ‘ayes’ had it on the voice vote but (President) John Falzone ruled the ‘nays’ won. The packed room erupted. Everyone couldn’t believe what was happening. They wouldn’t even allow a hand vote. It was their way or no way.”
John Fasso, who works for the City of Chicago Aviation Department, said, “I’ve been a member for over 30 years and it was the most incredible meeting I can remember. They simply wouldn’t allow an honest vote. We need change in our union. We have to vote these guys out.”
Mary Koglin, from the City Aviation Department agrees. “A lot of members who went in on the fence got a real wake up call seeing how this meeting was run.”
Fighting for the Future has issued a leaflet thanking the members of Local 726 for coming out to take part in their union. They are putting together a team to run for office this fall, and bring a new day to Local 726 members.
Local 726 represents over 5,000 Teamsters who are all in public service, working for the city of Chicago, the county, the turnpike, the state and other public agencies.
Fighting for the future has a website: www.fightingforthefuture.com
That’s what happened in Boston Local 82 when more than 300 Teamsters turned out, on St. Patrick’s Day no less, to vote on a series of proposals that would strip them of democratic rights they won just one year ago. Each one of the proposals went down in defeat.
“The members stood up for their rights and democracy ruled the day,” said Kevin McNiff, a Local 82 steward.
Local 82 members work in the Boston Trade Show and Commercial Moving industries. A year ago, they voted to amend their local union bylaws to expand members’ rights.
Unhappy with the reforms, Secretary-Treasurer and IBT Trade Show Director John Perry backed a series of new amendments that would strip members’ of many of the rights they won last year including:
- The right to elect all shop stewards
- The right to an informed vote on contracts, including the chance to review all proposed contract changes in writing before any vote
- The right to a membership vote to approve proposed officers’ salaries
- The right to veto who the local executive board names as trustee to the union’s benefit funds
So for the second consecutive year, a secret ballot vote was held. Local 82 Teamsters voted by a 64 to 36 percent margin to defeat each of the Perry-backed amendments.
“What you saw today is that Teamsters are not willing to vote their rights away,” said John Corboy, a Trade Show Teamster.
“This was the biggest union meeting I can ever remember and it was a great thing to see,” said Joe Wright, a mover with Casey and Hayes. “No matter how members voted, the most important thing is that so many Teamsters were participating in the democratic process. That’s what a strong union is all about.”
“I got involved in TDU through a reform group in my local, the New Leadership Slate. Without TDU, we would not have caught the corrupt officers stealing our local election or have the hope to turn our union around.”
Joe Sexauer, Local 743, University of Chicago, Chicago
“We want our union to be controlled by the members and to fight for us, not the company. TDU gives us the information we need to enforce our rights and puts us in touch with other Teamsters who want a strong, democratic union.”
Jona Fleurimont, Consolidated Bus Transit, Local 854, New York City
February 27, 2007: Now is the time to win a strong new contract for the 1,200 Local 320 Teamsters at the University of Minnesota, members say. “We’re bargaining from a position of strength this year,” said Erik Jensen, a janitor at the University. “Some of the new people in the legislature got there because voters are so mad at funding cuts for education. We’ve got to use this opportunity to get the best contract we can for the workers who make the school operate.”
The Local 320 contract expires on July 1. In March members of the bargaining unit, custodial, cafeteria, and grounds crews at the university, will elect a negotiating committee.
Rank-and-file Teamsters are organizing a grassroots contract campaign to help win a strong contract.
Jensen and other reform-minded Teamsters are running for the bargaining committee. The membership has elected Jensen to the bargaining committee for the last five contracts.
“Our union leaders usually don’t have an organized plan,” said David Kremer, a candidate for the bargaining committee. “In the past, it’s been up to TDU members to come up with a plan to win what we need.”
In addition to wage gains, Teamster activists are pushing to tighten up wage progression, an ironclad no-privatization agreement to protect jobs, and improvements to retirees’ health savings account.
“We have a pension plan, and we’re proud of that. But many members can’t afford to retire because of pricey health care premiums,” Kremer explained. “Retiring members should be able to put unused sick days into health care savings accounts. Employees at Minnesota technical colleges have already won this benefit.”
Family leave is also an issue. Right now, some departments allow new parents to take their parental leave in flexible chunks. But others won’t. Rank and file leaders have won the support of sympathetic faculty members who want to push the administration for a more flexible and fair rule.
Keep Members in the Loop
The local reformers are committed to keeping the membership informed about bargaining. “We have a commitment to openness,” Jensen said. “In the past, the local tried to keep a lid on what was going on in bargaining. We won’t be secretive. We want to get information out to the members, because we’re counting on their support.”
“This is our chance to lead,” Kremer said. “We can get a strong contract if we get the membership to support our demands at the table.”
February 27, 2007: With no support from their local, Teamsters at the University of Chicago are getting ready for a rank-and-file contract campaign. The contract between Local 743 and the university expires on March 1.
Rank-and-file activists are circulating a petition calling for increased job security, fair treatment from managers, and a raise above the cost of living. “We usually get a three percent annual raise,” said Joe Sexauer, a Local 743 clerical at the university. “We want to do better this time, but we shouldn’t give up job security for a few extra pennies either.”
The Local 743 contract covers over a thousand clerical and blue collar jobs. The university is one of the biggest employers on Chicago’s South Side.
So far, the local has done little to prepare to win a good contract. Rank and file leaders are stepping forward to help do the job.
“Last time the local let the contract stay expired for over a year before we got an agreement,” Sexauer said. “We can’t let it drag on. They just use the retro pay as an incentive to vote for an inferior contract. They bribe us with our own money, and that demoralizes the members.”
By Gina Alvarez, Local 743 Steward, CSPF Office, Chicago
There are 335 Teamsters who work at the Central States Funds office, and we had not had a steward’s election for over four years. A group of us contacted Local 743 regarding holding elections, and as usual there was no response.
We started a petition to hold an election for new stewards. When we were done, more than two-thirds of the membership had signed up to ask for a new election.
I contacted TDU, the IBT and other individuals knowledgeable of the process (in the area) for help in determining how we should force Local 743 to respond to our requests. It felt as if Local 743 was impeding or blocking the election.
In the end, we prevailed thanks to the efforts of many Central States Teamsters who helped achieve our goal.
We got a new election, and I was elected shop steward along with three other members.
I take my election as union steward very seriously and will do my best to fairly represent every member of Local 743 at Central States.
I finally feel that we can make a difference in steward leadership here at the Funds as well as have a positive impact on Local 743.
January 26, 2007: The “Fighting for the Future” slate is getting organized to make positive changes for all 4,300 Local 726 members in metro Chicago.
Local 726 members work for the City of Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority the State of Illinois, Illinois Toll way, Police Departments, Fire Departments and other public sector work places around the state. The contract at City of Chicago expires July 1, 2007.
Fighting for the Future
“We’ve been reaching out to members over the past year, gathering information on the state of Local 726. We’ve heard the complaints and the concerns. We’ve set up a web site (www.fightingforthefuture.com) filled with news about our local.
Now it’s time to make some changes,” said Vince Tenuto, candidate for Secretary-Treasurer, a City of Chicago driver and TDU member.
Joe Vercillo, a driver at O’Hare International Airport stated, “Now is our members’ time to fight for their future. It’s all about our contracts. Those affect each and every member of Local 726. That is why we picked the name Fighting for the Future.” Vercillo is a 25-year Teamster, a proud TDU member and candidate for President.
“We want Local 726 members to understand that an informed and involved membership is our best bet for making the union strong,” said Vercillo. “Working Teamsters know the day-to-day issues that need to be in the contracts and they need a say at the bargaining table. We have a great movement going and we can win in the upcoming election this December.”
Local 726 members from the Fighting for the Future slate introduced bylaws changes at the January general membership meeting, calling for the proper scheduling of contract proposal meetings and membership elections for the negotiating teams. They also put forward bylaws amendments on changing the monthly meeting day and time so more members can attend, and language for reporting member eligibility. All Local 726 members will have the opportunity to vote on these changes at the March general membership meeting. The Fighting for the Future slate asks for members’ support at the upcoming general membership meeting.
Duke Clark, a 14-year, third-generation Teamster, TDU member and candidate for Vice President, summed it up: “Our goal is informing the membership and making Local 726 a union we can all be proud of. The time is now for every Teamster member to step up. Real change takes real commitment. We ask you to join us and help make our local stronger and more democratic.”
If you would like to help your fellow Teamster brothers and sisters pick up the fight you can log on to www.fightingforthefuture.com.