Stabbed in the back by Hoffa

April 29, 2014

Teamster officials went around dissident locals to implement a national contract at UPS, writes Donny Schraffenberger, a Chicago-area UPSer and member of Local 705.

TEAMSTER GENERAL President James P. Hoffa and General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall have taken the right to vote away from union locals fighting back against a concessionary contract at shipping giant UPS.

Using language in Article XII of the union constitution, the General Executive Board gave the National Negotiating Committee the power to implement the national UPS contract without the approval of local unions that had not ratified their supplements.

This anti-democratic action is reminiscent of the old guard, mobster-led leadership of the Teamsters from 30 years ago--and all too characteristic of the current Hoffa administration.

The national contract covering 235,000 UPS workers only passed by a slim 53-47 percent margin back in June 2013. Eighteen supplements and riders to the contract--which pertain to specific locals or groups of locals--were originally voted down. At the time Hoffa imposed the contract, there were three outstanding supplements still waiting to be approved by members. The national contract can't be implemented until all supplements and riders are approved by the membership in the locals or regions covered by them.

Members of Local 89 in Louisville, Ky., show where they stand on the UPS contract
Members of Local 89 in Louisville, Ky., show where they stand on the UPS contract (Teamsters Local 89)

Or at least that's what is supposed to happen. Teamster members won the right to vote on their supplements and riders back in 1991, along with other democratic rights. Now, these hard-fought gains are being taken away by union officials who don't appreciate a better-informed and -organized rank and file voting against concessionary contracts.

The locals that were holding out on supplements and riders have air hubs that are vital UPS's next-day delivery system. They could wield tremendous power if they went on strike--especially Local 89 in Louisville, Ky., with its giant Worldport hub at the Louisville International Airport.


THE NARROW passage of the national contract was a victory for UPS management. According to Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a union reform group, the Wall Street analysts at Wolfe Research, which specializes in the transportation industry, estimate that UPS should rake in $500 million in compounded savings due to cheaper labor costs achieved with this agreement.

UPS made $4.5 billion in profits in 2013 and is predicting $5 billion in earnings this year. This is a company that is expanding worldwide and that badly needs more workers, as the debacle during last year's holiday peak season proved.

Instead of using this leverage to win some real gains, the Teamsters top leadership acted like UPS was a company about to go under--or at least so fragile that the union's wage and benefit demands must be very limited or reduced. Teamster leaders feared that UPS would lose the massive Amazon.com account if any militant action was even hinted at.

No strike vote was taken by the union--in fact, the word strike was never mentioned. Instead, early negotiations to wrap up the contract before the July 31, 2013, deadline were touted as the proper and responsible thing for the union to do.

But UPS Teamsters will pay a high price for union officials' "responsibility."

Many will have worse a health care plan than before. As a result of this contract, many UPS workers who once had health care insurance provided by the company will now be covered under TeamCare, which is run by the union. A union-run plan with the same or better benefits would be a good deal, but TeamCare, which is substantially worse, is hard to take. Also, the retiree health care plan is far worse than before. Yet Hoffa and Hall pressed hard to get TeamCare enacted.

No wonder the contract barely passed, despite the hard sell by the Teamster officialdom. But rank-and-file members were able to vote down a record 18 supplements.

This was thanks to a "Vote No" movement that took off around the country. Flyers, T-shirts, workplace rallies and Facebook pages sprang up to agitate for a "no" vote. The vast majority of this resistance came from the rank and file--almost all Teamster local executive board members supported the concessionary contract or remained silent.

President Fred Zuckerman of Local 89 in Louisville was an exception. A onetime Hoffa supporter, Zuckerman has broken with the general president, and helped lead his members in the Vote No campaign. The last vote on Local 89's supplement was a whopping 94 percent against.

The official statement on the Teamsters Local 89 website summarizes the intense disgust that many UPS workers feel toward the International Teamster leadership after the contract was imposed:

By selling out thousands of their fellow Teamsters, Ken Hall and his cronies are complicit in subjecting UPS workers to financial hardships, reduced benefits and inferior working conditions. It is sad commentary on the state of a once-great and powerful IBT when its current leadership grovels for table scraps of its corporate master UPS.

The membership fully expects the company to attempt to destroy the rights of its employees--that's just how UPS does business--but the IBT directly attacking good wages, benefits and workplace rights is not only shameful, it's treasonous.

In his collaboration with UPS throughout the nearly year and a half of negotiations, Ken Hall has acted as a barrier to the membership winning the contract they deserve. He catastrophically failed in his duty to the membership by not only botching contract negotiations, but in his "strategic" failure to submit proper paperwork protecting the right to strike.


MANY TEAMSTERS are wondering what comes next.

At the end of April, some 1,000 members from across the country took part on a conference call organized by TDU to discuss the imposition of the contract.

Among those participating were Sandy Pope, the head of Local 805 in New York City, who ran against Hoffa for president in the last International election; and Tim Sylvester, president of Local 804, which waged a successful fight this month to get 250 drivers reinstated after they were fired for walking off the job in support a rank-and-file activist who was unjustly terminated in Maspeth, Queens.

Fred Zuckerman from Local 89 and Mark Timlin, founder of the rank-and-file Vote No Facebook page, also spoke on the call, as did other rank-and-file Teamsters. There was a discussion about running delegates for the next Teamster convention and forming a united slate for the 2016 International elections.

We need to let Hoffa and Hall know that we won't accept their lousy leadership and dictatorial abuses of our democratic rights. This is our union, not theirs. If they want to side with UPS management, they should resign. If they're worried about a job, they shouldn't be--UPS would gladly put them on the payroll. It's almost like they're on it already.

Hoffa and Hall's undemocratic actions will have repercussions for Hoffa and Hall and for UPS. Some workers are angry, but confused, and will resign themselves to defeat. Others, however, are looking to fight back, and not only against Hoffa, Hall and union leaders who betrayed them--they want to renew the struggle at UPS against management's attacks on our livelihoods and working conditions.

One recent example of the new militancy is Local 251 in Providence, R.I. Rank-and-file workers at UPS, Rhode Island Hospital and other companies took back their union from a corrupt leadership that cozied up to management.

Chicago's Local 710 and Local 705, where I'm a member, have separate contracts with UPS. Neither local has a settled deal--in fact, Local 710 members voted down their tentative agreement by a 72 percent margin.

At Local 705, our leadership is supposed to resume bargaining in May--we have yet to vote on any tentative agreement. Workers in Local 705 want to keep our health care as it is, or make it better. The $10 start pay in the new national agreement is far too low--it will be below the $10.10 an hour minimum wage proposal being touted by the Democrats. We need a minimum of $15 an hour. Also, part-time workers have to wait 14 years for a full-time inside job at my hub. We need hundreds of new full-time jobs.

The fight in the Teamsters union is not only at UPS, but is being waged at other companies as well. Workers have continued rejecting concessionary contracts in freight, only to be forced to vote on basically the same proposals until they are worn down into approving them.

The Teamster leadership accepts that concessions are necessary, but working Teamsters are starting to stand up and say no more.

We're getting organized. Join us.

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