The benefits of hiring a union driver instead of an independent operator are obvious to Teamsters. Every once in a while, it becomes obvious to large multinational corporations.
“Bimbo bakeries is our largest employer, and throughout the years I’ve consistently pushed them to think differently about their distribution methods, specifically their independent operator model,” said Dave Dudas, Teamsters Bakery and Laundry Conference Director and Local 52 Secretary-Treasurer. “Over time, the company has bought out their independent operators (IOs) and given those bread routes to Teamster drivers. This has led to greater sales for the company, which in turn has led to more earnings for our membership.”
The Teamsters Union and Bimbo Bakeries provide a fantastic model for building mutually beneficial relationships for union members, the companies where they work and the customers they serve.
Mergers can be a major challenge for Teamsters. New ownership will often push for layoffs, more nonunion drivers and various other cuts. When Bimbo Bakeries bought Sara Lee seven years ago, however, Local 886 in Tulsa, Okla. saw a major opportunity.
“We had about 60 small towns around the city where we had an independent operator carrying the Bimbo brands, and a Teamster driver carrying the Sara Lee brands, so the company was sending two trucks to the same location,” said Local 886 President Tom Ritter. “They bought out the IOs and gave those routes to us. They saved money, our drivers made more of it.”
It wasn’t just the savings from cutting overhead. Bimbo Bakeries noticed that the Teamster routes were bringing in more revenue as well. IOs purchase individual routes and have no obligation to make sales outside of their agreement with the company. Teamster drivers, however, bid their routes by seniority. As employees, they have to perform to the company’s expectations and commission is the largest piece of their salary.
Will Hand is a Local 886 member and a second-generation Teamster. He’s been driving a bread route for 25 years. His father was also a Teamster that drove a bread route, and he used to ride in his cab as a child, so he likes to say he’s been on a bread route since he was four years old.
“Not only did we take the routes the IOs weren’t interested in, we started pitching store owners on different brands that they weren’t carrying before,” Hand said. “Now consumers in rural areas are getting access to Bimbo products that previously weren’t available where they lived. A lot of it is just trial and error on items that haven’t been in the market before—finding out what works and what doesn’t. We’re making more money because we have a collaborative relationship with the company; we can try new things and experiment. Ever since we started this, drivers in my depot are making anywhere from $150 to $300 more per week.”
Kansas City, Mo.
After the success of the pilot program in Oklahoma, the company approached Dudas about a large-scale project that he had been advocating for a number of years—transitioning an entire geographic area into a Teamsters-only distribution network. The Bakery and Laundry Conference successfully negotiated a plan for Bimbo Bakeries to transition all of the IO routes in the Kansas City metropolitan area to Teamster drivers.
Just like in Tulsa, the move has led to increased sales, particularly in Bimbo brands that the Teamsters previously weren’t selling such as Oroweat, Entenmann’s and Thomas’.
“We anticipate that the company will be able to scale up in Kansas City to at least 16 more small-stop routes to cover more than 800 locations that we currently do not service,” Dudas said. “The significance of the Kansas City project cannot be undervalued. The company was under no pressure to transition from IOs to Teamster route sales, but because of this program we are adding new members and our existing members have greater job security.”
Local 955 President Jerry Woods echoed Dudas’ assertion about the importance of the program.
“Before the implementation of this program, we controlled less than 35 percent of the bread routes in the Kansas City metropolitan area,” Woods said. “Now we control more than 50 percent, and pretty soon it will be 100 percent. We knew that at a certain point the company was going to switch over to either our drivers or IOs completely. We needed to figure something out, and we did.”
Bill Welch has been a Teamster driver for 13 years, and he was on the front lines of the Kansas City project.
“The IOs were happy with what they had and they weren’t pushing for any growth,” Welch said. “Most of them were only working two to three days a week, and they had empty shelves because they weren’t hustling as much. Teamster drivers are reliable; we do these routes every day. We’re now carrying three times as much product and everyone is making more money.”
Salt Lake City
After the success of Kansas City and Tulsa, the program expanded into Salt Lake City. Local 222 had been trying to get Bimbo Bakeries to switch routes from IOs to Teamster drivers for eight years. Right as the negotiations between the company and the local were stalling, the Bakery and Laundry Conference intervened.
Based on the success of the programs in Kansas City and Tulsa, Bimbo agreed to hand over the IO routes for Thomas’, Oroweat and Entemann’s products to Teamster drivers.
Conservative estimates for the Salt Lake City program suggest that Teamster drivers will be generating at least $7 million in sales for the company, with revenue only increasing as Teamster drivers take over the routes.
Local 222 Vice President Marty Cowan said that the dedication of Teamster drivers played a role in the company’s decision to switch over the routes from the IOs.
“They are bringing this product onto our routes with the expectations that sales goals will be higher and they will be met with our drivers,” Cowan said. “If our drivers weren’t dedicated, this offer would not have even been on the table in the first place. We’ve got great brothers and sisters who take pride in their work. When you have that pride and dedication, you reap the benefit, which is higher sales and more money.”
Cowan added that the program was helpful in taking on the challenges posed by representing workers in a right-to-work state.
“We’ve got more than 90 percent of our drivers signed up on cards, and with this new program I think it’s going to be even higher,” Cowan said. “Everything positive that comes from this deal is going to make more drivers become members. I got a call from a driver who hasn’t been a member for seven years, and now he wants to sign up.”
In a rapidly changing economy where trade unionists throughout the world are looking for innovative ways to adapt to globalization, automation and increased corporate power, the success of the Bakery and Laundry Conference’s program provides a valuable lesson that carries weight for everyone in the Teamsters Union.
“We’re not just seeing this in the bread industry,” Woods said. “In transportation, in warehouses—everything is changing. If we don’t figure out how to move with the future, we’re going to be left in the history books. We can’t be stubborn, become a dinosaur and end up having workers out there who aren’t represented. We have to change with the times.”