Reformers in the Teamsters have the wind at their backs. A rank-and-file slate swept to victory November 10 at Local 767 in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, the largest UPS local in the South.
The 767 Teamsters United for Change won an outright majority in a four-way race. President-elect Brian “Smokewagon” Perrier, a 29-year UPS driver, got nearly twice as many votes as the incumbent president.
Perrier saw this day coming a long way off. “We’re going to win the election,” he predicted at the campaign’s first planning meeting back in March, “and this is going to start a movement in our Southern region and it’s going to spread like wildfire.”
After union brass invoked a constitutional loophole in October to ratify an unpopular new contract at UPSdespite a majority voting it down, Teamsters around the country are turning their focus from “vote no” to “vote them out.”
At the November convention of the grassroots network Teamsters for a Democratic Union, activists from around the country shared plans to run against local officers who backed the bad deal.
“We need to get rid of Hoffa,” said UPS feeder driver Debbie Jennings, who won for recording secretary. “To make a change in the union you’ve got to start at the bottom and work your way up.”
Reformers also just won leadership of a local in Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. The next race to watch is in New York City’s Local 804, the biggest UPS local in the East, where members voted a staggering 95 percent “no” on the contract. Ballots go out after Thanksgiving.
WHATEVER IT TOOK
Ever wondered how UPS packages travel cross-country so fast? One piece of the puzzle is two-person “sleeper teams.” One driver sleeps in the back of the truck while the other drives. Every 10 hours, they switch off.
That’s Perrier’s job. His schedule takes him out on the road Sunday to Tuesday, and again Thursday to Friday—which left Wednesdays to campaign. For several months he’s been racking up the miles in his pickup, visiting far-flung UPS hubs to talk to fellow Teamsters.
“There would be times I would come in Tuesday night, go to sleep three hours, then get up and go out to hubs,” he said. “I have to have my wife send a picture of her to me every now and then, so I remember what she looks like.”
Others on the seven-member slate and teams of supporters were doing the same. They visited every workplace but one, in a large local with many outlying facilities hours apart.
“Some of us have been out at 3 a.m.—whatever it takes,” said Jennings. She joined the slate after emerging as a leader in the vote-no movement, which organized parking-lot rallies, handed out signs, and leafleted at the workplace gates.
It was the vote-no momentum that propelled the slate to victory. Jennings was furious that the contract created a second tier of drivers—“If you deliver packages, you should be paid to deliver packages”—and offered only a measly raise to the legion of part-time package sorters and loaders who enable the company’s high profits.
“Part-time wages have always been poverty to me,” she said. “At that rate do you even have enough money to pay for your gas to come to work? We need to bring it up to $15.”
FROM THE GROUND UP
The new leaders have a big job ahead of them: turning the 8,000-member union around, after “a long time of leadership where they don’t give a crap about you,” as Jennings put it.
They’ve pledged to cut union expenses and ramp up contract enforcement to curb UPS’s widespread harassment of employees. “Our business agents aren’t going to have an 8 to 5 job,” Perrier said.
But business agents can’t do it alone. Perrier said reining in UPS means recruiting more stewards, filing more grievances, and getting rank and filers into the act.
“We want to build a camaraderie between co-workers so they’ll be able to stand up for each other,” he said. “Right now they’re afraid they’ll get a target on them.”
Slate members discovered many people they talked to had never heard of Weingarten rights—a worker’s right to bring a union steward or rep along to any meeting with management that might result in discipline. So they printed up cards with the Weingarten rights on one side and the campaign logo on the other, and started handing them out.
They also signed up at least 100 new members; Texas is a right-to-work state. “So many people are not in our local, especially younger part-timers,” Jennings said. “We’re going to grow our membership.”
Support from TDU helped the campaign along; Perrier got in touch after he ran across the book Running for Local Union Office. He said TDU offered valuable advice on outreach, fundraising, and getting out the vote.
”They know what they’re doing,” Perrier said, “They’ve been through it before—and they’re going to go through it a lot more.”
UPS Contract Fallout
The fight over the UPS contract isn’t quite over. Though the administration of President James P. Hoffa has declared the master contract ratified, it can’t be implemented until all the local and regional supplements are ratified too.
Five of those supplements were rejected in numbers so strong that Hoffa can’t deny them. New York City’s Local 804 was one; the others are Central Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, Upstate New York, and a small unit in the South called Trailer Conditioners, Inc. These local standoffs could hold up the contract.
But since the union has given away its leverage, sooner or later this contract will get through. UPS Teamsters are bracing to cope with the fallout of the new lower-paid “hybrid driver” position.
Delivery drivers expect the company to cut costs by diverting work to this new second tier, especially on weekends, with regular drivers at risk for Monday layoffs. The one check on UPS is language protecting the current number of regular delivery drivers in each local. So shop stewards are passing the word to track this info.
Meanwhile at UPS Freight, the contract covering 11,600 Teamsters was rejected on the first vote but ratified on a revote, despite no significant improvements. The union and the company both used heavy scare tactics, emphasizing a strike as the only alternative to voting yes. UPS stopped taking shipping orders the week before the potential strike deadline, emptying its freight network and laying off drivers.
With the package contract ratified, freight drivers saw the writing on the wall—no leverage, no union plan for a successful strike—and many evidently accepted defeat.
Strike Vote in Chicago
There is still one holdout—Chicago’s Local 705, which isn’t covered under the master deal and is preparing for a possible peak-season strike.
On Halloween, the union gave 30-day notice to cancel its contract extension with UPS, which means members could walk out December 1. If strikers hit the road, supportive locals elsewhere could possibly honor roving pickets.
In the past, aside from a unique grievance procedure, Chicago’s contract has followed the national pattern on most major issues. But Local 705 has made clear its 10,000 UPS members are not interested in accepting the biggest concession in this year’s national deal: the new second tier of drivers.
“We’re not even going to entertain that,” said bargaining team member and delivery driver Marcos Salgado.
The local is also holding out for a $15 starting wage for part-timers, pension increases for active and retiree members, and a reduction in the subcontracting that’s chipping away at the work of feeder drivers, who transport packages between UPS hubs.
“Contractors are in and out of the yard, doing work that should be ours,” said driver Jason Amadio. For instance, contractors are brought in as midday substitutes while direct employees are forced to take an hour-long lunch break.
UPS Teamsters have maximum leverage this time of year, when parcel volumes surge and there’s heavy pressure to get everything to its destination before Christmas. Even a short stoppage could cause a backup that’s hard to recover from, as Rhode Island Teamsters proved last year when they boycotted an early-morning start to protest forced overtime. It took the company days to recover.
In Chicago, while bargaining continues, the union’s next escalation step may be a post-Thanksgiving strike vote. To maximize participation, the vote will be held not at the union hall but in every UPS workplace. A hundred stewards and business agents will fan out to cover all the facilities and shifts.
There is speculation that Hoffa might intervene to block a strike. Bolstering Local 705’s threat, however, is the fact that the local has its own $8 million strike fund.