Local 237 Members are “All In" for Change
January 27, 2014: A growing reform group is running for office in New York Local 237, the Teamsters’ largest local union.
Local 237 represents more than 24,000 New York City public employees, including school safety officers, public housing workers, city hospital staff, and more.
The local was once a powerful political force in New York City and its contracts help set the tone for public sector wages and benefits in the City and beyond.
But rank-and-file members aren’t feeling much of that power lately. “The Local 237 leadership is out of touch,” says Local 237 member Debra Crenshaw, who works at the NYC Housing Authority.
“The Business Agents meet with management without even talking to the member first. When members see that they feel like the union is in bed with management.”
All Members for Change is the growing reform group that’s building a movement of members to run in this fall’s local union election.
“Lack of any real union representation on the job is the common issue we hear across the City,” says Jakwan Rivers, the leader of All Members for Change and a 17-year Local 237 member and former Business Agent and steward. “We want to put the members first and restore confidence that Local 237 Teamsters can win.”
Rivers headed a slate to challenge incumbents in the last election, and lost by 281 votes. “Our first change would be to improve representation and grievance handling. Members will get a call from a union rep within 48 hours of filing, and members will be involved every step of the way.”
Across the union, members say union reps either leave members to fend for themselves against management, or only show up on the job to cut bad deals with the boss.
Housing Authority departments are understaffed and management is forcing members to work 15 to 18 days straight—a clear violation of the contract—with no fight-back from the union.
School safety agents are called into to work details usually reserved for Homeland Security or the NYPD, like the New York City Marathon. But, without “uniform status” the school safety agents get paid less and fewer benefits for this same work.
“Members are frustrated with the union,” says Rivers. “But they’re also hungry for change and we’re getting a great response so far. Our challenge is to organize that hunger into a force that can turn Local 237 around.”
“We want to empower New York City public workers again,” says School Safety Agent Richard Muniz. “Our contracts are being trampled on. When members do file grievances, the union and management make a weak settlement behind the members’ backs. We’ll get members involved to enforce our contracts and win back power on the job.”
“Lack of any real union representation on the job is the common issue we hear across the City.
“Our first change would be to improve representation and grievance handling. Members will get a call from a union rep within 48 hours of filing, and members will be involved every step of the way.”
Jakwan Rivers, NYC Housing Authority
Officials are Out of Touch
“The Local 237 leadership is out of touch.
“The Business Agents meet with management without even talking to the member first.
When members see that they feel like the union is in bed with management.”
Debra Crenshaw, NYC Housing Authority
“We want to empower New York City public workers again.
“When members do file grievances, the union and management make a weak settlement behind the members’ backs. We’ll get members involved to enforce our contracts and win back power on the job.”
Richard Muniz, School Safety Agent
Can the Boss Fire Me for facebook?
You’re online and so is your boss. What are the Do’s and Don’ts for staying out of trouble?
Teamsters are using Facebook to share information, sound off, and get organized. Facebook pages like Vote No on UPS Contract, No More Concessions!, Rebuild the IBT and others have helped Teamsters unite the rank-and-file.
Social media can be a good tool for building union solidarity and for having a laugh. But you've got to be smart about what you post.
If you're on Facebook, chances are your boss is too. Employers are getting more aggressive about firing employees for posts they say cross the line.
Can these terminations stick? Arbitrators and the National Labor Relations Board are sorting out this new area of labor law.
In a series of decisions, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that online conversations between coworkers on the internet have the same protections as face-to-face conversations. And these protections extend to complaints about management and supervisors.
That means Teamsters can use social media to criticize their employer, management or working conditions as long as they are engaged in “protected, concerted activity.” Concerted activity happens when: 1) employees discuss wages, hours, or working conditions or union or TDU activity together, or; 2) one or more employees voice concern on an issue that impacts other co-workers (safety, for example) or 3) one or more employees discuss lawful union activity.
“My Supervisor’s Crazy!”
In one case, a Teamster EMT in Connecticut was fired for insulting her supervisor in a Facebook post after the supervisor blocked her from getting assistance from a union rep. The EMT's facebook post: “Love how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor.”
17 is company lingo for a psychiatric patient. In a key fact in the case, other Teamsters posted supportive comments in response. Management took offense and fired the Teamster. The union filed an NLRB charge and the NLRB issued a complaint.
An NLRB lawyer told the press, “This is fairly straightforward. Whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”
The case eventually settled, with the company agreeing to rewrite its social media policy and not to discipline or discharge employees for engaging in discussions about wages and other work issues.
Protections, But Not a Free Pass
Recent NLRB decisions protect the right of employees to complain about their job and their boss. But this does not mean that “anything goes”.
Extreme personal attacks against bosses or co-workers may not be protected. The legal test is whether your post is so “egregious” that it makes your continued employment untenable. Posting racist or sexist comments about co-workers or management is not protected. Neither are violent threats.
Criticizing your employer’s product, service or customers also may not be protected. The issue here is “disloyalty” particularly if you’re comments could hurt the company’s business and are not made as part of a labor dispute.
Posting photos from when you’re on the job may not be protected. It’s one thing to post a photo of an unsafe working condition. It’s another to post a photo from the job that could hurt the employer's business or image. The photos that recently appeared on Facebook of a prostitute in a UPS driver’s uniform are an extreme example.
Social Media Policies
Many employers are developing social media policies to establish rules for what kinds of posts can lead to discipline.
The NLRB has thrown out social media policies that are so broad that they would prohibit or have a chilling affect on workers’ rights to discuss wages or working conditions. But other aspects of company social media policies have been upheld.
Teamsters have contract protection above and beyond the law, and can use the grievance procedure to defend themselves from discipline if they are accused of violating company social media policy.
How well that works depends on what you are posting, what company policies are, the union's case and other factors.
Think Before You Post
There is no such thing as online privacy. You should assume your employer could eventually see anything you post online. If they don’t see your original post it could easily be forwarded, tweeted or reposted.
Use common sense. Don’t post photos of your hunting trip if you called in sick. Never post when you’re on the clock, unless you are clearly on break. If you would have to deny saying it if you were confronted by management, then don’t post it.
If you are discussing your working conditions with coworkers, you have legal protections.
If you are posting comments about your employer that could be considered “egregious” or “disloyal” or if you’re posting work-related photos that have nothing to do with the union, TDU or improving wages and working conditions, then you may not be protected.
Use social media to build Teamster unity and solidarity. Share information and have a laugh. But think before you post.
Contact TDU if you have specific questions on your social media rights at info [at] tdu.org
Beating Management at the Grievance Game
How to protect members and enforce the contract when management is trying to derail the grievance procedure.
The grievance procedure is supposed to protect members from unfair discipline and hold the company accountable to the contract.
Management plays a variety of games to derail the grievance procedure and undermine our rights.
Teamster Voice interviewed experienced Teamster stewards about common company
tactics—and how stewards and members can beat management at the grievance game.
The Fishing Expedition
Management has the right to ask questions in an investigatory interview. But don’t fall for a fishing expedition. Members who are called into the office should have their steward with them and be prepped to keep their answers short and simple. If you’re asked about something and you don’t remember, just say so. The worst thing you can do is to make up a story and give management an excuse to try to discipline you for dishonesty.
Another common management tactic is to try to get you to lose your cool. They’ll put a member or steward down, shout or pepper us with ridiculous questions—whatever it takes to provoke a reaction they can use against us. Don’t give them the satisfaction—or the upper hand.
Keep your cool and think twice before reacting to a statement or question. A member or steward can stop a meeting at any time and call a union caucus. Use the caucus to calm things down and keep on track.
Shifting Burden of Proof
In a grievance or disciplinary hearing, it’s up to management to prove an infraction and to justify the level of discipline. But a common trick is for management to try to shift burden of proof onto the employee.
In some cases, management will even start out a meeting by saying, “Do you know why you’re here?” or “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire you right now.”
Other times, management is more subtle, but their goal is the same.
Don’t let management turn the tables. In a disciplinary meeting, the shop steward or union representative should always insist that management present its case first.
Make management answer the question, “Is that your entire case?” Then, use the Seven Steps of Just Cause to show that management failed to meet its burden of proof or that the discipline is too severe.
Management will frequently ask a steward or union rep to drop one grievance to get a settlement on another. This is a recipe for permanent surrender. Once you go down this road, management will never settle a grievance without trading it for something. Grievance settlements can involve compromise. But all grievances should be pursued on their individual merits.
Supervisors love to change the subject to get out of resolving an issue. Instead of discussing a grievance, they’ll bring up other problems or side issues. Redirect the conversation back to the issue at hand—as often as it takes: “We can discuss that later. Right now, we're talking about this grievance.” Don’t take the bait and let management sidetrack the meeting.
This is the most common management game—and the toughest to deal with. The right way to deal with company stalling depends on the situation.
Sometimes group pressure is in order. If the problem affects a large number of members, file a group grievance. Make sure both the union and the company get a copy and follow up with your union rep so they know it’s a priority issue to members. A group of members can raise the issue together in the office—or at a union meeting—to make sure a grievance isn’t ignored.
If the company is wasting your time by stalling, it may be time to take up some of management’s time. Under the National Labor Relations Act, and many Teamster contracts, the union has the right to file an information request and get documents from the employer that are pertinent to the union’s investigation of a grievance. Hitting management with a reasonable, but detailed, information request is one way to make management pay the price for not responding to a grievance.
Publicity can have its place. Some stewards pass out grievance updates to keep members informed about the status of grievances—and to keep certain grievances in the public eye. Post a union countdown with the number of days that management has been ignoring the grievance.
Hold a Grievance Update meeting in the break room. Have employees wear stickers that say, “Respect.” (Note: Your right to wear stickers or take other group actions depends on your employer and your contract. Contact your union rep or call TDU before taking group action.)
Generally speaking, it’s easier to resolve grievances at a lower level in the grievance
procedure. Take action early and target the people who have the ability to settle the issue. Don’t wait until a problem is tied up in arbitration or headed to a panel.
By using smart strategies, we can beat management at their grievance games.