July 15, 2010: Teamsters at the University of Chicago are united and mobilized for a decent contract.
So why is their local trying to pull the plug on their contract campaign?
In February, the contract representing nearly 1,000 members of Teamsters Local 743 expired at the University of Chicago—and members were ready.
They talked to other Teamsters about contract demands, held rallies, and reached out to the community.
Then a new set of officers seized power in the local, fired their union rep, and pulled the plug on the campaign.
But members are not giving up.
“Before this contract, negotiations happened quietly. We usually didn’t hear any details until the union was ready to recommend an offer,” said Melanie Cloghessy, a Local 743 member at UofC. “They didn’t press hard. They usually just took what the university offered and then told us it was the best they could get.”
All that changed three years ago when members elected a reform team, the New Leadership Slate, to lead the union.
The New Leadership team cut officer salaries, put their reps out in the field, and stopped backroom deals.
They hired UoC Teamster Joe Sexauer as a union rep, and he helped members launch a grassroots contract campaign.
Members put up mini picket signs on their desks. They organized rallies and a big picnic with 300 people. They started to reach out to clergy and community supporters.
Members talked member-to-member about the need for job security, better raises, and expedited grievance procedure in the new contract.
Then in May of this year, the reform leaders were ousted from office in a power grab by staff who wanted to raise their salaries and avoid accountability to the membership.
The new officers fired Sexauer and four other reform-minded union staff—including the lead negotiator for the UofC contract.
But that didn’t stop Local 743 members at UofC—or Sexauer. He kept working with members to keep their contract campaign going.
“If the new officers think we’ll go back to those old days of backroom deals, they’re in for a big surprise,” said Cloghessy. “We won’t go back.”
This power grab might be short-lived. This fall, Local 743 Teamsters will get a chance to elect new reform officers to head their local. The 743 New Leadership Team has just announced a new reform team to run in the election.
We Won’t Go Back
“The old guard just took what the university offered and then told us it was the best they could get.
“If the new officials think we’ll go back to those old days of backroom deals, they’re in for a big surprise.”
Melanie Cloghessy, Local 743 University of Chicago
July 1, 2010: The third BLET president in a row has resigned. The initiative to take away the Right to Vote is headed to a vote.
The power to shape the future of the BLET is in the members’ hands.
Last month, Teamster Voice predicted that Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) president Paul Sorrow was headed for a showdown this fall against rank-and-file challenger Tom Brennan in the union’s first ever one-member, one-vote election.
We were wrong.
On June 3, Sorrow suddenly announced his resignation—surprising BLET officers and members.
Since 2006, no BLET president has served a full term.
In 2007, President Don Hahs was kicked out of the union for spending tens of thousands of union funds on basketball tickets and trips for his wife. In 2009, police arrested President Ed Rodzwicz for soliciting a $20,000 bribe from a lawyer looking for union business.
Now Sorrow has resigned after serving for less than eight months, for health reasons.
BLET First Vice President Dennis Pierce has taken Sorrow’s place, and announced he is running for the top spot in the union in the election this November.
Will Members Get to Vote?
That election may not happen, if some officials get their way.
An initiative to take away the Right to Vote has passed its first hurdle. Now it is going out to a vote of every BLET member.
“The Right to Vote gives us the tools to hold our leaders accountable, punish officers who violate our trust, and root out corruption from our union,” said Hugh Sawyer, president of BLET division 316, in a letter that will be sent to every BLET member along with their ballots to vote on the initiative.
“Why should the members ever give up that right?” Sawyer asked.
Division 316 is the division that originally proposed the Right to Vote for BLET officers.
The Candidates Weigh In
In 2006, BLET members voted almost two-to-one for the Right to Vote. But the new president Dennis Pierce opposed it.
Now, in a cryptic statement on his campaign website, Pierce seems to say that he will go along with the Right to Vote. But he doesn’t come out saying he supports the Right to Vote or opposes the initiative to take it away.
In fact, the initiative to take away members’ Right to Vote was put forward by Pierce’s home division, as well as the home division of his running mate Lee Pruitt.
Pierce did not return our phone call to clarify his position.
Tom Brennan, his challenger, has come out strongly in favor of the Right to Vote, and demanded that Pierce do the same.
Now more than ever, the power to shape the future of the BLET is in the hands of its members. They will decide if they keep the Right to Vote, or throw it away.
BLET Unity Slate here.
Tom Brennan New Leadership Team here.
July 9, 2010: This year, Ralphs grocery opened a brand-new automated warehouse that uses new technology to select cases, prepare orders, and wrap pallets.
Local 572 steward Frank Halstead got to tour the new facility. Here’s what he saw.
Frank Halstead works at Ralphs warehouse in Compton, Calif.
Teamster Voice interviewed him about his tour of the new automated facility in Paramount, and what’s at stake in grocery negotiations this year.
Teamster Voice: What was your first impression of the Paramount warehouse?
Frank Halstead: The size of the parking lot. It’s a huge facility with very few parking spaces.
My warehouse in Compton has over 1,100 Teamsters working there. This one has 140.
This warehouse only handles dry grocery.
But Ralphs is already remodeling a portion of the perishable section in Compton. They’ll have a new automated Perishable Service Center up and running next year.
Many Teamster jobs could be at stake.
TV: What’s it like inside?
It’s very clean. Very orderly.
The members are separated into different areas. You don’t see people talking or interacting.
Warehouse Teamsters always said that they could never automate what we do. Now they have.
TV: What does the new technology look like in action?
They store about half the cases on the pallets they came in on. The other half get stored on trays.
The trays are stored on these big vertical shelves. A crane goes up and down the aisle, pulling trays and moving them down to a conveyor belt.
That crane is always doing two things at once—if it’s pulling one tray, it’s also taking another tray to put up.
Then the case goes on a conveyor belt to a Case Order Machine (COM). The COM perfectly positions each case on a pallet—there’s no wasted space.
The system knows each case’s weight, measurements, and weight capacity. The COM knows which cases go on the bottom, which go in the middle, and which should go on top.
Finally, the pallet goes onto a machine that shrink-wraps it. Then it’s ready to be loaded onto a truck.
TV: What do the workers do?
There are a few traditional jobs that remain—and then there are new positions that are created by the new technology.
There are Equipment Operators who are assigned to a section. They have a schematic of their area. When a sensor goes off—like when a piece of shrink wrap is hanging off a pallet—it’s their job to go and correct the problem.
They still use nonunion lumpers to unload the trucks.
TV: What should the IBT and locals be doing to protect jobs?
This technology is a game-changer. But the International doesn’t have a game plan.
First of all, we need to capture the lumper work under Teamster agreements. Those should be Teamster jobs.
We should also be fighting for job retraining for the Teamsters who lose their jobs, to go into maintenance or become drivers.
There are many other areas that need to be addressed about automation and the way it will affect Teamster jobs.
Local 630 is filing grievances over some of these issues. Bad idea. We can’t afford to risk getting a bad decision from an arbitrator.
We need to fight for job protection at the bargaining table this year. The contract is our chance to win the job protections we deserve.
This machinery is incredibly expensive. They’re not going to roll it out overnight. Now is the time to prepare for the future.
July 1, 2010: Allied Automotive Group is paying the contract wage rate for the first time in three years, but will now come to carhaul Teamsters asking for a fresh concession package.
The International Union insisted that Allied pay the full scale, as a condition to bargain over new monetary relief.
However, Allied CEO Mark Gendregske, in a letter to Allied Teamsters, said he will seek an agreement to suspend making pension contributions on employees’ behalf, and gradually pay back the pension funds later. As of late June, local officers and the Central States Pension Fund have been unable to tell us what’s happening with this.
The present pension contribution rate in the Central States areas is $7.60 per hour, and will go up on Aug. 1.
The International union says they will now negotiate regarding Allied’s concession proposals, and will review Allied’s finances before agreeing to concessions. Article 6 of the Allied concession agreement already granted the union full access to Allied’s financial records for the past three years, so why doesn’t the union already have this information?
Any concession agreement will have to be voted on by all working and laid-off Allied Teamsters.
July 1, 2010: James Hoffa came into office promising freight Teamsters he would “Restore the Power.” A decade later, what he has delivered is a power outage.
The NMFA has been decimated. UPS Freight was put under a white-paper contract without Teamster benefits. Other trucking organizing has been thin to none. Freight Teamsters’ pensions are in danger.
Hoffa has taken freight—the heart of our union—and driven it off the road. Remember when he told us, “The Hoffa name means power”? Now it’s, “You’re lucky you got a job.”
In the hallways at the two-man and the panels, freight officers say Hoffa has given up on trucking Teamsters and we need a new direction. It’s time to take that talk out of the corridors and straight to the membership. It’s time to stand up for our union.
July 1, 2010: Will YRC Teamsters start earning pension credits again when the concession agreement expires?
When the concession agreement with YRC expires on December 31, will Teamsters start getting pension credits again? This question is critically important to thousands of Teamsters and to our union’s future in freight.
The International Union is aiming to get some partial pension payments out of YRC. On the June 29 IBT conference call, James Hoffa said they hope to re-start pension payments “in some fashion,” and Freight Director Tyson Johnson said they wanted YRC back in pension plans at “some” contributory rate.
Re-entering pension funds at a lower rate would require amending the fund rules for Central States and most other funds: they don’t allow employers to move backward on contributions. More fundamentally it raises questions about the future for YRC Teamsters, and sets a possible precedent for other employers eager to downsize or eliminate workers’ pensions.
The union committee meeting with YRC on this issue includes Johnson along with Gordon Sweeton, Randy Cammack, Danny Barton, Kevin McCafferty, and David Laughton. They come from the Western, Central States, New York Local 707, and New England pension funds.
There is a separate committee meeting with YRC management, which Johnson described dealing with YRC competitiveness, and looking at “uniform regional work rules” to “afford the company some latitude.”
Teresa Ghilarducci was appointed to the YRC board after being nominated by the International union. Ghilarducci is a pro-labor economist and pension expert.
YRC Teamsters will have the right to vote on any proposed new concessions. A vote on a new concession agreement is expected before the present one expires at the end of 2010.
Is management playing games with your grievances? Find out how you can turn the tables on them at the TDU Convention.
Join stewards, officers, and labor experts for over a dozen workshops, including Writing and Investigating Grievances, Aggressive Grievance Handling, and Preparing for Arbitration.
Register online here.
“I’ve just been elected shop steward, and the TDU workshops have helped me learn how to investigate and pursue grievances and fight for the members.
“I’m looking forward to going to my first TDU Convention to meet other Teamster reformers and discuss how we can turn our union around and make it work for the membership. I hope to see you there.”
Chris Lang, Local 814, New York