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PORTSIDELABOR  April 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDELABOR April 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Teamster Victory and Reader Comments

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 16 Apr 2012 23:08:32 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (302 lines)

Teamsters Score 3-to-1 Election Victory in Nearly Union-Free
Industry
    Company pledges good-faith bargaining, but union
    remains skeptical

by Josh Eidelson

Working In These Times

April 13, 2012

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/13035/toll_election_victory_union_teamsters_los_angeles_australia_nlrb_union-bust/

Wednesday night, the National Labor Relations Board
announced that truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles had
won a rare union election. The 46-to-15 vote is a major step
forward in the Teamsters' campaign to transform the
overwhelmingly nonunion port trucking industry - though it's
no guarantee of a union contract with their employer, the
$8.8 billion Australian logistics company Toll Group.

"When they tried to push us down, they only managed to make
us stronger..." said Toll driver Karael Vallecillo on
Thursday.  "This is just the beginning of the big war."

Wednesday's was one of the first union elections held by
U.S. port truckers since the deregulation of the industry in
the 1980s. For most of the country's 110,000 port truck
drivers, NLRB elections aren't an option. As David Bacon has
reported, port truck drivers are frequently misclassified as
"independent contractors" who aren't employed by the
companies they work for and thus aren't eligible to file for
an election. But Toll's LA workers are classified as
employees. Writing in the Australian newspaper The Age,
reporter Malcom Maiden traced that difference to a Port of
LA requirement - since overturned by an appeals court - that
companies directly employ drivers.

Reached during a union rally the night before the election,
two-year Toll driver Alberto Quintero said he began
organizing with the union after he and some co-workers tried
taking concerns to management: "You know, basic human being
treatment, like a clean toilet."  When workers asked for
daily bathroom cleaning, Quintero says Toll refused. He says
when workers asked for clean drinking water, "They gave us
water, but they left it in the sun...it was tasting like
plastic...they didn't even give us cups."

In December, Toll worker Xiomara Perez joined port truckers
from six other ports in a writing a letter to the Occupy
movement and the broader public.

"Just like Wall Street doesn't have to abide by rules, our
industry isn't bound to regulation," they wrote.  "So the
market is run by con artists...We receive Third World wages
and drive sweatshops on wheels."  In January, Perez and her
Port of LA co-workers filed for an election.  In February,
hundreds of port truck drivers in Washington State struck
for two weeks and massed at the state capitol demanding a
crackdown on misclassification. LA workers joined them in
wearing wristbands reading "Our fight is your fight."

In March, Toll fired Perez.

The union charges that Perez's firing was part of an
aggressive - and often illegal - anti-union campaign waged
by Toll since last year. In January, the National Labor
Relations Board issued a complaint (the equivalent of an
indictment) against Toll for anti-union actions including
illegally interrogating, harassing, retaliating, and
discriminating against workers.  Perez was ostensibly fired
for stopping at a McDonald's bathroom on her way to make a
delivery (she made the delivery on time anyway). Another
prominent worker activist, Steven Chavez, was ostensibly
fired for using a company vehicle, during his lunch break,
to drive to renew a Department of Transportation certificate
(Chavez says he had a supervisor's permission).

Quintero said Tuesday that management held mandatory anti-
union meetings roughly every other week in months leading up
to the election. He said these meetings included a series of
anti-union speakers, from a man who said that he and his
entire family had been union members, to one of Toll's top
executives.

"They try to find to find out who is pro, who is
against...There's a lot of people that are scared about the
fight, because knowing about how bad the economy is now,
everybody needs a job to feed their families."

In an e-mailed statement, Toll did not address the pending
NLRB complaint, but noted that some of the union's NLRB
charges have been withdrawn or dismissed, and that the NLRB
has not so far issued any final verdicts against the
company. Toll touted its wages and benefits as "competitive"
and "among the best in the industry."

International solidarity in action

Since early in the campaign, U.S. workers' campaign against
Melbourne-based Toll has been backed by Australia's
Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents 12,000 Toll
workers. TWU members made repeated visits to Los Angeles,
including a delegation of Australian Toll employees led by
TWU President Tony Shelton last month.

TWU says that Australian workers have good working
conditions and constructive labor relations with the
company. The Age's Maiden wrote of the company's U.S.
workers, "by our standards, they get a pittance." But
Sheldon told an LA crowd that if Toll succeeded in busting
the union in the U.S., Australian workers would be
threatened as well.  "When America makes a decision,
Australia soon follows."

"If they want to fuck with you," TWU Senior Official Michael
Aird told a group of U.S. workers, "if they want to treat
you with this sort of disrespect, then there will be a
consequence for them."  TWU helped spearhead outreach to
Australian media and politicians, making Toll's U.S. labor
relations a national story in Australia. The Australians'
involvement contradicts a common stereotype of international
labor solidarity as an act of charity, granted by Americans
to workers elsewhere.

U.S. workers, including Quintero, also visited TWU workers
Australia. He says that after seeing the conditions there,
"I thought, hey, if they have the royal treatment, why don't
we?"  Having TWU members' support, says Quintero, "gives us
a lot of hope...it gives us the strength to continue our
fight."

"I didn't come to this country to be treated like an animal
just because of my background," says Vallecillo.  He and
half a dozen co-workers formed a committee of union leaders
at work.  "We had rallies against the company..." says
Vallecillo.  "We talk to the drivers.  We tell them this
company is trying to scare them...we tell them we can't
lose."

In February (for Alternet) I asked TJ Michels, a
spokesperson for Change to Win, the labor federation that
includes the Teamsters, why the union was pursuing an NLRB
election despite Toll's alleged law-breaking and the
weakness of U.S. labor law.  Michels said that while workers
would have preferred "a fair process", and knew the election
would be "like going through a meat grinder," they decided
they were ready for it.  The workers received support from
TWU, port truck drivers in other cities, U.S. and Australian
politicians, and a team of community monitors that
interviewed workers and reported on the company's anti-union
campaign.

If Wednesday's victory represents a turning point for port
truck drivers, it may be less as a legal amulet than as a
show of strength and solidarity. Roughly half of workers who
win union elections are without a contract a year later, in
part because U.S. law offers employers ample opportunity to
challenge or stall election results and offers no
requirement that companies make concessions in negotiations
or submit to arbitration.

But the government-certified 3-to-1 victory is likely to
draw notice from currently misclassified drivers elsewhere
in the United State, by U.S. politicians unions will push to
address misclassification, and by media, customers, and
workers in Australia, where Toll doesn't have a reputation
for bare-knuckled union-busting.

"There's a lot of drivers that's been treated the way we've
been treated..." says Vallecillo.  "I think this is going to
be some kind of inspiration for them."

In its statement, Toll indicated no plans to challenge the
result, emphasizing instead that the vote "affects a small
proportion of our total U.S. workforce, and an even smaller
proportion of our 45,000 employees..."  Toll said, "We
welcome the conclusion of this campaign and recognize our
employees' decision."  The company pledged to "negotiate
with the union in good faith," and said that it "will begin
what is expected to be lengthy negotiation following an
expected hiatus of 30 to 45 days, as required by U.S. law."

Change to Win spokesperson Coral Itzcalli says that given
Toll's record, its commitment is little comfort: "We expect
the company to kick and scream every step of the way...We
expect it to be a fight, but we're also very confident of
how united the workers are."

Asked whether he expects Toll to resist negotiating a fair
contract, Vallecillo says, "They will try, but they won't be
able to do it, because we are strong and we won't back
down...You can't expect anything from the powerful people.
You have to get it yourself and fight for it."

[Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer and a contributor at In
These Times, The American Prospect, Dissent, and Alternet.
After receiving his MA in Political Science, he worked as a
union organizer for five years.  His website is
http://www.josheidelson.com ]

==========

Reader Comments on Portside Labor posts - April 10, 2012

* Re: Two on Detroit Union Concessions... (James Vann) 
* Re: Millionaires Tax discussion - an additional 
  perspective (Claudette Begin)

==========

* Re: "Two on Detroit Union Concessions..."
(PortsideLabor, 21 March 2012)
 

It is appalling that the current proliferation of 'consent
orders,' 'consent degrees,' 'austerity measures,' 'employee
concessions and give-backs,' 'contract terminations,'
'safety net reductions,' and 'omnipotent Financial Advisory
Boards' are all totally one-way.

Why do these punitive measures aim to only balance the
wreckage of runaway corporate greed solely on the backs of
workers ?

Why do these all-powerful "boards" are not mandated to also
restructure 7- to 10-figure corporate salaries, eliminate
immoral bonuses, regulate stockholder dividends and
bondholder repayments, and mandate equitable distribution of
profits also to workers.

An inviolate principle of mathematics requires that for any
equation [ 2x = 3y ] to be solved, the equating terms must
be balanced.

Let the balancing begin !
 
James Vann
Oakland, California 

==========

* Re: Millionaires Tax discussion - an additional
perspective

I speak as someone who has been waiting for years for an
initiative such as the Millionaires Tax and who jumped into
the effort this February, recruiting volunteers to circulate
petitions and working to get on the ground support of the
MTI at Cal.

CFT has been trying to generate interest in taxing the rich
for several years, producing literature, doing focus groups,
etc.  In the last 2 years some activists joined them to work
out what such an initiative would be.  With Occupy's
eruption, finally there was much more room and receptivity
to such a tax and CFT launched the initiative.

Meanwhile, the big unions either sided with Governor Brown,
or abstained.  Some unions or locals within unions endorsed.
Not the same as becoming sponsors.  The worst case, is that
CTA, the big education union in this state, went even
further and spent big bucks attacking the MTI.  Where's the
outrage there?

The proper response is two-fold, (1) do everything now to
promote the MTI (I understand Occupy Education is having a
press conference today to do that, and, (2) confront all the
unions (CTA, SEIU, AFSCME) that should have sponsored the
MTI instead of supporting Brown's.  Not to mention the
unions that should have appreciated the extremely important
move towards reversing the anti-worker tax structure, and
been activating their members to circulate petitions, ,
Teamsters, and your own unions.... Some unions like

The Democratic Party's influence on all these unions of not
rocking the boat continues - CTA being a noble carrier of
that banner, to side with them rather than with the interest
of their members and education in California.

Claudette Begin
CUE-IBT Local 2010

==========

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