The battle for Local 952

April 13, 2010

Edgar Esquivel, a longtime member of an important Teamster local in Southern California, reports on the battle to reform the union.

MEMBERS OF Teamsters Local 952 in Orange County, Calif., are stepping up their fight to transform their union, as rank-and-file workers at UPS and other companies organize to demand accountability and action from union leaders.

The battle for the future of Local 952 has its roots in the famous 1997 Teamsters strike against UPS, led by reform President Ron Carey. The strike, organized around the slogan "Part-Time America Doesn't Work," lasted 15 days and cost the company more than $600 million. Fears of even larger losses finally led management to concede defeat.

The union's action against Big Brown paralyzed the greater part of the international and American parcel-distribution services at the time. So the package-handling giant had to agree to the central demands of the rank and file: the creation of 20,000 new full-time jobs and the largest wage increases in UPS history.

The same united power of working-class Teamsters that helped defeat UPS then can certainly help reform a weakened and corrupt leadership in Local 952 today.

Teamsters Local 952 members on strike in 2007
Teamsters Local 952 members on strike in 2007

Such reform is urgently needed, as the situation of Local 952 members at UPS makes clear. Even before the 2007 Teamsters contract negotiations with UPS had begun, it had already became apparent to many UPSers here that Local 952 Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Kelly and President Bob Hahn wouldn't stand up for members of the local. Instead, the two men opted to jump on Teamster President Jim Hoffa's bandwagon.

So after Hoffa settled on one of the most regressive deals in UPS Teamster history, Hahn--who had been part of the Teamsters National United Parcel Service Negotiating Committee--failed to speak out against the concessions in the deal. By backing that agreement, Hahn and Kelly not only sold out the UPS members of Local 952, but also surrendered the independence and sovereignty of their local to Hoffa and his old guard.

After Hoffa and the IBT shook hands with UPS on the concessionary deal, officials and organizers of Local 952, including Kelly and Hahn, went on the campaign trail to promote a "yes" vote on the contract at the two UPS facilities in Orange County, where nearly 2,000 Teamsters were employed.

As one concerned member at the Laguna hub recalled, "After the IBT made the agreement, many of us, more aware of the reality of the deal, instead tried to raise awareness among our fellow members and recommended a 'no' vote." Unfortunately for the UPS rank-and-file at Local 952, the majority of the few who voted fell for the lies of their officials and voted in favor of the deal.

OVER THE past two years, UPS Teamsters at both the Laguna and Anaheim hubs suffered the consequences of an apathetic local unwilling to enforce the contract and rightfully represent its members.

Violations of the contract have been the norm. These range from the failure of the company to fill vacant positions created by retirements to the elimination of full-time positions guaranteed under the contract's Article 22.3. That article-which forced management to combine two part-time jobs to create a full-time position--was drafted into the 1997-2002 contract agreement that was won after the historic 1997 strike against the company.

Other contract violations include production harassment--management's discipline of workers for allegedly failing to complete their work are also on the rise. Management has also forced drivers to work 9.5 hours for several consecutive days, another violation of the agreement.

In response to management breaches of Article 22.3, affected members raised the issue both with management at work and with the union. Freddy Avila, the most outspoken critic of the contract violations, used the language in the contract to defend his case.

Yet when he spoke at the local's monthly meeting in Orange, Calif., Avila was mocked by Hahn, who exclaimed that Avila was "giving people false hopes." Union officers also sided with UPS by stating that the company had the right to do as it pleased. In response, Avila and a number of other affected members talked to the reform grassroots organization Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) for further advice.

In spring 2009, Avila joined hundreds of UPSers in a national petition drive to save Article 22.3 combination jobs from elimination. When the petition was finalized, more than 100,000 signatures were collected across the nation calling on the union to process a grievance on the issue that would enforce the rights of every affected member.

However, at Local 952, Kelly and Hahn failed to push UPS and their boss Hoffa to have the Teamsters' grievance panel hear their case in 2009. In fact, the first national grievance panel of the year was held March 1-5--yet not one 22.3 case from Local 952 was even presented by the union.

The question is: Did Kelly and Hahn follow Hoffa in cutting a secret backroom deal with UPS?

As Local 952 grows soft on enforcing the contract and working Teamsters salaries shrink, Kelly and Hahn have helped themselves to outrageous "white-collar" six-figure salaries.

Secretary-Treasurer Kelly's total compensation in 2008 was of $207,985, while President Hahn's totaled $159,135. Worse yet, a total of seven representatives at the local grossed over $100,000 for the year, according to information compiled from hundreds of Department of Labor LM-2 and LM-3 forms and IRS Form 990 reports. Total compensation includes salaries, allowances and expenses, but does not reflect other benefits such as pensions or automobiles.

Meanwhile, across the board, the power of Local 952 is on the decline and affected members cannot afford to have their monthly dues squandered on excessive salaries.

THE TRUTH is that UPSers and Local 952 members at other companies are getting drilled by concessions. The power of the local is simply not what it used to be when Ron Carey led the union in the 1990s.

Therefore, UPSers at both facilities in Orange County have continuously met with members from other companies where workers have also raised concerns about the local's actions. Many of these companies--which include Aramark, CVS, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Disneyland and Albertsons--are currently in contract negotiations with Local 952. Hopefully, the growing pressure from the rank and file will prevent Local 952 officials from giving further concessions.

For UPSers in Local 952, much is at stake, too. Their contract expires in August 2013--so if they do not unite to oust Kelly and Hahn in the coming election this fall, they will have no chance to do so again until after the new contract is negotiated. And Orange County UPS Teamsters believe that Hahn, having helped negotiate and sell the concessionary contract 2007, will now use the recession to push an even worse contact.

Certainly, UPSers and their families cannot afford to risk such a setback at a time when corporate greed is on the rise and a war against the working class is being waged.

The prospects for the Teamsters at the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) are not good, either. For the last two years, the OCTA Board of Directors has voted to slice transit funding, causing hundreds of Teamsters to lose their jobs.

Also upsetting is the fact that officials at the local have contributed thousands of Teamsters' hard-earned dollars into the political campaigns of Orange County representatives who nevertheless refused to vote in favor of allocating funds for OCTA workers.

In fact, while members lose their jobs, Kelly has filled the union hall with representatives' campaign propaganda. Last February, after bus service reductions resulted in the layoff of 96 coach operators and maintenance workers, Kelly calmly stated, "We're working with the authority and politicians to come up with long-term and short-term solutions for the transit funding crisis." Angry OCTA workers have shouted in response, "Stop giving our money away!"

For their part, Local 952 members at the Albertsons grocery chain have for years built a reputation of standing up to Kelly and Hahn as well as the nepotism and the status-quo policies of the old guard. Now, fed-up Teamsters at every company are doing the same.

Fortunately for the rank-and-file, these Local 952 members have discovered that as Teamsters, they can exercise their right to protest, organize and vote--something of primary concern in this local of almost 10,000 members. And by organizing, these workers are democratizing their union from the bottom up as they struggle to rescue and reform their union local.

For current updates on the struggle, visit Reform Teamsters 952.

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