Turning up the heat in Local 952

Edgar Esquivel, a UPS worker in Orange County, Calif., reports on the progress of the new reform movement in his Teamster local.

Teamsters Local 952 members on strike against the Orange Country Transportation Authority in 2007Teamsters Local 952 members on strike against the Orange Country Transportation Authority in 2007

FIVE MONTHS after it was born, the grassroots movement Reform Teamsters 952 has gained significant momentum through rank-and-file workers' efforts to change the direction of their union.

In recent weeks, the group, made up of pragmatic rank-and-file workers from Teamsters Local 952 in Orange County, Calif., has campaigned at numerous worksites, including UPS, CVS, Coca-Cola, Straub (the local Budweiser distributor), UPS Freight and Yellow Freight--and has been well-received by workers at each of these companies.

But perhaps the biggest shock to the Local 952 system came at the UPS hub in Laguna, Calif., where the reform movement was launched. In late April, UPSers from the Coast Center at the Laguna hub organized votes of "no confidence" against their two shop stewards, who were controlled by the union old guard. One old guard steward was defeated, and a reformer elected in his place.

Over the past few years, the center had developed a reputation for weakness due to their shop stewards' lack of action. A majority of members in the center circulated a petition that forced their union business agent to hold a new election for shop steward for package car drivers.

This action by Coast Center workers was a blow to the officers of Local 952, who for years have failed to instruct and train shop stewards on how to properly carry out their tasks in defense of members.

What you can do

Find out more about the struggle for change in Teamsters Local 952 by going to the Reform Teamsters 952 Web site.

And on April 28, in a stunning upset for Local 952 President Bob Hahn, Mike Deszcz--a reformer who for years had been blackballed by the president himself for his strong union advocacy--won the election. As a result, a Hahn clone has been replaced with a 30-year Teamster who wants UPS to acknowledge that UPSers are human beings, and not a number or a bottom line.

After the victory, Deszcz added: "I consider it a privilege to represent workers at a time when it's greatly needed." Showing that he was not running to be exempt from union dues, he said he will use his portion of his monthly dues to buy gift cards for the hard-working members of Coast Center.

Reform Teamsters 952 congratulated Deszcz and the Teamster brothers and sisters at Coast Center for taking a stand against the status quo and old guard policies of Local 952. Their triumph symbolizes reform, and Reform Teamsters 952 welcomes and embraces it.

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THIS VICTORY at the UPS Laguna hub capped weeks of reform activism at the company.

When Reform Teamsters 952 visited the UPS hub in Anaheim April 5, hundreds of workers expressed their concern and distrust with union officials. Many of their chants included the phrase "anybody but Bobby"--a reference to Local 952 President Hahn, who started his Teamster career as a UPSer. Veteran drivers who began their own careers at the company alongside him more than 30 years ago simply remarked, "He forgot where he came from and who put him up there."

On April 6, Reform Teamsters 952 organizers attended a reform meeting of Teamsters Local 63 members in West Covina.

After the assembly, organizers stopped by the CVS distribution center in La Habra, where Local 952 is currently in contract negotiations. CVS workers were very happy to see Reform Teamsters 952 activists at their worksite. Many were eager to learn more about the movement, and gave reformers their contact information while expressing their desire to get involved.

More than a few workers expressed their disgust with their Local 952 business agent, Joe Dornbach, who they described as corporate-friendly. The majority of the CVS workers--who had no knowledge of their right to protest, organize and vote--thanked Reform Teamsters 952 activists for informing them.

The following morning, Reform Teamsters 952 activists campaigned at Yellow Freight in Orange, where Teamsters received the organizers with open arms. Every member at that worksite showed their anger with the local's lack of action and its refusal to fight for Yellow Freight workers' pensions.

They were angry that the Teamsters International, along with Local 952 officers, bullied workers to vote in favor of allowing Yellow Freight management to withhold contributions to their Teamsters pension funds for 18 months while allowing a 15 percent cut in workers' wages.

That bitter experience made Yellow Freight members receptive to Reform Teamsters 952 activists. A shop steward and other Teamster members walked out during breaks to give the reformers a warm welcome. Many workers, including 30-plus year veterans, passed on contact information and agreed to get active in the reform effort.

These Yellow Freight workers said that Local 952 Business Agent Frank Sevilla only showed up to their work area to promote Secretary Treasurer Patrick Kelly's and President Bob Hahn's agenda, and when members raise concern over issues at work, Sevilla simply leaves without any feedback.

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AFTER WRAPPING up at Yellow Freight, Reform Teamsters 952 organizers drove a couple blocks down the street, where they had another wonderful reception while campaigning at Coca-Cola in Orange.

Coca-Cola Teamsters have been working on an extension of a contract that expired April 4. Worried Coca-Cola workers also expressed their discontent with, and distrust of, business agent Sevilla and the current negotiations. And no wonder: there are many subcontracting companies transporting Coca-Cola goods--a clear violation of their contract agreement. When a Coca-Cola delivery driver was asked about the matter, he said management is getting away with the subcontracting "because Sevilla and the rest of the guys at Local 952 don't give a damn about protecting Teamster jobs."

When it comes to current contract negotiations, the majority of Coca-Cola workers indicated they had no idea of what was being discussed--but said that the first offer would be turned down anyway. One of the workers expressed his willingness to strike if not offered a "right and just" contract.

Is it possible that a raw deal in the Coca-Cola contract had already been made prior to the appearance of Reform Teamsters 952? Or has the pressure from reform advocates changed the direction that negotiations are going? Have the reformers mounted enough pressure that Local 952 leaders are beginning to listen to their constituency?

Whatever the case may be, Reform Teamsters 952 is carefully monitoring the Coca-Cola negotiations, and will continue to pressure the local to land its brothers and sisters from the company a good deal.

Reform Teamsters 952 will not tolerate local officials using the economic recession as an excuse to serve the members a raw deal. If the officers of Local 952 haven't taken monetary cuts in solidarity with local members, then neither should the workers.

Reform Teamsters 952 organizers also found anger brewing at Straub, the Budweiser distributor in Orange when they leafleted the company in early April. The workers were enraged by the actions of Local 952 Vice President Don Brewster, who also serves as their business agent. Brewster pushed through a vote by Straub Teamsters to divert five cents from their already insulting 35-cent increase per hour into their pension fund.

But union officers who promoted this initiative never gave any constructive explanation to the workers for the concession. Did Straub use the economic recession as an excuse to reduce contributions into Teamster pensions? Worse yet, why did Don Brewster agree to give such a concession?

Straub Teamsters got another raw deal the following week--news that they would have to contribute a big chunk of their earnings into their health care coverage, which had previously been covered by the employer in full.

Again, why did Vice President and Business Agent Don Brewster agree to the concessions? Many upset Straub workers shared with Reform Teamsters 952 organizers that during negotiations, Brewster refused to allow rank-and-filers and shop stewards to be part of the negotiating committee or even share information on the negotiations that led to the concessions. A number of Straub Teamsters have claimed that instead of fighting for members' rights, Brewster simply sides with the company.

Reform Teamsters 952 will further investigate the raw deal that Straub workers were given by local officials--and stand in solidarity with its brothers and sisters.