UPS Teamsters who work with Danny Kaminski call him “the Legend.” It’s a nickname he humbly rejects. “I’m just a regular working guy,” says Danny, a UPS feeder driver and member of Teamsters Local 177 in Hillside, N.J. He recently celebrated 50 years at the company.
Working out of the Meadowlands hub in Secaucus, Danny has seen a lot over the course of a half century at Big Brown. He joined the Teamsters when Jimmy Hoffa Sr. was president of the union, and he vividly remembers walking the picket line during the 1997 strike.
After leaving the military service, he began working in 1966 as a package driver making $2.20 an hour. “That was good starting pay back then,” says Danny, who recalls having lunch with Jim Casey, the founder of UPS. “He offered me a management job but I said I was happy as a driver.”
Danny was active in the Teamsters Union from the very start of his UPS career. Shop stewards and business agents still consult him for his breadth of knowledge and experience in negotiations and other union matters.
“One thing I tell folks is we got to always have our coworkers’ backs, no matter what. Everything we have wasn’t given to us – we had to fight for it as a union. And it’s been an honor to be part of such a fine union,” he says.
“If you do something for 50 years, you have to have comradery. What we do as a union, we are the ambassadors of the workforce. That keeps me doing what I’m doing.”
Raised in a family of veterans, Danny was destined for service. His father was a career Navy officer who instilled in him a dedication to his country. But before entering the military in the turbulent 60s, Danny grew up in an era of slicked-back hair, jukeboxes and doo wop hits.
“I listen to that music today in my truck and it reminds me of my parents. It reminds me of going to the Rose Garden in New York with my dad and seeing Jack Dempsey, Joe Lewis and Mickey Mantle,” Danny says.
Three years of active duty as a Vietnam War veteran left Danny with countless memories, some of which are painful and still bring tears to his eyes. Adjusting to civilian life after his service wasn’t easy either, but he eventually landed a job at UPS and became an active union member.
“During the PATCO strike, I went down to my local at the time and said we should do a sympathy strike. Unfortunately they said that was not possible – we weren’t allowed,” he remembers.
After President Ronald Reagan broke that strike and fired the air traffic controllers, Danny found himself six years later at a July 4th banquet on Governors Island for the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty. Thanks to his father’s military career and security clearance, Danny had the privilege of attending the event and met renowned figures like Liz Taylor and Lee Iacocca.
The event was also attended by President Reagan. Danny’s father asked him to take a picture with the president.
“I really didn’t want to stand with Reagan after what he did to the PATCO workers, but my dad insisted and I took the picture – I did it for him, for my dad.”
Danny’s loyalty to his father that day did not dampen his spirit as a strong-willed union man.
During the ‘97 strike, Danny rushed to the picket line at Newark airport after getting a call from Ken Hall, who served as co-chair of the National Negotiating Committee. He remembers how strong the support was from the community during the walkout.
“Even the FedEx guys backed us up and honked in support of our strike,” he says. “We really had the community behind us and it felt great.”
Thousands of UPS workers gathered for a rally at Liberty State Park during the strike. “I was nervous as hell because I had to speak in front of several thousand people, but they said it was a good speech.”
Backbone of UPS
When he reminisces on his time at UPS and beyond, it’s easy to get lost with Danny in the depths of his memories, transported through the epic lifetime of a working-class sage.
“I was rough and tough in the military, but I live by a belief that kindness to others is the most important thing in life,” Danny says, pointing out that he even carries cat and dog food with him to help animals he comes across in his travels.
After losing Betty, his wife of 37 years, Danny has spent the last decade behind the wheel of a UPS truck remembering a big part of his life that he lost when she passed. “You never really get used to that kind of loss,” he says.
He still has his kids – who are themselves grown and have children – and Joyce, his fiancée, to look out for him. And despite their wishes, Danny says he has no plans to retire. He wants to continue driving and remain active in the union as the next round of contract negotiations approaches.
“People ask me when am I gonna retire and enjoy myself, and I say ‘I am enjoying myself.’”
Having taken part in so much history over the years, it’s easy to see why he loves his work.
“Every day is different on this job,” he says. He looks back to an incident 25 years ago when he saw a burning car on the side of the road with a man and woman trapped inside. He used his pocket knife to cut the seatbelts and pull them out of the vehicle.
“Danny is truly an icon for UPS Teamsters at our local,” Chris Eltzholtz, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 177, says. The local honored Danny’s 50-year milestone last year, presenting him with a plaque and jacket. “He’s a modest guy who has seen it all and he’s still going strong. It is guys like him who helped build UPS and our union – Teamster spirit runs in his blood.”
More than anything, what fuels Danny’s spirit are those around him.
“None of what I have accomplished and experienced over the years would be possible if not for all the veterans who served our country. I thank all of them along with all my coworkers, past and present. This is an honor I dedicate to them – to my family, my union stewards, the leadership of Local 177, my brothers and sisters I’ve met in other locals and to my international union,” Danny says before quoting the late Bob Hope. “Thanks for the memories.”
As for those memories, there is one constant thread that runs through all of them: “UPS workers are some of the hardest working people you will ever find. We are the backbone of this company and this great union.”
Danny is certainly proof of that.
If you have memories of working with Danny and want to reconnect with him, he would love to hear from you. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.