On the picket line
November 21, 2003 | Pages 14 and 15
Teamsters Local 174
SEATTLE--In one of the largest turnouts ever for a Teamsters Local 174 election, the Rank and File Power slate, led by Secretary-Treasurer-elect Dan Scott, swept all seven executive board positions in November. The members voted for the new officers based on their campaign pledges to reduce officials' travel expenses in order to spend more money on organizing new members and to focus on educating and mobilizing existing members.
The new executive board takes office on January 1. The stunning victory at the 7,150-member local was three years in the making.
In the 2000 election, current Secretary-Treasurer Scott Sullivan "defeated" reformer Bob Hasegawa, the three-term incumbent, by only three votes. Teamsters President James P. Hoffa personally intervened by assigning one of his loyal lieutenants to "resolve" the issue of 18 challenged ballots. Despite a Department of Labor (DOL) suit challenging the results of the election, Sullivan held on, and both sides agreed in early 2003 not to have a re-run of the challenged election, but to have the DOL supervise the current election.
This time around, the results were unmistakable. Dan Scott, a UPS driver and shop steward, beat Scott Sullivan by 171 votes.
The reformers' victory was in part a vote against Sullivan and his ties to Hoffa. "Hoffa says we have a democratic union because we have one person, one vote," said Vice President-elect Mark Babcock, a driver with Waste Management SnoKing. That is hardly a half truth. I can't vote on who sits on the pension or medical trust or who sits on the Joint Council. There are so many things we can't vote on.
"Hoffa wants puppets in power to help ensure his own power. He returns the favor with kickbacks like multiple pensions, multiple salaries and other things."
After two years in office, the Sullivan administration had the local in the red by $50,000. After Consolidated Freight went bankrupt, Hoffa engineered a merger between Local 174 and Teamsters Local 741. Sullivan proceeded to take $400,000 from Local 741's strike fund and put it into 174's general fund to "eliminate" debt.
The merger was also designed to inject a new cluster of supporters for Sullivan since Local 741 leaders were strong Hoffa backers. But this still failed to swamp the pro-reform vote.
While not all of the new executive board members belong to Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), several have been working within TDU for years to help reform the union at both the International and local level. And for more than two years, several have also put out a rank-and-file newsletter, The Union Explorer. The newsletter has informed members about the lies and shady tactics of the Sullivan administration and has helped to establish an organized network of union activists.
But the struggle isn't over yet. "You can rest assured because of all their ties to the old guard they will rally back," Babcock told Socialist Worker. The victory of the Rank and File Power slate is not only a tremendous victory for all reformers in the Teamsters, but it's a victory for the entire labor movement.
CHICAGO--Teamsters Local 705 is in the midst of a bitter election contest. Gerry Zero, the current secretary-treasurer, is fighting off two challengers in a campaign defined by personal attacks and nasty accusations by all sides.
The attacks have buried any serious discussion of issues that really matter to rank and filers. This means that the election will primarily be a referendum on Zero, whose campaign has emphasized the "decade of reform" under his leadership.
At the same time, there's widespread discontent about the direction of the local. Zero was a leading figure in the Teamsters reform movement, but stunned longstanding supporters by his 2001 endorsement of James P. Hoffa, the current president of the Teamsters and opponent of reform forces in the union.
Zero's strongest challenger is Steve Pocztowski, a former business agent under Zero and currently a UPS feeder driver. Pocztowski has assembled a slate of candidates that is an eclectic collection of former Hoffa campaign activists, fired business agents and a small number of reformers.
Pocztowski himself has played little to no role in the union since his defeat three years ago in the last local election. He attended no union meetings until this October, hasn't run for steward and hasn't backed reforms to make the local more democratic or accountable to the membership.
Despite this, Pocztowski and his slate have garnered a lot of support because of the serious shortcomings in recent contracts, particularly at UPS. They have also benefited from the rightly held belief among many Local 705 members that the bosses are riding roughshod over us everyday on the job with little organized or coordinated response from the union.
Challenger Eugene Phillips is a UPS feeder driver and the only African American candidate for secretary-treasurer. But his "New Leadership" slate has defined itself by its backward-looking ideas. His campaign literature calls for bringing back "the respect that we have lost in the last 10 years"--that is, a return to the days when the Mafia looted the union funds and lost half the membership.
What's at stake in the election for the union's reformers and shop-floor activists? Local 705 was once considered a "model of reform"--but that was a long time ago.
The election outcome won't likely affect the daily work lives of Local 705 members. The local's future will depend upon building a rank-and-file caucus committed to giving power back to the membership and fighting the bosses.
The building of such a caucus is an urgent necessity--irrespective of who wins the election. Ballots will be counted December 6.
LOS ANGELES--Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277 and the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced a tentative agreement as Socialist Worker went to press. "I'm asking my membership to bring down those picket signs," said Local 1277 President Neil Silver. "They can return to work."
Members will vote on the deal Wednesday. Both sides have agreed to send the key issue of health care to non-binding arbitration--a process that could take up to 90 days to reach an agreement.
Then, each side would have a chance to reject the arbitrator's decision. The strike, which began October 14, ended after the intervention of city and county officials.
BOSTON--Fury ran high among Boston public school teachers when they found out that, despite having no contract, they were still being asked to attend a math workshop or a guided reading workshop last Saturday. The teachers have been without a contract since September, and both sides have hardened their negotiating positions.
More than 100 teachers came out to picket the site of each workshop to show their solidarity--and to make sure the workshops would not go on as planned. "Right now, we're on a work to fairness rule," said Bob. "We won't do anything extra. We just want teachers doing their jobs and services directly [related] to the kids, not any extracurricular things."
Despite a repressive law that makes it illegal to strike for a long period of time, the demand and anger for a fair contract was high. "Right now the main issues are class size and salary," said John. "They're trying to make the class sizes larger, and they are offering only a 1 percent salary increase, which is less than the cost of living. They're justifying it all through budget cuts. They're saying there isn't enough money around, yet there is enough [to hold] the Democratic National Convention [in Boston]."
The pickets kept all but one person out of the workshops at the two sites. A fair contract doesn't just mean the teachers are fighting for better working conditions.
"We want to show parents that the contracts aren't just about working conditions, but also about teaching conditions and class size," said Claire. "A fair contract will also mean that students will be more successful in the school."
BURLINGTON, Vt.--Managements at the City Market has targeted one of the most vocal and militant union members, Jairo Dechtair, disciplining him recently for "inappropriate communication style." Jairo's "crime"? He wrote "cut managers in half" on the workplace dry erase board.
This phrase accompanied the drawing of a person lying in a box that had been cut in half so that the top half of the person was separated from the bottom half. But the real reason that management feels "threatened" is that Jairo has very publicly been advocating for months that managers' salaries be cut in half. What's more, Jairo is from Brazil and is not a fluent English speaker.
Jairo and other employees have long been disgusted with the way management has handled the finances and balanced their budget on the backs of its workers. For his sins, management barred Jairo from the workplace, took away his shifts and then issued him a notice that threatens him with termination for any future act management deems "inappropriate." The union has filed a grievance against management on Jairo's behalf, demanding that the disciplinary action be revoked.