Lola Brown said she and her co-workers were fed up with worrying about losing their jobs or being punished as a result of unfair discipline at Cook DuPage Transportation (CDT) in Chicago.
“Rather than being innocent until proven guilty, drivers are guilty until proven innocent,” said Brown, who has been a paratransit driver for more than four years. “Many of us were intimidated and we had no job security at all.”
The workers take care of Chicago-area residents with disabilities and the elderly who need specialized transportation. Now, the workers have taken the bold step of forming their union so that they can get the help they have needed.
The workers took action in mid-May, when Brown and her colleagues, by a resounding 5-to-1 margin, voted to join Local 727 in Chicago. The nearly 600 paratransit drivers and garage attendants voted 353-71 to become Teamsters.
This was just the first victory. Following the first vote, dispatchers and customer service representatives at CDT joined their paratransit driver and garage attendant co-workers by voting 54-26 to join Local 727.
“As Teamsters, now we’ve got power,” said Brown, a member of the organizing committee. “I feel like I’ve been empowered. Going forward I don’t feel like I’m going to be intimidated or bullied.”
“These workers provide an extremely valuable service to our communities, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said John Coli Jr., President of Local 727. “They stood together to make their voices heard, and the union vows to stand with them every step of the way as we fight to secure a strong, fair Teamster contract.”
Walter Buckhalter, a paratransit driver for more than seven years and also an organizing committee member, said drivers have been wrongly fired for violations of the on-time policies.
“Management doesn’t take into account the traffic, construction, speed cameras and other factors,” he said. There have also been time clock issues, where drivers have not been properly paid for the hours worked. Also, workers want fair pay in general. The vote to join the Teamsters will help conditions, he said.
“By voting to form our union with the Teamsters, it has made management take a good look at what they were doing to workers and how they were treating us,” Buckhalter said. “They wouldn’t have done that on their own.
“Drivers were getting walked over and didn’t have the ability to defend themselves,” Buckhalter said. “The Teamsters were the best thing that could have happened to us. Already, everyone feels much better about themselves, and that’s a great start no matter where you are. I’m proud. It was a group effort, and we did it.”
Coli Jr. said local unions within Joint Council 25 were instrumental to the success of the campaign. Teamsters from across Illinois and northwest Indiana joined hundreds of CDT workers at a rally hosted by Local 727 and Joint Council 25 prior to the election.
“At our rally we were able to secure the parking lot across from CDT’s main terminal, and 15 local unions within Joint Council 25 sent representatives,” Coli Jr. said. “It showed the CDT workers how unified and strong the Teamsters are.”
For example, Local 731 in Burr Ridge, Ill., which represents Pace transit suburban bus drivers, provided fliers showing how the Pace drivers stood with the CDT workers. Joint Council 25 Organizer Mike DiGrazio also provided valuable help.
United to Win
Buckhalter said the Teamsters helped energize the workers to unite against the company’s anti-union campaign.
“After going through what we have, we needed unity,” Buckhalter said. “With the Teamsters, it feels more like family. You feel like you’re part of something bigger than just yourself.”
“Everybody came together, and we are going to stick together,” said Robert Hills, a nine-year CDT driver.
Brown said the disciplinary process is very flawed, putting drivers at risk of being harshly punished or losing their jobs.
“When we are disciplined, you have to sign paperwork,” Brown said. “You have no way to question it. You can be fired at any moment, but the problem is that it’s not something you did, it’s something someone said you did.”
Another problem is bullying, Brown said.
“Some of the managers are bullies,” she said. “They try to escalate the confrontations.”
One time, Brown said she was written up by management for being late to a call during rush-hour traffic.
“All I did was drive, I didn’t stop anywhere,” Brown said. “They set unrealistic goals regarding time. There’s not consideration for traffic, weather or construction, or other things.”
Getting treated with respect is a top goal for Brown and her coworkers, she said.
“Just respect would be nice,” she said. “You kind of expect respect in the workplace.”
Lindaro Denton, a dispatcher at CDT who has worked at the company for more than 13 years, said her top issues are safety, fair pay and fair treatment.
“Drivers often have to rush to be on time and we need adequate staffing to get the trips done,” said Denton, also an organizing committee member.
“I’m glad we finally have a union, the Teamsters, that will stand up for us and have our backs,” Denton said.
At press time, Local 727 was communicating with the employer about negotiations.
“We have also been meeting with members to find out what is most important to them as we move forward as a bargaining committee,” Coli Jr. said. “We know the workers have many issues, and we want to make sure we thoroughly address the concerns.”
Local 727 represents more than 7,000 members throughout the greater Chicago area, including hundreds of paratransit drivers, dispatchers, reservationists and mechanics at MV Transportation locations in suburban Chicago.
JOINT COUNCIL 25 MAKES POLITICAL ACTION A PRIORITY
Whether testifying at the Illinois Capitol or at city halls, hosting legislative receptions, or even meeting with members of Congress, Joint Council 25 puts political action at the top of the agenda.
“We take a proactive role in local, state and federal governments and this gives us tremendous power to create positive outcomes for our members,” said Joint Council 25 President John T. Coli. “In addition to organizing and growing our union, and providing top-notch representation, political action is critical in making sure our members’ interests are protected.”
This past winter, Coli and Local 700 President Becky Strzechowski—who both serve as International Vice Presidents — actively urged Illinois state senators, representatives and the legislative leaders to reject a bill that would harm public employee pensions. The bill eventually was approved, but a judge has halted implementation of the law to determine whether it is legal.
The Joint Council also actively supported an agreement that protected the dozens of members of Local 727 who work at racetracks in Illinois.
“This agreement will prevent draconian cuts and ensure that our members and hundreds of others throughout the state will continue to work year-round,” said John Coli Jr., President of Local 727. “We are relieved that the involved parties were able to come to a consensus and do the right thing for the hardworking men and women of Illinois.”
Last fall, Joint Council 25 held an annual legislative reception in the Illinois Capitol, welcoming legislators statewide to meet union leaders and discuss labor issues.
“The veto session is a critical time of year to look back on nearly 12 months of legislative progress in Springfield and address the issues most important to working families,” Coli said. “Communicating with legislators and fighting for pro-worker, pro-union legislation are things the Teamsters will never shy away from in our defense of Illinois’ working men and women.”