The pensions of millions of Americans are being threatened because of trouble in a part of the retirement world long considered so safe that no one gave it a second thought.
The pensions belong to people in multiemployer plans — big pooled investment funds with many sponsoring companies and a union. Multiemployer pensions are not only backed by federal insurance, but they also were thought to be even more secure than single-company pensions because when one company in a multiemployer pool failed, the others were required to pick up its “orphaned” retirees.
Today, however, the aging of the work force, the decline of unions, deregulation and two big stock crashes have taken a grievous toll on multiemployer pensions, which cover 10 million Americans. Dozens of multiemployer plans have already failed, and some giant ones are teetering — including, notably, the Teamsters’ Central States pension plan, with more than 400,000 members.
In February, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal multiemployer insurer would run out of money in seven years, which would leave retirees in failed plans with nothing.
“Unless Congress acts — and acts very soon — many plans will fail, more than one million people will lose their pensions, and thousands of small businesses will be handed bills they can’t pay,” said Joshua Gotbaum, executive director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal insurer that pays benefits to people whose company pension plans fail.
“If Congress allows the P.B.G.C. to get the money and the authority it needs to do its job, then these plans can be preserved,” he added. “If not, the P.B.G.C. will run out of money, too, and multiemployer pensioners will get virtually nothing. This is not something that can wait a few years. If people kick the can down the road, they’ll find it went off a cliff.”
So far, efforts to keep multiemployer plans from toppling, and taking the federal insurance program down with them, are giving rise to something that was supposed to have been outlawed 40 years ago: cuts in benefits that workers have already earned.
For example, after Carol Cascio’s husband died of a heart attack at 52, the pension office of his union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, told her his 33 years as a supermarket meat manager had earned her a widow’s pension of $402.31 a month for life. It would start in three years, on what would have been his 55th birthday.
She waited, but just before her first payment should have come, she received a letter instead saying that the pension plan had been “terminated by mass withdrawal” and that she would receive nothing.
“Now I’m in a real pickle,” said Ms. Cascio, 62, a stay-at-home mother in Brooklyn who had already borrowed against the promised pension to pay for her daughter’s education. “I have no one. I have a mortgage on my house. I have my daughter. How do you do this to someone?”
“Only a few years ago, it would have been inconceivable that anyone would have their benefits reduced,” said Karen W. Ferguson, director of the Pension Rights Center, a watchdog group in Washington. “The law hasn’t caught up with what’s happening here.”
The law she was referring to is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or Erisa, the landmark federal employee-benefits law enacted in 1974. It contains a well-established provision known as the anticutback rule, which holds that companies can freeze their pension plans at will, stopping their workers from building up any additional benefits, but they cannot renege on benefits their workers have earned through work already performed.
In the multiemployer world, the anticutback rule was amended in 2006, permitting the weakest plans to stop paying certain benefits to people who had not yet retired, including disability stipends, lump-sum distributions, recent pension increases, death benefits and early retirement benefits. The goal was to help those plans conserve their money while they try to rehabilitate themselves. Experts say the measures have helped, but some multiemployer plans may still fail if they cannot cut payments to retirees as well.
Ms. Cascio’s pension turned out to be in a category subject to cutting: pensions for widows whose husbands died before retirement. They must be cut if their plans have fallen to “critical status,” defined as having less than 65 cents for every dollar of benefits they owe. That is supposed to save money so the plan can keep on paying other retirees their “nonforfeitable benefits” while it negotiates bigger contributions from participating companies, or tries to attract new companies into the pool.
That could not happen in Ms. Cascio’s case. A few months before her husband died, all the supermarkets in his plan decided to disband the pool. He told her not to worry. Each company was making a final contribution to what is known as a “wasting trust,” which would have enough money to pay everyone’s pensions for the rest of their lives. Then the stock market crashed in 2008. Much of the money in the pool melted away, and there was no one left to turn to for more.
Her house, in Gerritsen Beach, was flooded by Hurricane Sandy, and she scraped along for eight weeks that winter without heat, electricity or hot water. Some days, she sat for hours on a city bus, just to keep warm.
Congress made the multiemployer insurance much less comprehensive than the single-employer version because multiemployer plans were supposedly so safe they did not need much insurance.
The P.B.G.C. is supposed to be self-supporting, financing its operations with premiums paid by companies rather than tax dollars. Its single-employer program has the power to take over company pension funds before they run out of money so the assets can be used to help defray the costs. But the multiemployer program must wait until a failing plan’s investments are exhausted, so it gets nothing but bills. It now has premiums of about $110 million a year to work with. All it would take is the failure of one big plan to wipe out the whole program.
The Central States plan, for example, pays $2.8 billion a year to retirees but takes in only about $700 million from employers. It must rely on investment returns to keep from exhausting its assets, but Thomas C. Nyhan, director of the pension plan, said it would take returns of at least 12 percent a year, every year, to come out even, and that is not realistic. Its modeling suggests it will run out of money in 10 to 15 years — most likely around 2026, if nothing is done.
Labor officials, business groups, members of Congress and others have been quietly discussing a proposal to extend multiemployer plans’ life spans by letting them roll back even retirees’ pensions. Such plans are often found in mature sectors, in which retirees outnumber active workers and cuts affecting only the existing workers do not produce enough of a saving as a result. And once a multiemployer plan gets to that stage, officials have discovered, new companies will not join the pool, because they do not want to be stuck paying for extinct companies’ orphaned retirees.
“Arithmetic is going to trump everything here,” said Mr. Nyhan of the Central States plan, which has about five retirees for every current driver.
The Central States plan achieved lasting notoriety in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was run as a virtual bank for organized crime; even today, it still operates under federal court supervision. But today its problems are radically different. First, it lost so much money in the dot-com rout that its supervising judge gave permission to start reducing some benefits as early as 2003. Then, in 2007, it lost its biggest company, United Parcel Service, which paid $6.1 billion to leave the pool. The payment was supposed to cover U.P.S.’s share of the plan’s total shortfall forever, but the shortfall grew by billions of dollars in 2008, when the market crashed and U.P.S. was no longer around to help.
That left a much bigger shortfall to be divided among a smaller pool of employers. George Kerver found that out the hard way. He is president of Fastdecks, a company near Detroit that makes big concrete beams and pillars for construction sites. For years, Fastdecks had one part-time Teamster on the payroll, earning a small pension from Central States. But business slowed to a creep, and in 2011 the lone Teamster resigned, saying he needed a job with more hours.
By law, that meant Fastdecks had to pay a withdrawal liability, just as U.P.S. did. But by 2011 the math was worse. Fastdecks received a bill for $465,774, its pro rata share of the fund’s enlarged $22 billion shortfall.
“We didn’t think we should have to pay it, because we weren’t planning on leaving the union,” Mr. Kerver said, noting that he started as a laborer at Fastdecks 37 years ago and still employs union carpenters and laborers. His lawyers told him if he did not pay, the bill would snowball by accruing penalties and interest.
“What are we supposed to do?” he said. “That was our retirement. Now we owe everything to the Teamster fund.” Bankruptcy was not an option, so he arranged a 20-year payment plan with Central States.
“They lost a union company,” he said, “because we’re never going to have another Teamster again.”Issues: Pension and Benefits
At 6am on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, 40 bus drivers and a dozen community members defied negative-10-degree weather to picket outside the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) bus garage in Burlington, Vt. The action marked the beginning of nearly three-week-long transit strike over concessionary contract demands that would capture the imagination of much of Vermont and culminate in victory.
“Management misjudged us,” said CCTA driver Jim Fouts, speaking to In These Times from the impromptu victory rally on April 3. “We don’t drive together, we don’t have a lunch room to eat together,” said Fouts. But on the picket line, he says, “we turned into icicles together and we started to get to know one another.”
After months of failed negotiations and working without a contract since June 30 of last year,drivers voted 54-0 on March 12th to reject CCTA management’s final contract offer. Drivers could not stomach monitoring and disciplinary procedures that they saw as “abusive," such as being tailed by supervisors, reviewed via bus videotapes, and suspension of as long as a month. The added demand that drivers work eight hours over the course of an exhausting 13.5-hour “split shift,” which could be extended through forced overtime to 15 hours, sparked concerns among bus drivers and community members that CCTA management’s demands risked“community safety.”A new generation of strikers
St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Monday, a school day, and the temperature was negative 5 degrees, but at 7a.m., a steady stream of parents dropped off their students to march the picket line. Seventy-one Burlington High School (BHS) students walked the proverbial mile in another’s shoes, shoulder to shoulder with their bus drivers in a show of solidarity that harkens back to a much older, bolder labor movement. The students accompanied the bus drivers every foot of the circuitous 2.3-mile bus route from the Cherry Street picket line to the front office of the high school, where administrators greeted the students with applause and excused absences. The handmade signs students carried would paper the lobby for the duration of the strike.
“This is Vermont, and even record cold temperatures cannot keep us away from supporting the workers of our state,” says Sabine Rogers, a senior at BHS. “Students showed how much they support fair working conditions and how much they support the work that you bus drivers do each and every day.”
“As we started to walk, we went from a fairly quiet group to chanting with a bullhorn and really getting into it,” says BHS senior Henry Prine. “One quiet student told me he doesn’t like loud noises or large crowd, but it was such an incredible experience. He fell in love with organizing in that moment.”
Prine detailed the prefigurative movement-building BHS students did before the strike. Through his student delegate position on the school board, Prine convinced the body to pass a resolution stating the school district would not hire scab bus drivers to cross picket lines. Prine says that as negotiations broke down and a strike appeared imminent, he began talking with other seniors ("and underclassmen too") about ways BHS students could take an even more powerful public stand. The students drafted a petition calling on CCTA management to meet the drivers’ demands, and Mayor Weinberger and the Burlington City Council to support the bus drivers.” According to Prine, the petition drew more than 500 signatures in one day’s time. “That’s more signatures than people get to keep the hockey program,” he says.
This petition would be presented to Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger in a March 10 City Council meeting by ten BHS student organizers. Weinberger and his City Council allies had earned a reputation as anti-labor for gutting Burlington’s Livable Wage Ordinance despite popular support for policies to reduce the growing disparity of wealth.
Rogers, motivated by her experience on the strike line, would build out a student carpool in solidarity with drivers, using some dusty ward maps to collectivize students’ overlapping routes to school. In the strike’s final week, students organized teachers to host bus drivers in their classes. Striking drivers presented labor history and origin story of their job action to 80 students in four classes in the three days leading up to the strike settlement.
Rogers believes the experience transformed a culture of alienation at her school. “The solidarity and community and sense of activism that has been such a big player in this whole past few weeks—I definitely see that continuing as part of the atmosphere at BHS,” she says.‘This is the movement of the people’
Nine days into the strike, the drivers would face a massively heavy lift. With the backing of Mayor Weinberger, eight of the 14 members of Burlington's City Council co-sponsored a resolution calling for the contract negotiations to enter “binding arbitration.”
According to a statement in responde to the resultion by the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals (a local of AFT Vermont), binding arbitration decreases the likelihood of a favorable outcome for workers and communities by placing “all decision-making in the hands of a third party, someone with no relationship to the workplace or community directly affected by his or her decision” and who is not accountable for the results.
To speak against binding arbitration, 150 drivers and supporters marched upon the City Council's March 26 meeting, chanting “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union!" After they filed into the chamber, City Council President Joan Shannon informed the crowd that the customary public comment period at the beginning of the meeting would be delayed by a special executive session. At that point, the entire driver solidarity march assembled outside the chamber door and unleashed perhaps the most boisterous rally City Hall has ever seen.
The hallway and steps leading to City Hall’s second floor and the Mayor’s office were suffused with swelling throng of students, members of United Electric (UE), the Vermont Workers’ Center, the Vermont State Employees Association, Vermont National Education Assocaition (Vermont NEA), the newly formed Vermont Homecare United (a local of ASFCME) and many bus drivers. Loud applause and chants of "What do we want? Fair Contract! When do we want it? Now!" resounded in hallway’s marble and into the City Council chamber in a scene many would compare to the 2011 occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol by pro-union protesters.
"Where is the freedom? Where is the chance?” bus driver Noor Ibrahim, an immigrant from Somalia, asked the impromptu rally. “I was told there is a chance here in this country. Where is the right of the poor people? [CCTA management] are misusing the money of the taxpayers. From now on we have this strike as experience, we don’t need to back down.”
Noor detailed how three years ago his wife was pregnant and “the doctor said the baby wasn’t moving.” He set up an appointment on his day off so he could support his wife, even filling out the vacation paperwork as an extra precaution. Less than 24 hours before the appointment, he said, CCTA’s management told him he would have to work. “When I asked them, they said ‘We don’t care about you, we don’t care about your family all we care about is the bus moving,’ " said Noor.
As drivers continued telling personal stories like these and the raucous rally spilled over intopublic comment, two of the eight resolution sponsors, Karen Paul and Tom Ayres, pulled their names off. Councilor Paul was evidently moved by the driver’s stories; she introduced a successful amendment to “remove the resolution from the agenda” entirely, adding, “I’ve learned a great deal tonight. If we go forward with the agenda, I’ll remove my name from the resolution.” By the council meeting’s denouement, the focus had shifted from binding arbitration to a discussion led by progressive councilors of whether or not to sanction CCTA management.
“This is the movement of the people,” Nigerian CCTA driver Ade Fajobi told In These Times. “The voice of everybody changed the votes of City Council.”‘Every step you take on your picket line is our step’
On Saturday, March 29, the 12th day of the strike, an all-night, 18-hour negotiation session broke down, yet again, over CCTA management’s demand to increase drivers’ split-shifts 12.5 to 13.5 hours. “They basically tossed the same pile of dung back in our faces,” said Jim Fouts. In response, hundreds of supporters gathered at Burlington City Hall, beneath a 12-foot wide bright blue banner reading “Work With Dignity” and “Fair Contract Now.” A massive University of Vermont (UVM) feeder march and brass band joined, and Vermont residents lent their voices to the drivers’ cause.
“By using your right to strike, you're creating a stronger movement of workers,” said Amy Lester, a member of Vermont NEA and the vice-president of the Vermont Workers’ Center. “Your strength is our strength. Your courage is our courage. Your momentum is our momentum. Every step you take on your picket line is our step. We all have your back, keep fighting and don’t give up.”
To loud applause, FaRied Munarsyah, a Workers’ Center member and 20-year CCTA rider, called for “temporary replacement managers.” Michelle Gałecki of UVM’s Student Climate Culture said, “Livable jobs and public transportation is a green issue, but it’s also a human rights issue.”
“We have been swallowing this pain for the last ten years,” said Noor Ibrahim, from the steps of City Hall, with dozens of CCTA bus drivers behind him. “We cannot live in this hostile environment. We deserve respect.”
Just days later, after threatening picket line-crossing scab drivers, CCTA management would finally capitulate. CCTA agreed to a contract with language limiting monitoring and discipline, reducing "forced overtime" to 13.5 hours a day instead of 15, and maintaining drivers’ split shifts at the current 12.5 hours. Though drivers conceded an increase from 13 to 15 part-time drivers, the union was able to win language preventing CCTA from using retirement or termination to reduce the entire bargaining unit slowly to part-time status. On April 3, inside the local VFW’s Eddie Laplant ballroom, drivers voted 53-6 to adopt the new contract.A growing movement for work with dignity
According to James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers Center, "In the current context of the attack on public transit, the public sector and the labor movement nationally, this is a tremendous victory for work with dignity that benefits all working people in the long haul.”
Indeed, the solidarity unionism that blossomed in Vermont’s late-winter snow could be—like the Chicago Teachers Union, Portland Teachers Union or Boeing Machinists—another harbinger of rebirth for rank-and-file reform movements buttressed by community solidarity.
The successful 18-day job action “really shows what happens when a few people speak out and continue to speak out towards a common goal of having a strong union,” said driver Jim Fouts in the bus terminal, in the afterglow of the victory celebration. “When I first came here the union was weak, because it was a business-as-usual union. Then some activists started saying, ‘This is wrong. We can vote on things. This is supposed to be a democracy.’ And really it was a bottom up movement to change our union.”
According to former drivers Chuck Norris-Brown and Scott Ranney, a reform caucus with the local solidified over breakfasts in local restaurants in the spring of 2009, around a petition circulated amongst drivers that helped win stewards elected by drivers, not merely appointed by Teamsters higher-ups. The caucus, nicknamed the Sunday Breakfast Club, soon began coordinating with Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a national, independent rank-and-file movement within the Teamsters. In 2011 contract negotiations, Breakfast Club members did the shopfloor organizing and the local outreach to community members and other unions to build public support. "A seed was sown which kept the Teamster Local to the grindstone, and almost all of the community action that resulted in major support for the recent drivers strike was based on earlier Sunday Breakfast Club contacts and strategies," says Ranney, who also believes the caucus empowered rank-and-file members and paved the way for the unanimous rejection of the concessionary contract.
Tearing up, Fouts describes how Local 597 followed the advice of a Labor Notes organizer Ellen David Freidman, to build power and beat back concessions: “ ‘Turn enemies into neutrals, you turn neutrals into activists and you turn activists into leaders,’ ” he quotes. “That’s what we did.”
"We won this fair contract because of our unity and the tremendous support from our community,” says Rob Slingerland, CCTA bus driver and spokesperson for the drivers.
Many drivers, even in the midst of the victory party, said they’d already begun reciprocating the solidarity unionism they experienced from other unions during their strikes. “We were talking about solidarity with other unions before we even went over our contract today,” says Slingerland. He says that drivers have already volunteered to join marches on the boss at Vermont's HowardCenter, a counseling and medical-services center where workers are in the process of unionizing with AFSCME. “We got the help and now we’ve got to give the help," he says. "Vermont is so small, but this movement is so big."
Slingerland described an “umbrella of fear,” his co-workers used to work under and how the victorious strike changed workplace power relations and gave drivers a sense of dignity. “A lot of drivers have discovered the power that they have within as a person,” said Slingerland, “you put that together as a group and you end where we are today, with a victory.”Issues: Bus Drivers
At this time the Citizens Co-op Workers Union is asking all supportive Co-op Members and Concerned Community Members to call and email management to express your feelings, comments and questions about the unfair labor practices and termination of 5 union workers. We want your voices heard and for you to hear the explanations for their actions!
A California state agency has ruled that seven drivers for Pacer International Inc. who challenged their status as independent contractors can collect $2.21 million.
The Department of Labor Standards Enforcement ruled the drivers were company employees, rather than independent contractors. Pacer, which recently became part of XPO Logistics, has filed a notice of appeal.
The case is the latest development in an ongoing battle over the status of truck drivers, who are independent contractors from the carriers’ standpoint.
Don Minchey, the hearing officer in the case, wrote “the plaintiffs are convincing in their arguments.”
Drivers’ independent contractor status is being challenged by union organizers, in Southern California and other locations, who are seeking employee status so that organizing campaigns can advance.
“We are aware of the rulings by the administrative hearing officer in the seven claims,” an XPO spokesman told Transport Topics. “These cases are ongoing and we have appealed the rulings to California Superior Court. We intend to vigorously oppose these claims, which we believe are without merit.”Issues: Freight
In the wake of a relentless grassroots labor-community solidarity campaign, UPS waved the white flag and agreed to rehire all 250 New York City drivers the company fired last month. The campaign united drivers, elected officials, and even UPS customers.
UPS issued termination notices to 250 drivers in March for a 90-minute work stoppage they had carried out on February 26.
Jairo Reyes, a 24-year driver, had been fired for starting work too early, and was walked off the job. This violated the Teamsters’ contract, which called for a 72-hour waiting period and a hearing before a worker could be walked off.
Drivers gathered in the parking lot to show their displeasure. “Our contract had been violated so many times,” Reyes told Labor Notes. “This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Reyes will also return to work, under the terms of the agreement struck between UPS andTeamsters Local 804 yesterday.
UPS had previously vowed never to back down. The company refused to negotiate with Local 804 and told the press it would boot all 250 drivers as soon as replacements were trained.
At first management seemed to make good on that threat. The first 20 workers were fired on March 31, at the end of their last work day of the month so that they and their families would lose their April health care coverage.
Four days later, UPS fired 16 more drivers as their local president prepared to take the stage to speak at the Labor Notes Conference.
But just five days after that, UPS executives from company headquarters in Atlanta were at the table and striking an agreement with the union to return all 250 drivers to work.What Made Brown Back Down?
Immediately after the walkout, Local 804 leaders met with the company to try to settle the dispute. Managers shut down the talks after minutes and said they were issuing termination notices to all 250 drivers.
So Local 804 launched a grassroots campaign to mobilize public support. First, the union mobilized its own ranks. Stewards and union activists passed out bulletins and petitions to show Teamster solidarity.
But the outreach quickly spread to the public in the form of an online petition launched by the Working Families Party (WFP), a grassroots political party of affiliated unions and community groups, including Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York.
Local 804 members rallied on March 21 in front of the UPS hub in Maspeth, Queens, and delivered more than 105,000 petition signatures to the company. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and city council members joined the rally. So did Assembly member Michael Simanowitz.
No labor radical, Simanowitz is a moderate Democrat who represents an Orthodox Jewish section of Queens. But he is also a UPS customer. His UPS driver, Domenick “Dedom” Dedomenico, was one of the 250 fired Teamsters—one with a special back story.
Dedom was run over while delivering Christmas packages for UPS. He spent 10 days in a coma and another 13 months recovering from a traumatic brain injury.
When Dedom returned to UPS, he was met with a barrage of warning letters and suspensions for “failing to meet his previous demonstrated performance.”
A supervisor assigned to monitor Dedom for a day reported that customers were slowing him down to welcome him back on the job, and breaking into tears.
Management responded by suspending Dedom and telling him to pick up the pace. Brown’s ultimatum? Deliver one more package per hour or lose your job. Then Dedom became one of the 250 who were issued termination notices.
“He spent a week in a coma, and how does this company repay him when he comes back to work? They fire him because he stood up for his brothers,” said Simanowitz. “This is not over. Dedom is not fired. If he is then I’ll personally lay down in front of that driveway.”
Letitia James grabbed the microphone from Simanowitz and told the rallying Teamsters that UPS had a $43 million contract up for renewal with New York State and, “if UPS does not do right by the workers in this city, then the city will not do right by UPS.”
A hot campaign got a lot hotter. Elected officials began scrutinizing UPS’s financial dealings with the city and state, including a sweetheart deal through the Department of Finance’s stipulated-fine program that cuts UPS’s parking tickets by $15 to $20 million a year.
UPS responded by firing 20 drivers, chosen at random.
Local 804 kicked its campaign up a notch. The union reached out to the press, and the firing of the 250 workers and Dedom, the driver who survived a coma only to be canned by UPS, became tabloid fodder.
Local 804 also reached out to other unions while the Working Families Party galvanized support from elected officials.
On April 3, fired drivers and other Local 804 Teamsters held a press conference on the steps of City Hall with other Teamsters, nurses, bus and train operators from Transport Workers Local 100, members of the Communications Workers and Service Employees 32-BJ, Laborers, and others.
Drivers told their story flanked by more than a dozen elected officials, including Letitia James and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
"I do not understand who at that company put forward a business plan to take away a generation of good will between UPS and the City of New York," Stringer said. “But this is not gonna end this way.”
UPS axed 16 more drivers the following day.Who Speaks for UPS Customers?
With political pressure and bad PR on the rise, UPS tried to justify the firings as the only responsible business decision.
“We simply cannot allow employee misconduct that jeopardizes our ability to reliably serve our customers,” UPS told the press.
One executive told the Daily News that UPS was firing 250 drivers because “we believe we owe it to our customers.”
The union decided to put the question directly to those customers.
Fired drivers launched a customer outreach campaign. They retraced their routes, passed out leaflets, and talked with customers. Customers posed for photos with the fired drivers with signs that said, "What Can Brown Do for Me? Not This" and "Rehire This Guy."
Steve Curcio was one of the original 20 firees who reached out to customers on his mixed commercial and residential route. “We were going out to customers on the route and asking their honest opinions and reactions to why we were missing,” he said. “Everyone misses their guy, this guy is here every single day. They don't want their business being disrupted.”
Supporters nationwide flooded the corporation with phone calls and bombed the UPS Facebook page.
Customer Lois Toscano from Little Neck called the Local 804 hall to see what she could do. She said her UPS driver—whose name she didn’t know—had once saved her family’s life. As she and her three children drowsily watched TV, Armin Kaeser rang the bell and said, “Mrs. Toscano, I smell gas.”
“At Christmas,” Toscano told the Daily News, “when presents are being delivered, [Kaeser] rings the doorbell first to make sure the kids aren’t around before he hauls everything up to the door.”
Local 804 made a video of customers speaking their minds to UPS. The testimonials were unscripted and heartfelt and shredded the company’s argument that UPS owed the firings to its customers.
“What can Brown do for me? They can give me my driver back,” said Alex Silaco of Tiles Unlimited.
“I know what you mean to my company,” another customer said, “It would be a shame if UPS makes the mistake of letting the drivers go that are important for their customer base.”
Local 804 President Tim Sylvester said the tipping point for the campaign was “customers’ involvement. Management underestimated once again how popular our drivers are with their customers, just like in 1997 [when Teamsters struck for two weeks for full-time jobs].”
Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, the union’s chief negotiator with UPS, had not issued a single public comment or statement of support since February 26—a fact not lost on Local 804 members or union activists at UPS nationwide.
But the day before negotiations with UPS, Hall flew to New York and visited with drivers in Maspeth to offer support to the 250 drivers.
The next day, Local 804 leaders, international union officials, and UPS executives met and hammered out the agreement.
All 250 terminations were reduced to 10-day suspensions. Local 804 will also issue a statement to members outlining the proper union procedures for a walkout.A Teakettle on a Flame
“The buildup of frustration causes people to do things they wouldn't normally do,” Sylvester said. “You can only put a teakettle on a flame for so long before the lid comes off.”
New York drivers were fed up with long hours, increasing production standards, and constant technological surveillance, Sylvester said. Every UPS truck is equipped with more than 200 sensors that monitor drivers' every move, and drivers are expected to follow 72 pages of “methods,” such as hold the keys in your right hand as you approach your vehicle, start the truck and buckle your seat belt in one motion.
Labor Notes asked Curcio if he was surprised his union would do so much. “I expected at least what they did,” he said. “Something of this magnitude, so severe, that touched so many people—something had to be done.”Issues: UPSNY-NJ TDU
On January 30, workers at Harbor Dental and Associates in Harbor City, CA voted overwhelmingly to be represented by ILWU Local 26. The new ILWU Local 26 Bargaining Unit consists of dental hygienists, dental assistants and receptionists. They work at the Harbor Dental facility located in a Harbor City.
This facility has been the preferred dental service provider for many Longshore families for decades. They will work with ILWU Local 26 President Luisa Gratz to get a first contract.