The decision to strike is never a first response to unfair management. For workers whose rights are being violated, it is a last resort that requires careful consideration.
Throughout labor history, there are countless examples of workers who walked off the job only to be threatened, blackballed and assaulted, in some cases even killed, for taking their fight to the picket line.
According to Amy Friauf, the harsh reality of the picket line was not lost on her decision to vote in favor of a recent strike authorization against her employer, Sun Tran, over unfair labor practices. After years of insufficient pay, lacking benefits, moldy buses and a violent wave of physical assaults on drivers from passengers, she and her co-workers felt they had no choice.
“Going on strike is extremely hard on workers and their families. It’s emotionally difficult and physically very stressful,” said Friauf, a 35-year Sun Tran driver and chief steward for the unit at Local 104 who knew the realities on the picket line from her three previous strike experiences at Sun Tran. “Between the triple-digit temperatures and strong opposition from management, I knew going on strike was going to be a tough fight—it always is. But I also knew the time had come to take a stand.”
One Message, One Voice
For Friauf, the 463-person unit’s overwhelming vote came down to safety, noting a recent stabbing of a co-worker injured by a passenger—the 22nd reported case of assault at Sun Tran in less than two years.
“We stood behind the drivers fully,” said Dan Linhart, a mechanic and chief steward for the maintenance unit. “No one should have to work under the risk of abusive passengers on the job, especially while behind the wheel.”
On August 6, Friauf and Local 104 took to the streets, carrying signs and chanting for change. During each of the 42 days on strike, Friauf and her co-workers marched up and down the same concrete stretch of Congress Street outside Sun Tran’s downtown headquarters as public support grew.
“We adopted the practice of ‘one message, one voice’ to stay on message to ensure we would be successful,” said Local 104 Secretary-Treasurer Andy Marshall. “We were very careful to make sure everyone was on the same page. We took thorough precautions to make sure no one spoke to the press and no one broke the rules of the picket line by keeping the unit informed.”
On local news, the workers began receiving constant coverage. More than 66,000 passengers were forced to take limited routes at the hands of scab labor (ultimately costing the company three times more for their labor). Although workers never spoke to the media, their faces littered the airwaves: in daily news clips of workers standing in the scorching heat, marching together.
Eventually the plight of Local 104 members transcended the fight for workers’ rights, with Tucson residents showing their support and calling on Sun Tran to take preventative measures for the benefit of the entire community.
“By joining and winning public support, we won the fight,” echoed Local 104 Business Agent Kevin (K.T.) Thomas. “People saw our courage and our conviction. They began to understand the big picture.”
With the contract expiration date fast approaching and public pressure building, the company realized they were up against more than they had anticipated due to the strong support of the Arizona labor movement. As the strike entered its sixth week, the company agreed to return to the bargaining table, meeting with the negotiating committee for hours on end and late into the evening hours.
As the agreement was being reached, there were still 463 Teamster members proudly walking the picket line and 30 nonunion employees honoring those same picket lines. (Following the strike, many of the nonunion employees have realized the power of the union and joined their coworkers in Local 104.)
On Sept. 16, the negotiating committee, led by Friauf and Linhart, announced they had reached an agreement that guaranteed fair wages, better benefits and respect, as well as new measures to address health and safety. Sun Tran drivers are now protected behind thick-glass partitions, and moldy buses are being replaced with clean, sanitary replacements.
“The courage, strength, determination and solidarity of the 463 Teamster members working at Sun Tran can only be described as extraordinary, historic and inspirational given Arizona’s long history of pro-business, anti-worker, right-to-work legislation,” Marshall said.
For Friauf, the strength of her Sun Tran co-workers has ensured respect for years to come.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “We won the improvements we needed. More importantly, we have finally earned respect from management—you can feel it.”