Teamsters Look Forward At 2014 Unity Conference
They placed their hands on their hearts and followed after Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa in reciting the words that were more than words—an oath stated in pride.
At the 2014 Teamsters Unity Conference, more than a dozen workers were officially sworn in by Hoffa as members of Local 986 in South El Monte, Calif. As the Las Vegas hotel workers said the Teamsters oath for the first time on stage, Hoffa invited the crowd of more than 1,400 Teamsters to reaffirm their dedication to the union by also reading the oath aloud.
“It is a great experience to be part of the Teamsters Union; it’s something I’ve waited years to achieve,” Jesus Salazar, a warehouse attendant at the MGM Grand, said about taking the oath. “I believe in the Teamsters 100 percent.”
Tenisha Martin, a lead representative at the Luxor Hotel front desk, said she is excited about improving her life as a Teamster.
“I’ve already seen the positive changes that have taken place at work because of the Teamsters, and I look forward to being part of these changes,” Martin said.
Growing the Union
Teamster leaders, officers and members gathered at the annual Unity Conference to strategize about protecting the interests of current Teamster members and organizing more workers. Growing the union was a main topic at this year’s conference.
“The Teamsters Union is strong, but to remain strong we need to organize new workers in all types of industries in all parts of the United States and Canada,” Hoffa said.
Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall reported on the financial state of our union.
“We are strong, we are healthy and we have the resources to continue organizing and bargaining, to take care of the members we have now, and to grow our union,” Hall said.
D. Taylor, President of UNITE HERE, noted that the Teamsters, UNITE HERE and the International Union of Operating Engineers are currently organizing workers together at casinos around the country, including more workers in Las Vegas.
“We have to organize more members, organize aggressively and take risks. When we work together, we get to grow together,” Taylor said.
The Teamsters Union is currently embarking on major organizing campaigns in a number of key industries, said Jeff Farmer, Director of the Teamsters Organizing Department. From school bus drivers to port truck drivers, warehouse and parking workers to taxi cab drivers, workers across the United States and Canada are coming together to join the Teamsters.
“We are going to make the parking industry 100 percent Teamsters,” said John Coli, International Vice President for the Central Region and Director of the newly formed Teamsters Parking Division.
Derek Skinner, a parking worker in Las Vegas, said he recently joined the Teamsters.
“I didn’t join when I was younger, but now that I am 25 I am starting to think about my future, and I want a strong future as a Teamster member,” Skinner said.
Rome Aloise, International Vice President for the Western Region, talked about Taylor Farms and the fight for justice for food processing and farm workers in California’s Central Valley.
During Unity, several workers spoke about the conditions they face and their steadfast efforts to organize for better working conditions, including Susie Serna, a quality control technician at Taylor Farms.
Serna said that without a Teamster contract, she and her co-workers will have nothing.
“Every day I go to work I am intimidated and harassed by supervisors. We need a union. Si se puede! It’s wonderful to see your support for us here,” Serna said.
“Brothers and sisters, we saved more than 1,000 quality, middle-class jobs and protected health, welfare and pension benefits,” said Kevin Moore, International Vice President, about a victory where the Teamsters made sure Jack Cooper Transport, which employs Teamsters, purchased Allied, saving Teamster jobs. “This is what working together can achieve.”
“This Unity Conference is about the future and the fights that will be happening in years to come,” said Randy Cammack, President of Joint Council 42 and Secretary-Treasurer of Local 63 in Covina, Calif.
While it’s clear that workers want to join unions, Hoffa outlined the many challenges facing the union: the ongoing war on workers and trade deals that hurt working families.
“They’ve got more money than us,” Hoffa said of corporate, anti-worker interests, like the Koch brothers. “But we’ve got the boots on the ground.”
Jim Kabell, President of the Missouri-Kansas-Nebraska Conference of Teamsters and Secretary-Treasurer of Local 245 in Springfield, Mo., said that thanks to the Teamsters’ efforts, they have successfully battled against “right-to-work-for-less” legislation in his state.
Kabell urged everyone to get involved and work together to take on the well-funded anti-worker, anti-union forces.
International Vice President At-Large George Miranda reported on the successful fight against worker misclassification in New York.
“Misclassification is a criminal offense now in New York, thanks to the Fair Play Act, which is the first of its kind in this nation. Tens of thousands of commercial drivers in New York will benefit from this law,” Miranda said. “Misclassified workers deserve the dignity of a union contract.”
Other speakers discussed key political battles that lie ahead this fall and the power of mobilizing and voting for pro-worker candidates. Leslie Marshall, host of the syndicated radio program “The Leslie Marshall Show,” got the crowd pumped with a rousing speech about her union roots and admiration of the Teamsters.
“You can win if you fight like hell, don’t give up, use your voices and your power,” Marshall told the crowd. “You have a union that has your back and you have your power to vote.”
Another critical battle is the global fight against unfair trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Teamsters have been successful in fighting the implementation of the proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal. The union and its allies have been able to halt a key legislative vehicle known as fast-track trade authority that would allow a quick up-or-down vote in Congress on any trade deal with limited debate and no ability to amend an agreement.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, hailed Hoffa and the Teamsters for leading the fight to stop unfair trade deals that hurt workers.
“We are at the moment of a trade turnaround,” she said. “The Teamsters are a part of that. We are in for a big fight.”
Another battle the Teamsters are leading is the fight to stop New York Mayor Bill de Blasio from pulling the plug on the city’s iconic horse carriages that employ some 300 Teamster members.
“Teamsters love their horses. And we won’t give up without a fight,” said Demos Demopoulos, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 553 in New York.
All of these fights are to achieve the basic dignity of workers to be treated as human beings at work, to have good wages and benefits to take care of their families, and to have that same pride at work that they do when they take their union oath.
The members of Local 986 stood as a reminder on stage of the value of the union and the importance of fighting for workers’ rights.
“It was a very emotional experience,” said Alma Koo, a front desk agent at The Quad Resort & Casino. “It is an honor to officially be part of the union.”
Firing Up the Forces for Election Day
Teamster political representatives from around the country gathered in Las Vegas before the Unity Conference to discuss strategy on how to motivate members and help elect lawmakers who are pro-worker and put the peoples’ agenda before that of the powerful.
Noting that billionaire industrialists like the Koch brothers are ready to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the November elections in hopes of implementing their slate of corporate likes, such as right to work, and adding cronies who will support the pro-business policies of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Teamster officials said union political coordinators need to be diligent in their efforts.
“In every state across the country, the war on workers goes on, and we’ve got to fight that fight,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa told local coordinators. “In congressional, gubernatorial, senatorial and state legislative races everywhere, we need you right now to do that job in your state. The big job is we’ve got to motivate our locals. We’ve got to get the vote out.”
He said while big business and their cronies may have more money, “We’ve got the boots on the ground.” Hoffa added, “You’ve got to have the fire in your belly. You’ve got to believe in electing a governor. You’ve got to believe in electing a senator. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”
While his talk received wild applause, the actual job of turning out Teamsters and other hard-working Americans during the upcoming midterm election will be no easy job. IBT officials said improving messaging to voters so they better understand the issues and will vote in their own self-interest is key to winning in November. Member-to-member educations efforts will be key, they said.
Rail Unions Hold Convention
The Teamsters Rail Conference held their second quadrennial convention on May 4, 2014.
Delegates from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) attended the meeting and reelected the officers of the Conference.
Dennis Pierce, BLET, was re-elected President; Lee Pruitt, BLET, was re-elected Vice President, and Perry Geller, BMWED, was re-elected as Secretary-Treasurer.
In related news, Bill Walpert, currently the National Treasurer of the BLET, announced that he would be retiring in January 2015. Steve Bruno, a vice president with the BLET, was appointed the chair of the BLET’s rail safety task force.
“The safety task force gives the brotherhood a formal means of presenting the locomotive engineer’s perspective during investigations of railroad accidents,” Bruno said.
James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Winners Speak
Eric Johnson, a winner of the James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Fund (JRHMSF) in 2001, spoke before attendees at the scholarship fund’s annual event at the Unity Conference.
“I am here tonight because of my dad, Pete Johnson. He’s a Teamster, a member of Local 480 since 1977 when he went to work for UPS as a package driver. Because of the Teamsters, my dad was able to support his family and give us opportunities he never had himself,” Johnson said. “My family benefited from his job security, fair pay and good benefits.”
Because of the vision, generosity and support of the JRHMSF, Johnson said he was able to become one of the first members of his family to graduate from college. He went on to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees in education from Vanderbilt University, and is now the assistant principal of a school near Nashville, Tenn. This summer he will be moving with his wife and son to become an assistant principal of a school in Naples, Fla.
“My dad’s example of service to his family inspired not only me, but my sister and brother, to serve our community through education. As a teacher, I know how valuable a college education is in opening up doors for the future,” Johnson said.
Carly Whitcomb won a James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship in 2006. Whitcomb graduated from Portland State University with a degree in accounting and now works as a tax manager in Portland, Ore.
“I am the youngest tax manager at my company and one of the youngest CPA’s around. Being awarded the scholarship was a great help to my family and I want to thank my father, Joseph Whitcomb, who is a member of Local 305 in Portland,” Whitcomb said.