UPS backs down over firings
Teamsters in New York City won an important victory over UPS when the corporate giant rescinded the firings of union members for participating in a February 26 walkout. Here, Danny Katch reports on the outcome--and we publish a statement by Eric Reyes, the son of the driver whose firing sparked the walkout, about what was at stake in Maspeth.
UPS WAS forced to retract pink slips issued to 250 drivers at the Maspeth, Queens, hub, who walked off the job for 90 minutes on February 26 to protest the unjust firing of a fellow driver. That driver, Jairo Reyes, was also reinstated as part of UPS's agreement with Teamsters Local 804, which represents UPS workers in New York City.
UPS is one of the country's largest companies with a unionized workforce. The mass firings in Queens were meant to make an example out of Local 804 and intimidate UPS workers across the country, many of whom have voted down local supplements to the national UPS contract.
Instead, the rank-and-file members and leaders of Local 804 set an important example by showing that job actions and solidarity still work. It was a nearly two-month-long fight, but when it was over, 250 workers had saved their union brother's job by risking their own necks.
That action came at a price. Local 804 was forced to accept 10-day suspensions for the drivers and pay monetary damages for packages not delivered on the morning of the walkout. Unions and labor activists should consider holding fundraisers to help out the suspended drivers and their union.
Reyes himself will return to work without management retracting the original charges against him--that he was "stealing" time by reporting to work early, even though managers had approved the early start time so he could get a spot at the loading dock on his delivery route. Reyes and his coworkers believe the charges were an act of retaliation for a mass grievance against seniority rules that Reyes signed. "I'm happy to know that everyone's back, and that I'll be back," Reyes said. "It's just a little disappointing, in that UPS hasn't cleared my name. I feel like I've been slandered."
On the other hand, in addition to reinstating the drivers, UPS "agreed to work with Local 804 to improve labor-management relations at the company and to handle disciplinary disputes more expeditiously under the new grievance procedure," according to a statement released by the union. Time will tell if UPS follows through on these promises, but they already represent an embarrassing public admission by the company that it has a management problem.
Local 804 was able to win significant support from the public and local elected officials, who threatened UPS with the loss of some of its sweetheart deals with the city around taxes and parking tickets. The Working Families Party, a union-backed political party that usually endorses Democratic candidates, helped the union get over 100,000 signatures on petitions demanding that the pink slips be revoked.
Meanwhile, the International leadership of the Teamsters finally broke its silence around the dispute. Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall flew to New York to help mediate the settlement between UPS and Local 804. While it may seem odd for the International to play a mediating role and not be firmly on the side of its own local, it's significant that the solidarity campaign for the Maspeth drivers finally forced International President James Hoffa Jr. to get involved.
While the support of politicians and sort-of-support from the International was important, the key players in this struggle were the workers of Local 804 and their elected leadership. Their walkout inspired solidarity from UPS workers and labor activists across the country. Throughout the struggle, the drivers didn't back down from asserting their right to take action--even after UPS raised the stakes by firing drivers. They deserve the victory they won against Big Brown.
Days before the settlement was reached, Jairo Reyes' son Eric wrote a statement to explain why the public should support the Maspeth drivers. With Eric's permission, we are publishing his statement here:
I WOULD like to bring to the attention of the public a story that seems to be lost in the shuffle. On February 14, a 48-year-old man was fired from his job. See, to the general public that is all that is known. The truth of the matter is there is much more to the story.
This man in question is a father, a husband, a volunteer to the community. The man in question is my father. I will imagine at this point that anyone reading this will jump to the conclusion that I am offering a biased opinion. For argument's sake, I would be inclined to agree. But the truth of the matter is that what I have to say is based purely on facts, which could be proven at a moment's notice.
My father is a 24-year veteran of UPS, or at least he was. I myself am 26 years old; I can't remember him working elsewhere. My earliest memories consist of my father donning the brown-and-yellow uniform, and walking out of our house early in the morning. This memory is constant; the variable is the conditions surrounding these mornings. In the hottest of heat waves and the coldest of winters, rain, snow, sleet or hail, that man put on his uniform, his boots and marched out of our door. He would wake up an hour earlier just to leave us breakfast, or drive us to school.
Honestly, I took most of that for granted for a large part of my life. Let's be real, during most of our adolescences, our parents are basically our ATM. They pay the bills, they feed us, and they care for us when we need them to. Sometimes, they care for us when we aren't even aware of the need.
Delivering boxes, my father was able to fulfill parts of what we all consider to be the American Dream. My parents bought a house, they moved us to an area where we could safely grow up and learn. I must say I had a rather pleasant upbringing.
Most of us print out our shipping labels, slap them on our packages and forget about them. Many of us order things and patiently wait for them to magically show up at our doorsteps or offices. Those packages have given me a college education, health care, meals and the ability to enjoy aspects of life. I don't speak only for myself when I say that your Amazon orders, your Christmas presents, your tax returns, your divorce papers have helped pave the way for a chunk of the generation emerging today.
This story isn't only about me, or him. I have a mother and I have a sister. My mother, along with my father, has worked incredibly hard to make sure that one day we enjoy a life that is better than the life handed to them. I must say they have succeeded; we ate whatever we wanted, wore whatever we wanted, traveled to so many different places. I went to a private university, and my sister is slated to do the same.
My mother is an accountant; she works 60 hours a week from January to April 15, and works 40 hours a week the rest of the year. Now, most of you must be saying, "Big deal, most accountants do that." I once again agree with the conclusion you have jumped to, but please let me tell you where this is relevant. In the summer of 2000, my mother suffered two strokes. She was misdiagnosed at the hospital initially and received proper treatment eight days later. I was 12. If it had not been for the health care benefits my father had, we would have lost my mother. My sister and I would have grown up without the love and care of one of the most remarkable people I know.
My sister is to begin college in August. She plans on being a physical therapist. I applaud her; she's worked a lot harder than I ever did growing up. She is genuinely excited to spend the next six years of her life deprived of sleep and free time.
The point I am trying to make (sorry if this has dragged on) is the fact that without my father's job, my family is left out to dry. My sister won't be able to afford to move on with her plan of being a physical therapist, the house we grew up in will go into default, and the health of my family will be in danger. My mom needs medical attention a little more than the average person, my father has a thyroid condition that requires him to take a pill every day of his life. If he stops taking said the pill, he runs a severe risk of having a major cardiac event.
My father has given his life to this company. He has given them his body as well: two knee surgeries and a shoulder injury. This seems like the medical history of a professional athlete. No, this is the medical history of a father of two, who delivered your packages in all sorts of weather, with a smile on his face.
My father has never once complained about how hard he works. He has spent more hours in that brown truck than he has in our own home. My father has never been a dishonest man; he has never taken a dollar or an object that doesn't belong to him. His customers love him and his coworkers admire him (which was made clear on February 26). His firing without proof is an injustice, in a country where we are taught that the truth prevails and justice will set us free. The reality seems to be that corporations who carry a big stick can do what they please.
I applaud the efforts of local government coming to the aid of all of those affected by this rash decision. I thank the efforts of my father's coworkers and Teamster brothers. My heart goes out to all the other families with bills, kids, health problems and stories of their own. All the families who now face the same hardship that my family and I face today.
I understand that I am but a faceless voice; I carry no weight in the greater picture of this issue. I just want to be heard, I want everyone's voice to be heard. Sometimes, it takes a group of courageous great men and women to make a difference. If it weren't for people like my father and his coworkers, we wouldn't have half the labor laws we have today.
Even bolder than that statement, if a group of individuals hadn't gotten fed up with injustices, we wouldn't have a lot of things we have today. Do I need to point them out? Independence, freedom, equal rights, just to name a few. Instead of casting judgment blindly, educate yourself to the cause and perhaps help make a change.