By DAVID BERNT
On March 6, some 250 UPS workers were given notice of termination after engaging in a workplace protest of the firing of one of their union brothers. The UPS workers at the Maspeth hub in Queens had walked off the job in an impromptu work action on Feb. 26 to protest the firing of a fellow worker and active union member. The workers, members of Teamsters Local 804, a local headed by a militant reform leadership, took the action when UPS failed to abide by the grievance procedure and fired the worker without cause.
The walkout was the product of pent-up anger at UPS management’s tactics of intimidation and use of discipline to silence union activists. Workers who stand up are routinely harassed, disciplined, and fired on ridiculously trumped-up charges. The workers are then starved into submission as they wait months, without pay, for their case to be heard before an arbitrator.
Maspeth workers had enough of this on Feb. 26 and took matters into their own hands by stopping production at their hub for about 90 minutes. The ability to disrupt production is a union’s main source of leverage in any dispute with the boss. These Teamsters bravely exercised this leverage despite the great risk to themselves and their careers, instead of relying on a broken grievance procedure. For this act of solidarity all 250 workers who walked off the job are being threatened with the loss of their livelihoods.
Shop-floor actions like this were once the norm in the labor movement, and gave workers a measure of protection against management harassment and contract violations. Reactionary labor laws and weak union leadership have made such work place actions nearly extinct. Even when unions engage in contract strikes, the bosses courts make them ineffective by issuing injunctions limiting picketing. In effect, the law has made the labor movement’s best tactic illegal.
In order to build a fighting labor movement, workers will have to engage in collective action that challenges the bosses’ laws. The brave UPS workers in local 804 have provided an example for how workers can collectively challenge such laws. The fate of these 250 workers will have consequences far beyond a trucking barn in Queens. All who stand on the side of working people must take up their fight.
Local 804 is asking supporters to circulate paper petitions and sign an on-line petition to defend the brave brothers and sisters; both are available at: http://teamsterslocal804.org/
Local 804 released the following statement: “On Feb. 26, UPS fired a Maspeth driver and long-time union activist and denied him his “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” rights. What should have been a routine disciplinary matter exploded into a full-blown crisis, because UPS once again violated our basic rights under the contract. 250 drivers walked off the job in protest.
“Local 804 has been in talks with UPS management to try to resolve the dispute and address the underlying problems that led to it. We held several meetings and we were making progress toward an agreement. Instead of completing these talks, UPS unilaterally announced it was firing 250 drivers. Continuing down this road does not serve UPS, its brand, or our customers. Local 804 remains committed to resolving this dispute through negotiations. UPS expects its rights under the contract to be respected. So do Local 804 members.”