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Local 89 Members Defeat Jeffboat’s Union-Busting Efforts

Local 89 Members Defeat Jeffboat’s Union-Busting Efforts

December 12, 2006

On December 7, the 920 Teamster members at Jeffboat voted to remain members of Local 89 in Louisville, Kentucky by a 649-190 margin.

The management at Jeffboat, a division of American Commercial Lines (ACL) not only participated in the anti-union decertification campaign but also directed supervisors, managers, new hires and office personnel to wear “Vote No” shirts, sweatshirts and buttons.

ACL had been working on this for a long time, by collecting signatures from new hires in orientation meetings and welding school. Over the past two years, the company had hired several hundred employees, during which time the company’s turnover rate was nearly 40 percent. Local 89 Organizer Kevin Evans spoke with several of the new hires, who said they had no idea what they were signing. Though the decertification was in English, hundreds of the new hires were refugees, including Cubans, Sudanese, Hispanics and others.

The company not only took advantage of the workers' lack of English skills, but also their lack of knowledge of unionism and the benefits a Teamster contract can bring.

As soon as the National Labor Relations Board contacted Local 89 Business Agent Jeff Cooper, an organizing campaign was launched immediately. Chief Steward Jim Kincaid was brought in to work with Evans. Cooper and Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman reached out to Local 657 President Frank Perkins for bilingual help. In addition, Perkins contacted carhaul member Hugo Flores to work in Louisville for the weeks preceding the vote.

Gary Best, President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227, assigned Staff Organizer Alex Hernandez to assist Local 89 throughout the campaign. Hernandez is a seasoned organizer who, in the past, has worked on many political campaigns with the Teamsters Union.

“Having Alex was a key to getting the Cubans and other Hispanics educated and involved in our campaign,” Kincaid said. “We had trouble communicating with new hires as they were brainwashed by company translators when hired at Jeffboat.”

“It did not make sense for the company to try the members at this time, considering the contract expires in April,” Zuckerman said. “The members are more united now than they have ever been, and negotiations are always tough with Jeffboat”

Since ACL took control of Jeffboat a couple of years ago, the company has turned away from the brink of bankruptcy and is heading toward unprecedented highs. The number of contracts for new barges is soaring, and the company’s stock price is at an all-time high. This turnaround is due largely in part to the hard work of skilled Teamster members.

For the first two weeks of the campaign, Evans, Kincaid and Hernandez broke down seniority lists, contacted stewards, talked to workers of all nationalities, assembled phone numbers and handbilled at the company’s gates.

The Teamsters’ were able to keep one step ahead of the company and its high-dollar, union-busting attorneys, thanks to strong momentum and support throughout the campaign.

"Even when the company ordered and distributed more than 900 Carhartt jackets just days before the vote, our members were aware of not only the gift, but the intent of the gift,” Cooper said. “This just made them more angry that the company thought a jacket could replace a Teamster contract.”

Membership involvement was the key to success, as noted that the company did not even get the 30 percent vote they presumably had when they filed the decertification petition.

Several Teamsters participated in the effort, including Stewards Kenneth “Lumpy” Lumpkins, Rick Stevens, Jim Riley and Gabriel Resendiz, who campaigned every day before and after their shifts. They also came to the union hall and made calls to those the union had not had contact with.

Resendiz, who is bilingual, also kept organizers informed on what exactly the company was telling workers who did not speak English.

“They thought since some of the workers could not read or speak English, they did not understand the strength of a union contract,” Resendiz said. “Our Cuban members understood what it is like to not have democracy, and they were not about to give that away.”

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