Teamsters United One Step Closer
As of July 1, the challengers for Teamster leadership are officially nominated. Now their supporters are out seeking votes among the union’s 1.3 million members.
Ballots will be mailed October 6 and counted November 14. The result will depend on how many hours volunteers spend leafleting at workplace gates—and how many phone numbers and email addresses they collect.
“As long as we get out the vote, we have an extremely good chance of winning,” said Brooke Reeves, a hospital secretary and Local 251 steward in Rhode Island. “People from Hoffa-Hall [the incumbents] don’t come out to talk to you. They send a robo-call.
“We go face to face. That’s where you get a member’s vote.”
Teamsters in her Rhode Island crew are using their vacation days to visit worksites all over New England—sometimes hitting the road at 3:30 a.m. to get to Maine for a morning shift. “I have tomorrow off because I’m taking my daughter somewhere,” Reeves said the day we spoke, “but I’ll be at UPS tomorrow at 7:45 a.m. for two hours beforehand. I told them, ‘You can have me in the morning.’”
At the union’s lavish convention in Las Vegas, Teamsters United delegates braved a sea of booing Hoffa supporters to nominate nearly a full slate. (The Western region candidates narrowly fell short, and the campaign isn’t contesting Canadian seats.)
The campaign is also seeking to raise $500,000 to send out a mailer to all voters. Only Teamsters may donate.
GET OUT THE VOTE
“Voter turnout is just abysmal in Teamster elections,” said Dave Bernt, a UPS feeder driver and Local 705 steward who’s running for trustee. “That’s how Hoffa keeps getting reelected, even though there’s a lot of unhappiness with our contracts. In past elections we didn’t get out to as many facilities as we needed to.
“We’ve found, where we do campaign, we do very well.”
Hoffa opponents had never won a delegate seat in Southern California Local 630—until this year, when Teamsters United took six out of nine. Four of the six supported Hoffa last time around.
“There’s been a lot of groundbreaking,” said delegate Frank Villa, a 26-year Teamster. When campaigning in previous elections, “I would want to go as a group with someone else, so if something happened I had a witness,” he said. “Some people would get a bully attitude when you talked about voting Hoffa out.
“Now people are impressed and glad someone’s letting them know we have this choice. They’re taking literature to pass on, and calling me up to say they need more.”
Teamsters in Chicago formed a committee to coordinate local activities. They go out in teams of two to four for a smaller worksite, 10-20 for a giant UPS hub.
“We want to engage people in conversations,” Bernt said, “find out what their issues are, what are they most upset about, and tie it to the Teamsters United campaign.”
WAVE OF ANGER
There’s no shortage of issues to discuss. The union has failed to organize in all its core industries—allowing nonunion companies to proliferate, member ranks to dwindle, and standards to plummet.
Freight drivers suffered a 15 percent pay cut, followed by a pay freeze. “Nobody’s happy about that,” said Jerry Yarbrough, of Local 667 in Memphis, who’s running for at-large vice president.
Carhaulers last fall voted down a concession-laden contract by 87 percent. Retirees in the Central States Pension Fund have mounted a grassroots campaign to block drastic cuts to their pensions—cuts Hoffa helped bring about.
“We got the worst grocery contract ever,” said Villa. And on the job, “management is cranking up the dial of production.”
At a grocery warehouse, he maneuvers a pallet jack down aisles stacked six feet high with dairy and meat, loading computer-selected orders by hand. “It’s all been engineered,” he said, “the travel time, the time you step off your jack and pick up that case, all that’s being timed on your body movements.
“You can imagine how the company can speed this up. And there’s no information to help the membership fight these unreasonable production standards. There’s no representation to take it to grievances and win.”
At UPS, the nation’s largest bargaining unit, union brass forced through a concession-laden national contract in 2013—after members repeatedly voted it down. Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman, the Teamsters United candidate for president, was a leader in the vote-no movement.
In some locals, UPSers report their union reps don’t even show up to help workers confront the many problems—forced overtime, dangerous heat, electronic surveillance, harassment from supervisors, and the proliferation of low-wage, part-time jobs at a company that makes billions in profit.
“Pretty much the entire inside operation at UPS is done by part-time workers who start at $10 an hour,” Bernt said. “In Chicago and Seattle, the minimum wage has actually surpassed the UPS contract, which is just an embarrassing statement about the Teamsters.”
Yarbrough is focusing his leafleting at UPS gates. “There are lots of people over there, but a small percentage that votes,” he said. “They’ve been beat down so bad.”
He’s heard about numerous contract violations—part-timers getting shifts of just one or two hours (the contract guarantees three), supervisors doing bargaining-unit work, delivery drivers forced into overtime. “They’re just tired,” he said. “They’re running all day, and now it’s hot. They just want their contract enforced.”
Read more: The low pay for part-timers at UPS is dragging down standards for postal workers, too.