Moving Forward at 2013 Teamsters Unity Conference
As they stood on stage, a crowd of more than 1,400 Teamsters listened to their stories, to their struggles and their triumphs. They each took to the podium—an Illinois school bus driver, a California port truck driver, US Airways and American Airlines airplane mechanics and more. They are the faces and voices of the Teamsters Union and this is what unity is all about.
The 2013 Teamsters Unity Conference recently welcomed rank-and-file members and future members, Teamster officers, business agents and organizers from throughout North America, to share their accomplishments, their challenges and the work they are doing to advance the lives of workers. They heard from speakers, participated in educational workshops and strategized for the union’s future.
“Teamsters are best when we’re together, and you feel that right here in this room,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President, addressing the crowd at this 12th annual conference.
Hoffa noted that this year more than 30,000 workers organized with the Teamsters, and looking to the future, 11,000 mechanics with American Airlines and 5,000 mechanics with US Airways are poised to join the union.
“We’re going to continue to grow, and it’s so important that all Teamsters get active and get involved,” Hoffa said.
Growing Our Union
The union is growing, and the attendees heard from workers who recently organized with the Teamsters, including Roberto Rodriguez, a school bus driver with Illinois Central and a member of Local 777 in Lyons, Ill. Rodriguez was targeted during the organizing campaign for his strong support of the union, but he never backed down. He told the crowd he was fired during the campaign, but was able to get his job back with back pay, and went on to help organize his co-workers.
“We are the proof that if you stand together for what is right and just, you can change the treatment and respect you receive in your workplaces,” Rodriguez said.
The Teamsters recently negotiated a master agreement with Illinois Central, raising standards for Teamster school bus workers, including Rodriguez. And more than 35,000 school bus and transit drivers have joined the Teamsters since the union’s Drive Up Standards campaign to improve safety, service and working conditions in the industry began in 2006.
“I have 26 years in the harbor and these last years are the best because I am a Teamster,” said Eduardo Uribe, a port truck driver with Toll Group and a member of Local 848 in Covina, Calif.
Salah Mohamed, a taxicab driver in Seattle, said since the drivers formed an association with Local 117 in Seattle, conditions have improved drastically.
“Only Teamsters can do that,” he said. “I thank each one of you. We’re family. Let’s help each other.”
Jim Blanton, a US Airways mechanic from Charlotte, N.C., is a strong speaker and a leader in the efforts under way for mechanics to organize with the Teamsters at US Airways.
“After 30 years in the airline industry, I know how important it is to have a strong union,” Blanton said.
War on Workers
While workers continue to organize at a strong pace with the Teamsters, and the union’s financial condition is strong, the war on workers waged by corporate-backed politicians and wealthy anti-union interests rages on. Teamsters, and our allies, are remaining vigilant and fighting back.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a card-carrying member of Local 786 in Chicago, told the conference attendees that while his state is surrounded by states with right-to-work laws, Illinois is going in the other direction, supporting union members’ rights to collectively bargain while investing $44 billion in infrastructure. That work is being done through project-labor agreements that put union members to work.
Gov. Quinn said he is working closely with the Teamsters to make sure the union’s workers play a critical role in the public works projects.
“Right to work for less is a bad idea for Illinois; it’s a bad idea for America,” Gov. Quinn said.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a strong Teamster ally, talked about her fight to win more money for California homeowners who faced foreclosure in the housing crisis. Because she rejected an earlier deal, the amount of money Harris eventually won for her state’s homeowners jumped from $2-4 billion to $20 billion.
She said her fight is similar to the battles Teamster leaders wage every day to improve the lives of workers.
“Being a voice for folks feeling voiceless and vulnerable is the work you do every day,” Harris said. “We are fighters; we know we have to fight.”
Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and the daughter of immigrant farm workers, praised organized labor, including the Teamsters, for fighting to pass effective immigration reform against formidable moneyed interests.
“These are momentous times. Now is the time to pass immigration reform,” she said.
Bill Press, a national talk radio host, political commentator, author and union supporter, energized the crowd with his counter-attack on groups like the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that are attacking worker rights across the country.
“They have declared war on us and the only way to challenge them is to declare war on them,” Press said. “This Unity Conference reminds us of the tough work ahead and unites us in securing a fair deal for every working man and woman.”
Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), praised the Teamsters for leading the fight to protect worker rights. He said all unions need to work together more to confront corporate power.
D. Taylor, President of UNITE HERE, stressed the importance of growing his union and the Teamsters. “If we don’t organize, we die,” he said.
A critical component of fighting the war on workers involves Teamsters working closely together when it comes to negotiations with large employers.
“We need to redouble our efforts in the face of the fact that we know corporate America is taking us on every day. We know corporations engage in a daily basis in coordinated bargaining against us, so we need to do coordinated bargaining,” said Ken Hall, Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer.
Success at UPS
Hall and the negotiating committees for UPS and UPS Freight recently reached tentative agreements with substantial gains that include both economic gains and changes in contract language that will improve day-to-day working conditions. The UPS contract is the largest collective bargaining agreement in the country.
“It wasn’t an easy process and it didn’t happen overnight. It required coordinated bargaining,” Hall said.
He noted that both agreements expired at the same time, and that the union leveraged the power of all the locals and the 250,000 members at UPS and UPS Freight. International Vice President Sean O’Brien led the effort on coordinating the more than three dozen supplements and riders to the UPS Agreement. This meant that the company could not play one region or area off of another.
The results speak for themselves. Upon ratification, UPS workers will continue to pay no premiums for their health insurance.
They will receive significant wage increases; an increase in the part-time start rate; pension increases; and protections against harassment and retaliation, among a number of other gains. In addition, 2,350 new fulltime jobs were created out of part-time jobs, giving more part-timers the opportunity for full-time employment.
The new agreement contains considerable wage increases. By the end of the new contract, a full-time UPS driver will make more than $25,000 more in wages alone than he or she would have earned during the five years of the current contract.
At UPS Freight, Teamsters will see wage increases that will continue to make them the highest-paid workers in their industry. They will also gain from a movement to a Teamster health and welfare plan with benefits that mirror what they have now, along with a reduction in premiums. There will also be a reduction in premiums for retiree health insurance. Language was added that limits subcontracting and puts all road drivers back to work at full employment.
These agreements were achieved, in large part, because local unions, at both UPS and UPS Freight, were committed to taking a stand together.
“We held rallies in 13 cities over two weekends. We saw more than 10,000 Teamsters. We got 55,000 petition signed by UPS and UPS Freight Teamsters demanding a fair contract. We were strategic and deliberate and that resulted in two outstanding agreements,” Hall said.
James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Supports Education
Teamster sons and daughters deserve the best education possible,” said General President Emeritus James R. Hoffa. This belief was the guiding principle for the James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awards funds to deserving students.
This was a special Unity Conference, as it celebrated the 100th anniversary of James R. Hoffa’s birth. He was born on Feb. 14, 1913. In light of this event, the board of the Scholarship Fund awarded 100 more $1,000 grants this year. Since the Fund’s founding in 2001, it has awarded $4.74 million in scholarships.
“By awarding more scholarship grants this year, we will support more opportunities for children and grandchildren of Teamsters to attend college and further their education,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President.
Soroya Rowley, a recipient of a $10,000 scholarship in 2005, told the story of her grandfather, Victor Angelo Cipolla, a first-generation American. Thanks to his Teamster membership in Local 315, Rowley said her grandfather was paid fair wages and benefits with which he was able to raise seven children.
“Where I come from, higher education is not an inevitability; it is a fantasy,” Rowley said. “I had this fantasy as a young woman and I am so grateful to the Teamsters for helping make it a reality.”
Rowley earned her Bachelor’s Degree in 2009 and is now co-founder of a theater company.
“I am so happy. I am living my dream. And even though my grandfather has passed away now, I know he is smiling down on me and helping me. His legacy lives on in me and in this great union,” Rowley said. “Thank you, Teamsters, for standing up for me and people like me and thank you for making my dreams of a college education come true.”
The Scholarship Fund has published a booklet which lists all of the recipients of grants and awards from the James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Fund since 2001. The publication is available on our website at: www.teamster.org/2013JRHWinners