Teamsters Notebook

Drivers Out-Tough Bakery Bosses

When 1400 Teamster drivers walked off the job at Wonder Bread bakeries in Biddeford, Maine, and Wayne, N.J., a Teamster official told the press that the union would shut down one bakery every day the union was forced to stay out.

“It’s a wave that’s going to go right across the country,” said Richard Volpe, the Teamsters Bakery Division head. (Associated Press, March 20, 2000.)

True to his word, the union also struck the billion-dollar company in New York City, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. Within a week, from Maine to Washington, D.C., grocery shelves were bare, lacking 400,000 loaves of bread plus a variety of baked goods such as Twinkies. Then on March 25, the union and company announced new talks and said the strikers would return to work.

The stated dispute was over the firm’s refusal to abide by an arbitrator’s decision that the “drivers should deliver only one brand at a time because they are paid different rates depending on which product they handle.” (Associated Press, March 23, 2000.)

However, more than that may have been at stake for the union. Bakery drivers in Pittsburgh had been struggling to get a new contract from the bakery giant. Clearly the 140 drivers needed some leverage. So coincidentally or not, the New England drivers hit the bricks the same week as the Pittsburgh drivers, and stayed out until the Pittsburgh drivers’ union announced a settlement.

Most union bureaucracies, especially the Teamsters, work hard to limit the geographical spread of strikers. In fact, many unions often refuse to allow strikers to take full advantage of even the narrow rights permitted strikers under state and federal anti-union laws.

Chances are the Pittsburgh drivers would still be off the job without the solidarity of the 1400 New England strikers. So ironically, the quick victory by the bakery workers underscores how reactionary the bureaucrats routine strike policies are.

Clearly, many strikers endure unnecessary hardships when they are blocked by their own officials from enjoying the willing support of other workers. Just as clearly, strikers become demoralized and reluctant to fight back the next time their contract is up.

Consequently, unions lose members, and workers’ share of the national product shrinks.


UPS China Deal


The Teamsters Union is at the front of organized labor’s fight to deny China the same low-tariff access to U.S. markets that most other nations have. But that hasn’t stopped the union’s president, James P. Hoffa, from pushing a little publicized effort to get President Clinton’s backing for United Parcel Service’s (UPS) campaign to win highly-coveted air rights inside China.

UPS is fighting other U.S. air carriers for access to the Chinese market. According to Reuters news service (March 12), “the Teamsters have lobbied top Clinton administration officials to support Atlanta-based UPS in its battle against Delta Air Lines, AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, and Polar Air Cargo for the China air route.”

UPS estimates it would add over 1000 unionized jobs in the U.S., if it gets entry. Some observers might wonder how Hoffa squares his lobbying on behalf of the union’s biggest employer with the union’s position that China violates core labor standards and human rights, and should be denied normal trade relations.

For instance, Teamsters Vice President Chuck Mack recently told a congressional committee that if China is granted normal trade relations, “the U.S. will have put its seal of approval on one of the most brutally repressive regimes in the world. We will be turning our back on China’s democracy movement, on the thousands of people who have fought, and in many cases died, for freedom in that nation.”

“It’s not a contradiction at all,” says another Teamster spokesperson. “We never said we were against trade. We’re for fair trade, and this [UPS deal] will create good paying jobs in the United States.”

But Chinese workers might easily see a contradiction, if “fair trade” to union bureaucrats means jobs in the U.S., and unemployment in China. Then Chinese workers are likely to see the labor bureaucrats’ opposition to normal trade relations between China and the U.S. as a shameless mockery of international solidarity with oppressed workers.

Also siding with UPS and the Teamster bureaucracy to get the lucrative trade concession from China are the Machinists Union and the Independent Pilots Association.


Hoffa & Big Oil


Hoffa wants President Clinton to push the oil countries to cut the price of crude oil and to step up production. But if Hoffa is also calling on Clinton to pressure Big Oil to stop price gouging at the pump, it’s not making the papers. In fact, it’s not mentioned at all in the many press releases found on the union’s web-site.

Before speaking at a meeting of trucking bosses, Hoffa told reporters that “basically, it’s a contrived shortage.” (St. Louis Post-Gazette, Feb. 25, 2000.)

Well, of course it is. And the oil nations, one-time colonies or vassal states of European and American governments, readily admit it. The OPEC countries and their allies apparently have decided not to willingly allow the “market” to price oil below the price of a barrel of good beer, as was the case for decades.

But that doesn’t mean that the oil states have pushed Big Oil (the so-called Seven Sisters) to the wall. A recent report based on a study by the State of California Energy Commission finds that the refiners’ bite of the gas dollar more than doubled when pump prices rose from $1.36 to $1.74 per gallon. (San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2000.)

The soaring gas prices hit poor workers the hardest, much like consumer taxes. No doubt some workers will have to cut back on food or other necessities to get the gas to get to work, as some working poor forgo medicine.

Hoffa could do all workers a mighty service by standing up to Big Oil, perhaps demanding that the oil moguls open their books so that workers fully learn the extent of the sacrifices being imposed on them so that profits can be maximized.

“Chevron’s per-share earnings are expected to triple in the first quarter. … The same is true for Arco, while Texaco’s profits could increase fivefold,” according to business analysts interviewed by the Chronicle.


Steward Reinstated


Just days after a shop-floor strike leader, Maria Martinez, announced that she and other rank-and-filers would run for union office because of the lack of strike support from Hoffa and their local officials, Hoffa put the Wallula, Wash., Local 556 in trusteeship.

His move blocked the October election. Then Hoffa’s trustee removed Martinez as a full-time steward at the Iowa Beef Processing plant.

Martinez took Hoffa to court and months later won a ruling that reinstates her as the shop-floor representative of 1300 coworkers.

The judge noted that Hoffa’s trustee kept the entire union staff and officers, removing only Martinez. The same judge will preside over Martinez’s suit to get the trusteeship lifted, which would restore the membership’s right to elect its officers.

Martinez is a national leader of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which said, “Hoffa has gotten a lot of good PR lately for his ‘anti-corruption’ efforts. This ruling against his retaliation against an outspoken reformer shows that his actions contradict his press releases.” – CHARLES WALKER

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