By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Huffington Post, June 6, 2017
Workers want to work. But sometimes their own employer shuts the door on them, jeopardizing not only their paychecks but their families’ lives in the process.
That’s what happened to the 113 drivers and warehouse workers at Shore Point Distributing Company in Freehold Township, N.J. who help bring MillerCoors and other alcoholic beverages to market in eight counties across the state. For months, Teamster Local 701 members were negotiating with the state’s largest beer distributor to reach a deal on a new contract. But on April 30, Shore Point President and CEO Jim Annarella decided to play tough guy and locked his workers out.
Not only were these workers left without income, Shore Point cut them off from their health insurance. Shore Point, once run by Annarella’s working-class grandparents, has turned its back on its own workers who are just trying to earn enough for a simple middle-class life. The man who was once quoted as saying “we invest in our people” kicked them to curb like they were garbage.
Those cast aside were people like Mike Walsh, who relied on his health care benefits to cover both himself and his wife. Mike’s wife has stage 4 stomach cancer and now is without insurance. Her life has been put at risk due to the greedy millionaires who now run Shore Point and have forgotten their roots.
There are other cases of workers who can’t afford their medications as well. One 22-year Shore Point employee, a diabetic, now gets by using occasional samples from the doctor’s office because he can’t cover the $1,000 cost of his prescription.
The fight over health benefits was front-and-center in the negotiations of a new contract leading up to the company’s decision to lockout these Teamsters. Shore Point demanded changes to the health care plan that would have allowed the company to make unilateral changes any time after June 1, 2018 without negotiating with the union. That could have led to higher deductibles, premiums and co-pays.
All of this, of course, is happening at a time when the future of health care in this country is particularly perilous. It is certainly possible that some of these workers would be left with no affordable health insurance options if the company’s proposal was accepted.
In addition, these workers gave up raises over the years in order to put that money into their pension for a secure retirement, and now Shore Point wants to take it away.
For now, however, these workers have nothing. Shore Point has brought in replacement workers, many of whom are from out of state, to traverse routes previously unknown to them. Thankfully, many community leaders are rejecting Shore Point’s abusive behavior.
The mayors of Belmar, Brick Township and Point Pleasant, N.J. showed their support for the locked-out workers by refusing to let Shore Point supply beer to local festivals. Many local bars and restaurants have done the same. To them, these workers are not just employees; they are long-time colleagues who they have shared their lives with for years. They don’t want to turn their backs on them.
Unfortunately, Shore Point’s bosses have no such qualms. Company leadership has turned their backs on the very same workers who made them rich, and is trying to starve them into submission. The company takes in about $22 million in sales annually.
America prospers when both business and workers succeed. Shore Point’s outrageous tactics are hurting workers, communities and local businesses. Longtime, loyal employees deserve dignity and respect, and they deserve fair pay, affordable healthcare and a secure retirement for their families.