October 18, 2006: "Our last contract was terrible. Can we get the right to elect our bargaining committee?"
"Our local officers keep raising their salaries. Can we put limits on them?"
"Our local elections are a joke. Can we get some protections that will make them more fair?"
Yes, there is a way to gain new rights and protections like these. Over the years Teamsters in many locals have organized to change the bylaws of their local unions, winning valuable new rights that help members protect contracts, benefits and working conditions.
Bylaws are the constitution of your local union and they define your rights and responsibilities as a local member. In many locals bylaw changes can only be proposed in January, so the fall is a good time of the year to start putting together a plan and a campaign.
Many members are probably not aware that the local even has bylaws. Even when they do understand, they may not feel that strongly about some legalistic document.
So you’ve got to focus on issues that matter.
“Seeing what other locals did was instrumental for us,” Local 82 member Joe Wright explained after they won a bylaw change vote in 2006. “We sat down and started going through the bylaws but just got bogged down. Then we found out from TDU what members in other locals had done and that made it easier to focus in.”
Local 82 members succeeded in reforming their local bylaws after a campaign for positive changes.
Voting on a Bylaws Amendment
Most local bylaws have a similar procedure for amendments: after a proposal is properly submitted (often this must be in January), it is read at three union meetings and then voted at the third one. So you will need an organized plan for turning out supporters at that third meeting. Some local bylaws state that changes have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of those voting.
Pick Your Issues
If members are fired up about an issue your chances of getting their support will be greater. So timing can help. Rather than focus on issues that members haven’t cared about for a while, zone in on the one that packs the most meaning for members at this time.
Promote Changes with Good Materials
“The way we presented the changes helped a lot,” Joe Wright pointed out. “There was a guy before in our local who proposed a bylaw change and handed out a mimeo sheet that just looked like a lot of chicken scratches. We made our flyers as professional as we could and put everything in layman’s terms, as well as technical, so it would be clear. Otherwise you would lose a lot of guys.”
Get the Language Right
Since bylaws are legally binding documents, it’s important to get the language in your proposal right. In some cases, Hoffa has vetoed reforms approved by local union members because of language technicalities.
TDU can help on this front. We have copies of bylaws language that has been approved by the IBT and lawyers who can review your bylaws proposals before you run into a legal challenge.
For legal and organizing advice on bylaws reform campaigns, info [at] tdu.org (contact TDU) today.
Waste industry giants have declared a nationwide war on Teamster health benefits.
Waste Management, the world’s largest waste corporation, is trying to shift the cost of healthcare onto employees and force Teamsters into inferior company medical plans. Other waste companies are following suit.
Members of Seattle Local 174 are showing how Teamsters can fight back with solidarity and strategic contract campaigns. As Convoy goes to press, 600 sanitation Teamsters have reached tentative agreements with two companies that will lower their out-of-pocket healthcare expenses by 90 percent.
“The rising cost of healthcare has been killing us,” said Troy Armes, a Teamster at Waste Management. “Under the tentative agreement, we’ll go from paying $274 a month to just $30 a month for family coverage.”
The tentative agreements include new language that protects workers from excessive forced overtime and provides double-time pay for excessive overtime.
They provide enough money that members’ health care costs will be capped at $30 a month for the life of the agreement and also provide for significant wage and pension increases. Local 174 Teamsters currently make $24.45 an hour, before the contract raises.
“Sanitation Teamsters work hard under difficult conditions. They deserve good, affordable healthcare and the right to quality time with their families at the end of the workday,” said Secretary-Treasurer Dan Scott. “Those were our key issues and we mounted a campaign to win on them.”
Members leveraged these improvements by mounting a strategic contract campaign that began six months before the contract expired and by building solidarity, both within the Teamster ranks and with the public.
Members from both Allied and Waste held joint meetings to build unity around their priority demands.
They reached out to fellow Teamsters who were fighting healthcare concessions at Waste Management. Striking sanitation Teamsters from Washington D.C. and New York City spoke at a rally in Seattle.
Local 174 members promised to respect the picket lines if they were extended from the East Coast. Members at Waste Management wore “Extend the Respect” stickers to work and held parking lot meetings to send management a message.
Local 174 also built community support. The local launched a website, www.talkingtrashonline, and aired TV commercials highlighting members’ right to affordable healthcare and time with their families.
As the contract expiration approached, political and religious leaders rallied with Local 174 Teamsters to support their demands.
Solidarity at the Strike Deadline
With a strike looming, management at Allied Waste offered members an agreement that would keep them in a top-of-the-line Teamster plan. Waste Management continued to drag its heels.
Local 174 held strike preparation meetings and made it clear to Waste Management that members would walk if the company didn’t match Allied’s offer.
The parties met one final time on Easter Sunday—the day before the strike deadline. Waste Management not only matched Allied Waste’s offer, they added more money to it.
Local 174 members had made a pact that the contracts at the two companies had to be equal. Members’ tough stand at Allied had helped the workers at Waste Management win a better deal. Now it was time for Allied Waste to up their offer to avert a strike.
Solidarity ruled the day. Minutes before a mass meeting, Allied added the extra money to their offer.
Members will vote on the tentative agreements in the coming weeks. But first, all members will have a week to review a complete copy of the proposed contracts.
Local 82 Teamsters in Boston overwhelmingly voted to approve a series of bylaws amendments to give members a stronger voice in the local. More than 140 members turned out to the local union meeting on March 26 and voted by huge margins in favor of the reforms—an impressive turnout given that the local only has 650 members.
The bylaws changes establish sweeping new rights for Local 82 members, including:
· The right to elect shop stewards.
· The right to elect rank-and-file representatives to contract negotiating committees.
· 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 fair local union elections that are conducted by mail ballot and supervised by an impartial outside agency.
· 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.
“We want to put more decisions in the hands of the members,” said Joe Wright, a commercial mover who helped introduce the bylaws reforms. “When people feel like they’re just being dictated to, they stop coming to union meetings. We want members to feel like their voice counts so they get involved and our union gets stronger.”
The overwhelming Yes vote was a slap in the face to Hoffa Trade Show Director and Local 82 Secretary-Treasurer John Perry, who strongly opposed the changes.
It was a bad week for Perry and a good week for the rank and file. Earlier in the week, Perry’s slate failed to carry the vote in the local’s convention delegate election, managing only a split with the Teamsters for Change Slate. Perry won the delegate slot. But the alternate delegate position was won by shop steward and TDU member Kevin McNiff.
In the 2001 International election, Perry delivered 95 percent of the Local 82 vote to Hoffa. But the tide has clearly turned. Close to 100 members of the local have joined TDU in the last year and they are working together to elect Tom Leedham and to reform their local.
The bylaws changes will now be submitted to General President Hoffa for approval.
The merger had the endorsement of New York Joint Council 16. But it did not have support of the Local 814 membership. The no vote shows once again the value of the right to vote on mergers. TDU members proposed this constitutional reform for years at Teamster Conventions before it was finally approved in 2001.
“What Local 814 needs is new, strong leadership that will fight for strong contracts and organize the nonunion competition—not a merger into a weak local with a history of corruption,” said Walter Taylor, one of the leaders of the Vote No effort. “Now that we’ve defeated this merger, hopefully we can get down to the real business of rebuilding union strength in the moving industry and for all of our local’s members.”
Teamster Local 814 members in New York City had a tough year in 2005. First they were hit with concessions and pension cuts after the IBT gave them no strike support in a fight with the Movers Association. Then they were blindsided with a proposed merger into Teamsters Local 810—a local with a long history of corruption scandals, bloated officers’ salaries, and embezzlement.
The anti-merger effort was led by the same members who formed a rank-and-file network to fight for a strong contract during last summer’s negotiations. Some Local 814 officials also opposed the merger, including George Daniello who had ambitions of his own to head the local.
Daniello got his wish. In the wake of the merger defeat, Local 814 President Pete Furtado has retired and Daniello has taken his place.
To defeat the merger, members distributed informational leaflets about Local 810’s record of corruption and dues waste and it’s weak record on organizing—an issue that is critical to the future of Teamster commercial movers whose wages and benefits are being undermined because of growing nonunion competition.
The committee also revealed that president Lou Smith has nearly doubled his salary to $244,845.
Local 810 has lost 2,000 members since 1997. The only organizing Smith is known for is a sweetheart contract he signed with the Cipriani family to undercut a strike by the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. That move landed Smith a suspension from union office in 1999.
“The men were fed up. They saw this merger as a dues grab that was for the benefit of certain union officials and not the members,” said Billy Esser, Sr., a Local 814 Teamster at Hanover Moving and Storage. “We don’t want more business as usual. We want real change and we’re standing up for it.”
The Local 814 merger was defeated because rank-and-file members put in action an organized plan to inform and unite the local’s membership. That same combination of rank-and-file organization and unity is what it will take to rebuild Local 814 as a union that delivers strong contracts and good benefits.
January 30, 2006: What Happens When Elections Are Not Supervised! Members Prove Chicago Local Rigged Election January 30, 2006. “We knew the election was stolen from us. But I don’t think we expected to get the black and white proof, and see how they did it,” explained Richard Berg, leader of the New Leadership Slate in Chicago Local 743.
Berg referred to documents obtained by his attorney, Tom Geoghegan, from the U.S. Department of Labor showing that hundreds of ballots were diverted to the addresses of employers, stewards and even a Russian bath house that the union president frequents. Those ballots were then voted and counted in the December 2004 local union election.
The phony ballots, which were mailed in bulk to stewards, employers and cronies, kept Robert Walston in office instead of the New Leadership Slate, which would have won the election. The election was already a “do-over” that Walston called after Berg won two months earlier by seven votes (despite the ballot box stuffing!).
The local leadership was named as corrupt in the April 2004 report by former Teamster anti-corruption czar Ed Stier, before he resigned his position in protest. The officers also use Hoffa’s political advisor Richard Leebove as a consultant. The Department of Labor has gone to federal court against the Local 743 leadership to overturn the vote.
New Leadership Slate is also planning their own legal action in addition to the Department of Labor action. And they continue to build their support among the rank and file. The New Leadership Slate plans to run a slate of delegate candidates to represent Local 743 with honest leaders at the IBT Convention. With an independent Election Supervisor in place, they believe they can get a fair election there.
In the first decision of the court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court cleared the way for 815 Tyson employees to receive $7.3 million in a class action suit originally filed by TDU members in Pasco, Wash. in 1998.
In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that workers should be paid for the time it takes them to put on their protective clothing and walk from the locker room to the production line. Previously, Tyson management saved millions of dollars by forcing workers to do this work off the clock.
The case was closely watched by organized labor and big business alike. The victory means that tens of thousands of poultry workers will likely succeed in two nationwide class action cases that are now pending against Tyson.
The Supreme Court victory also paves the way for workers to collect an additional $11.4 million in unpaid wages that they were awarded in 2004 in a second class action lawsuit against Tyson. More litigation is expected.
“It took a long time, but it was worth the wait just to show that workers can win when we get together,” said Maria Martinez, a Teamster and TDU leader who was the main organizer behind both lawsuits.
Georgia has a long tradition in the history of Teamster reform. Teamsters here have also been deeply involved in the effort to stop pension and health benefit cuts.
While continuing to move ahead with positive changes, members in both locals may now also face what is becoming a worn-out routine under the Hoffa administration: re-run elections. The losing slates in both locals have filed protests.
Local 528 members will also be demanding that the International end its trusteeship of the local, imposed over 20 months ago, and install their duly elected officers as quickly as possible.
January 28, 2005: New York Local 805 members elected the Sandy Pope Leadership Action Team in balloting on Dec. 7. Pope, a long-time leader in the Teamster reform movement and a member of the TDU International Steering Committee, defeated the incumbent president by a wide margin. All seven members of her slate were elected.
Cuts to the Local 805 pension were a major issue in the campaign. Pope opposed them and said the union should launch a campaign to preserve benefits. Incumbent President Gerry Whelan said that stock market losses in 2001 and 2002 made pension cuts inevitable even though the Local 805 pension fund is 90% funded—making it much stronger than other funds that have cut benefits.
Members backed Pope by a 58% to 42% margin with 55% of the local’s 1,200 members voting. But Whelan was not about to let the voice of the members get in the way of his plan to cut members’ pension.
In an 11th-hour move before leaving office, Whelan struck a deal with employers to cut the pension accrual rate to zero—meaning that members will earn no pension credit beginning in 2005. At the same fund meeting, employer trustees and an alternate designated by Whelan’s defeated executive board voted to hire Whelan as the fund manager.
As we go to press, the new Local 805 executive board is making plans for a campaign to defeat the pension cuts and job grab pushed through by Whelan and the employers—including possible litigation.
“Gerry took care of himself and hung the members out to dry,” said Ralph Vomaro, the newly elected secretary-treasurer on the Leadership Action Slate. “We’re not going to let him or the employers undermine our benefits.”
Pope and the Leadership Action Team have a track record of defeating employer demands for benefit cuts. In the last round of negotiations, multiple Local 805 employers demanded that members start paying for a portion of their medical benefits.
Instead, Pope, with the backing of strong rank and file negotiating committees, bargained record contribution increases that preserved members’ medical benefits without cuts or cost-sharing on the monthly premium.
“Local 805 members elected the Leadership Action Team to strengthen union representation and fight to protect our benefits—and that’s what we’re going to do,” Pope said.