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Latest News - November 2010

November 7, 2010
Reform Teamsters Gather to Back Insurgent Campaign
Source: Labor Notes
By: By Jane Slaughter

“I haven't been this excited since the early 1990s,” said a Teamster at a strategizing session for the Sandy Pope campaign. Pope, a local president in New York, is running against James Hoffa for the Teamsters presidency next year.

The early 1990s is when reformer Ron Carey bested two opponents to take the union’s top spot, backed by the reform caucus Teamsters for a Democratic Union. The mood this weekend in Chicago at TDU’s 35th annual convention is high and determined. Members and others are already out gathering petition signatures from fellow members to make Pope an accredited candidate.

One member from Long Island said he’d already gotten 500 signatures—the national target is 40,000—and pledged 500 more. Curtis Zeolla, who drives freight for ABF in Chicago, said all he has to say is that Pope is running against Hoffa, and most drivers are willing signers. ABF is suing the Teamsters for giving huge concessions to its competitor, YRC—the only other remaining signatory to the once-proud National Master Freight Agreement.

A quarter to a third of the convention is first-timers, but older heads reminded themselves of their similar grassroots effort that brought Carey to power in 1991. It was the first contest in which rank-and-file members had had the right to vote on top officers. Tim Buban, a retired local official from a Milwaukee UPS local, told delegates, “The power of the incumbency isn't what it used to be. Look at the national mood.”

Tom Leedham, a Portland, Oregon, local president, ran against Hoffa five years ago. He told the crowd, “I used to say Hoffa had a three-point program: talk tough, settle short, declare victory. Now he’s only got two points: sell out to the employers and sell it to the members.”

Still, Pope faces a campaign machine with plenty of cash—Hoffa himself made $294,285 last year, despite declining membership, and his slate mates are similarly situated. The TDUers aren’t fooling themselves; they have an uphill battle to unseat the 12-year incumbent even if running on his father’s name no longer impresses many members.

Some snapshots from the convention:

— A steward from UPS in Louisville, Kentucky, a reader of the Troublemaker’s Handbook, said he had a troublemaking story to share. A driver from his hub found a small snake in the back of his truck. When he attempted to get it out, the snake bit him. He went to the emergency room—and supervisor Charlie Moore disciplined him for tackling the snake by himself.

So our steward found some pictures of snakes and used them to make a border around a UPS bid sheet—the document on which drivers apply for new assignments. He titled the new job “Charlie Moore’s Snake Handling School. Guest appearance by Rev. Jim Bob Jones” and hung it up. The first signer was Monty Python. The guys loved it; Moore was a laughingstock. Various boa constrictors also bid for the job. As supervisors tore down one sheet, another took its place. And the driver’s discipline was removed.

— Also at UPS, but in New York City, newly elected leaders found a way to deal with the company’s notorious ride-alongs, during which supervisors harass drivers and find ways to up their quotas. One method is to give the driver a lighter load than usual. When he or she finishes in less time, supervisors say that that standard should be met every day.

So Local 804 bought video cameras to tape the supervisor’s behavior during a ride-along—walking on the driver’s heels to speed him up, and the like. After they finished one taping, suddenly a second UPS truck showed up on the same route—it was carrying all the big packages that had been left off the targeted driver’s truck. The Teamster film crew taped the customer saying, “Yeah, the first guy only brought a couple of little things.”

— Because the Teamsters are still subject to government oversight, which began in the mobbed-up 1980s, a monitor enforces election rules. One is that employers must grant campaigners access to company parking lots and other areas for signature-gathering and other electioneering.

— Locomotive engineer Hugh Sawyer from Atlanta told the crowd that truckers, railroad workers, river and barge workers should take advantage of the fact that their jobs can’t be globalized away. The engineers are a division of the Teamsters. “We’re not competing with each other, we’re symbiotic,” Sawyer said, “and we can shut this country down. We make the country live and breathe; it’s not the bankers.”

— In Portland, Oregon, management at a Kroger warehouse issued fluorescent safety vests to all the workers. So Local 206 ordered lime-green fluorescent vests with big Teamster logos, union-made, and handed those out to members instead.

— In a speech to an enthusiastic crowd Saturday night, Pope criticized Hoffa for abandoning the freight industry and for settling short at UPS when the company was making record profits. She promised to begin a contract campaign at UPS a year ahead of time as Carey did before the successful 1997 strike.



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