By CHARLES WALKER
“Wow! Northwest flight attendants really didn’t like their contract proposal! … Dumped 69 percent to 31 percent. That’s impressive!”
-IBT Vice President Chuck Mack
After the national carhaul and Anheuser-Busch contracts were ratified, Teamsters President James Hoffa was looking for a hat trick with the ratification of a proposed five-year pact covering nearly 11,000 flight attendants at Northwest Airlines.
Hoffa said the deal was “an outstanding contract victory with unprecedented wage, pension, and other improvements.” Still, nearly seven in 10 workers voted no, with 94 percent of those eligible to vote returning mail ballots.
The mainstream press played up the huge margin by which the Hoffa-recommended contract had been shot down. But the more important story is the rank-and file organizing and leadership that in June gave 99 percent of the ranks the confidence to authorize the IBT to take them out on strike, and then on Aug. 26 to tell both the airline bosses and the Hoffa regime to take their deal and shove it.
It had to be a tough choice for the ranks to make, if only because they haven’t had a raise since 1988. Furthermore, they are under the oppressive Railway Labor Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation designed to swindle rail workers, which now also swindles airline workers.
The ranks’ unity and determination didn’t just fall out of the sky. Since 1987, flight attendants have been building a rank-and-file movement to give them an practical alternative to their high-flying bosses and Teamster bureaucrats.
The background to the flight attendants’ long fight was recently related in Gridrunner, an online newsletter, by Ashley McNeely, a full-time representative of Flight Attendants Local Union 2000 and a national leader of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a militant rank-and-file caucus.
McNeely says that the Flight Attendants (F/As) once were separated into six locals, when some F/As formed Flight Attendants for a Democratic Voice (FDV) and went to TDU for help on local union bylaws reform and legal advice. FDV campaigned for Ron Carey’s nomination as Teamster president, who “overwhelmingly won in our locals” among flight attendants.
After Carey’s election, the flight attendants were permitted to form their own local union (IBT Local Union 2000), which ensured that their officials would come from their ranks.
By January 1998, a slate that included TDUers won office, “electing all seven E-board positions and 14 of 16 base representatives. Over 70 percent of the F/As voted and our slate, the It’s Time Slate, got over 70 percent of the vote.
“It clearly was a mandate for change. … The previous old-guard administration left us with a weak grievance handling system, with no rank-and-file education programs or involvement. … By using strategies that were successful in the 1997 UPS strike, we educated and mobilized thousands of flight attendants into a powerful voice against the company.
“Through our mobilizing efforts we have handed the union to the members, who now believe it is their union. Members believe they can make demands, and that they can take action to change what they don’t like. Just what a real union should be like.”
Since Hoffa’s election, some of Local 2000’s officials have weakened and, says McNeely, “our negotiating committee has allied itself with the Hoffa old-guard administration and is proceeding to intimidate our members on this contract vote.”
However, the lopsided rejection of the proposed pact clearly shows that Hoffa’s high-pressure tactics that proved successful against Anheuser-Busch workers, couldn’t make a dent in the solidarity that the F/As have achieved since 1987.
The F/As resounding rejection of Hoffa,s deal can also be a victory and a winning model for all Teamsters who are ready to stand up to the union bureaucrats who run interference for the bosses.
Sharecroppers on wheels
In the middle of July, Teamsters Local 174 led owner-operator container-haulers off the job, in support of Canadian striking port truckers in Vancouver. The Canadian truckers, after a month-long struggle, won their beef, even refusing to go back to work, pending an arbitrated settlement.
The Seattle and Vancouver workers hit the bricks in order to get from under a fee-for-load pay system. They wanted-and the Canadians won-hourly wages. Both constituencies said that congestion-related waiting time was reducing their pay after expenses to $10 a hour. Seattle drivers also want to vote on Teamster representation, and Local 174 says that about half of the drivers have signed-up.
After two weeks, the Seattle drivers suspended their walkout, but said they are ready to walk again after 30 days, if there is no progress, or if the companies retaliate against the strikers.
“If port haulers [the companies] agree to let the drivers vote on union representation, and they let the Teamsters in, it will be the first time owner-operators in this country have been organized for collective bargaining,” according to an industry mouthpiece, Transport Topics (Aug. 31).
Brewery workers’ decertification collapses
Some Budweiser brewery workers circulated decertification petitions at their Baldwinsville, N.Y., plant, in the wake of the national ratification of the take-away-ridden master contract covering the company’s 12 U.S. plants.
The petitions were passed out by workers who had supported Hoffa in the 1998 election. When the Carey/Leedham supporters refused to sign the petitions, the decertification effort among the 800 workers failed.
The master contract has not been signed by the IBT, pending outstanding differences over some local supplements to the national contract. Budweiser offered to fully implement the contract right away (presumably restoring the dues check-off), if Hoffa would agree not to allow workers from one area to picket another plant over the unresolved local issues.
Hoffa squelches raid on HERE
Last December, the Cipriani restaurant family took control of the Rainbow Room at New York’s Rockefeller Center and fired the 250 longtime workers, members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 6.
After more than six months of picketing, which Cipriani said “cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business” (The New York Times, Aug.12). Louis Smith, president of Teamsters Local 810, signed a contract with Cipriani covering the Rainbow Room and two other locations.
“At the time he signed a contract with the Teamsters, Mr. Cipriani said that he thought he had finally ‘found a local we could work with.'”
The Times also reported that “the District Attorney’s rackets bureau were already looking into allegations that employers had paid bribes to officials at Local 810 in return for sweetheart contracts…”
Just hours after the press reported on the new contract, Hoffa reportedly told Smith and Local 810 to “cease and desist.” Smith dropped his new contracts like a hot potato, telling the New York Daily News, “I will do whatever Hoffa wants.”
Since then, HERE Local 6 negotiated a six-year pact. However, the Cipriani family is now facing a state suit, accusing it of sexual discrimination by hiring only men as waiters.