March 27, 2014: UPS has threatened 250 Local 804 members with termination. But politicians and the public are calling on the company to make a U-turn.
On Feb. 26, UPS fired a union activist in violation of the grievance procedure. Two hundred fifty Local 804 members walked off the job in protest. UPS issued notices of termination notices to all of them.
The company’s actions have drawn the ire of political leaders and the public.
On March 21, elected officials rallied with Local 804 members and delivered over 100,000 petition signatures to UPS management.
A resolution has been introduced to the City Council calling on UPS to revoke the terminations and settle the dispute with Teamsters Local 804.
U.S. Congressional Reps and State Senators and Assembly Members have issued support statements and contacted UPS management.
Elected officials point out that UPS does over $40 million in business annually with the City of New York and New York State and gets a $15 million break every year from the City in reduced fines on traffic tickets.
City Council leaders say they will call on UPS management to appear at an upcoming hearing and elected officials have called a Press Conference to press the case on the steps of City Hall.Issues: UPS
The Teamsters Union's top leaders are mulling a plan to impose a UPS Inc. small-package contract on recalcitrant union locals by stripping its members of the right to vote on supplements and riders to the UPS master contract, a Teamster dissident group said yesterday.
Teamsters For A Democratic Union (TDU) said in a communiqué that General President James P. Hoffa and Executive Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, the union's number two official, are "considering a secret plan" to effectively force the master contract on several locals that have already rejected supplements to the main compact. Although a five-year contract was ratified last June, it cannot take effect until all locals ratify their respective riders and supplements.
A Teamster spokeswoman declined comment. Atlanta-based UPS officials were unavailable to comment.
The union won the right in its 1991 contract with UPS to vote on all supplements and riders. Prior to that, the master contract and all supplements and riders were voted on at one time nationwide.
During the most recent negotiations, the rank-and-file rejected 18 supplements and riders, the largest number rejected in any contract negotiated by the Teamsters in its 111-year existence. Since mid-2013, most of the supplements and riders have been ratified, the latest being in Ohio.
The leadership's purported effort is aimed primarily at locals in Louisville, Ky.; Philadelphia; and western Pennsylvania. In all three regions, locals have rejected their respective supplements. Louisville and Philadelphia are home to UPS air hubs.
Tensions are running especially high in Louisville, where Local 89 represents 9,300 air and ground workers, the largest UPS local in its system. The rank and file there rejected the master contract and its supplement by overwhelming margins. Throughout the process, officials of the local have been at odds with the international leadership in Washington, D.C., and they have been vocal in expressing their displeasure.
Earlier this month, UPS made what union officials called its "last, best, and final offer" to the local. The local responded by filing a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against UPS for unfair labor practices and "regressive" bargaining. The local said UPS, in its latest offer, reneged on provisions both sides had already agreed upon.
Besides the locals in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, contracts covering 15,000 UPS Teamsters at two locals in Chicago and northern Indiana remain open. These contracts are separate from the national agreement, TDU said.Issues: UPS
Following death of workers, report indicts safety at New York Metro-North rail system
By A. Woodson and Philip Guelpa 27 March 2014
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued its Operation Deep Dive Safety Assessment of the Metro-North commuter railroad last week. The report came days after James Romansoff, an eight-year Metro-North worker in the power department, was killed working on the tracks at 106th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem, when he was struck by a northbound train at 12:54 AM.
The unprecedented FRA 60-day investigation of a commuter line was launched after the fourth major accident in 2013 on Metro-North, which serves the northern suburbs of New York City. This occurred on December 1, when a Hudson line train failed to slow down coming to tight curve near the Spuyten Duyvil Station in the New York City borough of the Bronx. The resulting derailment killed four passengers and injured over 70 others.
Another accident happened on May 17, when an eastbound train on the New Haven line, another Metro-North division, derailed and ran onto adjacent tracks where a westbound train coming 20 seconds later crashed into it sending more than 50 passengers to the hospital. On July 18th a third accident occurred on the tracks of the Hudson line when a CSX freight train derailed tearing up tracks and overturning train cars along a narrow curve near Spuyten Duyvil.
There was another major accident May 28, when a New Haven line commuter train traveling at 70 miles per hour in West Haven, Connecticut struck and killed a maintenance-of-way supervisor who was doing inspection work on the tracks. According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) preliminary investigation of this deadly incident, the maintenance-of-way workers established exclusive track occupancy on the tracks to do their work, but a rail traffic controller (RTC) trainee accidentally removed these signals from the computer console allowing a train to proceed at full speed into the active work zone and kill the track worker.
The 31-page FRA Assessment concluded that, “This emphasis on on-time performance, combined with increased volume of train activity, appears to have led managers and supervisors to allow inspections maintenance and employee training to lapse. This, in turn, led to a deficient safety culture which manifested itself in increased risk and reduced safety on Metro-North.”
A record 83.4 million passengers rode Metro-North, the second largest commuter railroad in the country, last year. Despite the critical importance of this system, the various divisions of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which oversees public transportation in the New York City metropolitan area, including Metro-North, have suffered years of budget cuts resulting in the inevitable deterioration in safety. In 2010, the MTA implemented a cost-cutting plan which is aimed at reducing its operating budget by over $1 billion by 2017.
By focusing blame for the deterioration in safety on an over-emphasis on timely performance, the FRA is diverting attention from the main cause of these increasingly frequent accidents—the failure to make adequate investments in routine maintenance, upgrade of equipment, and installation of the latest safety innovations—creating the impression of an antagonism between safety and timely service.
The true cause of the Metro-North’s safety crisis, a lack of necessary investment to keep up with growing demand, became evident during the Grand Central Terminal press conference announcing the official release of the Operation Deep Dive Safety Assessment. During 2013, the three Metro-North lines carried a record number of passengers. According to Metro-North, the average number of weekday trains running on the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven lines has increased by 15 percent since 2004. In 2013, the number of such trains increased from 652 to 690, an increase of nearly 6 percent. Ridership has doubled since 1983 and increased by 11 million since 2003.
The railroad’s new president, Joseph Giulietti, described Metro-North’s failed safety culture this way, “At some point this culture turned into one of ‘How many trains can we get in there, and how fast can those trains get there.’” The framing of the problem as a failure of a “culture” seeks to mask the true cause—a failure to provide adequate funding. Somewhat more truthfully, Joseph Szabo, the FRA administrator, queried whether capacity limitations compelled Metro-North to “squeeze 11 pounds into a 10 pound gunny-sack.”
The FRA’s Operation Deep Dive investigation was conducted by 14 teams of railroad operation experts, and their findings are a checklist of critical safety deficiencies and violations that fully justify the conclusion that there has been a criminal neglect of safety at Metro-North. In their report, “The FRA found that the overall track inspection process needs to be improved. These are the areas of concern: (1) inadequate supervision of the track program and inadequate training of track inspectors, (2) the general state of Metro-North’s track maintenance, and (3) the lack of time available to complete track inspections or repair.”
There has been no preliminary report or findings of any kind by the NTSB or FRA concerning the CSX freight train derailment on Metro-North tracks July 18. Ten cars derailed causing a great deal of damage and requiring extensive track repair. This should have provided a significant perspective on the conditions and problems with Metro-North track, particularly in that area. Nevertheless, the potential track risks and the failure of safety procedures due to inadequate resources at the railroad become abundantly clear with the FRA’s finding that, “Track Department employees expressed the view that it is difficult for them to get the track time needed to make the necessary track repairs.”
The FRA described Metro-North’s “Ineffective Training Department” this way: “The overall training of Metro-North employees is inconsistent and often fragmented. Further, the railroad lacks an efficient recordkeeping system of employee training. In response to the retirements of many experienced employees, Metro-North hired approximately 700 new employees in 2013, and they expect to hire 800 new employees in 2014. An effective training program for new and existing employees with accurate documentation is critical for safe operations.”
With respect to “Successfully implementing PTC,” the federally mandated Positive Train Control system that most experts say would have prevented the fatal December 1 accident, the FRA Appendix holds out little hope this system will be installed any time soon and lobbies for its own budget funding to assist the austerity plagued public commuter lines. Operation Deep Dive avoids the critical issue of government at every level slashing funds for mass transit and commuter railroads.
The FRA concludes, “It is unlikely that many railroads will reach the mandated deadline (for PTC installation) of December 2015. Commuter rail operations are cash-strapped and unable to obtain certain necessities for implementation, such as communications spectrum. The FRA’s budget proposes grants for these commuter railroads and research and development for new technologies to improve rail safety.”
The FRA underscores “Maintenance-of-way Employee Fatigue” resulting from “weekday and weekend overtime (which) is common and sometimes extensive. In addition, as of February 2014, Metro-North had more than 100 vacancies owing to retirement of maintenance-of-way employees.”
These and other deficiencies are all the result of inadequate funding. Yet, there is no mention in the FRA report of the MTA’s $32 billion debt or the fact that New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to rob $40 million in funds specifically dedicated to mass transit to pay off New York State’s debt.
The drive for budget cutting is expressed not only in the egregious deterioration in maintenance and safety, but also in management’s determination to address their budget difficulties by imposing major concessions on railroad workers.
Tens of thousands of transit workers in the city and on the two biggest commuter lines in the country—Metro North and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR)—have been working without a contract for years.
Last year, Metro-North conductors and engineers, organized in the Association of Commuter Rail Employees (ACRE), voted down a proposed no-wage-increase contract by 3 to 1. And, at the nation’s largest commuter line, the LIRR, the MTA has rejected an arbitration settlement, and the dispute is going through federal Railway Labor Act mediation procedures which will expire shortly before Election Day 2014. In New York City, subway and bus workers, represented by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, have been working without a contract for two years. Union leaders have done everything in their power to avoid strike action.
As damning as Operation Deep Dive is on the safety failures at Metro-North, it is an even more of an indictment of the railroad unions, which have allowed conditions to persist in which train workers’ and passengers’ safety is in constant danger while, at the same time, the union leaders collaborate with management in attacks on workers’ living standards.
Rail and Reason recently reported on a University of Washington study that confirms people who live close to rail lines are exposed to increased levels of harmful microscopic particles from carcinogenic locomotive diesel emissions and to increased inhalation of larger particles of harmful coal dust from passing coal trains. The full story at Rail and Reason’s website is definitely worth reading.
Rail and Reason’s article concludes with the following questions: “What impacts are diesel emissions from railways having on people breathing the air around it? What’s the impact of rail-transported coal on health and the environment? And how does the mixture of both fine particulate matter from diesel emissions and larger particulate matter from coal dust from trains affect communities overall?”
Filed under: Dust, Health impact
March 26, 2014: Hoffa and Hall are considering a secret plan to impose the UPS contract by taking away members’ Right to Vote on the rejected supplements.
UPS Teamsters in Louisville, Philadelphia, and Western Pennsylvania have Voted No and rejected their supplements.
Now Hoffa and Hall are considering a plan to take away their right to vote and impose the UPS contract.
Teamster members won the right to vote on supplements and riders in 1991 and have used that right in record numbers this year. UPS Teamsters rejected 18 supplements and riders, covering most of the country.
The Vote No movement paid off and forced Hoffa and Hall to improve TeamCare benefits, and won other improvements in some supplements.
Since then, Ken Hall has worked hand-in-glove with management to vote and re-vote the rejected supplements to get them passed.
But members in three areas have held out against concessions and for improvements in their supplements: Louisville, Western Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia.
These UPS Teamsters are ready to stand up and even vote to strike, if that threat is needed to bring the company to the table to bargain a fair contract.
The supplements could have been settled a long time ago if the International Union had stepped in and backed the members.
Instead, Hall has played politics and lashed out at the Local 89 leadership and the Vote No movement and tried to blame them for holding up the national contract.
The company has taken its cues from Hoffa and Hall and refused to budge at the bargaining table. In Louisville, UPS has even reduced its offer.
This is exactly why Teamsters fought for the Right to Vote on supplements and riders in the first place: to stop employers from imposing concessions in supplements and riders by pushing through a contract nationally.
Before we had this right in 1991, the master contract and all supplements and riders were voted on in one national vote. That gave employers a tool to push through concessions at the supplement level.
The Right to Vote on supplements and riders changed all that.
Hall is talking about imposing the UPS contract and abrogating members’ right to vote on the outstanding supplements. This plan has started to leak out from Hall loyalists.
All members need to be prepared to stand with these UPS Teamsters and to stand up for our Right to Vote.
UPS cannot operate without the Louisville Worldport and Philadelphia Airport which together handle a huge volume of air packages. The Local 705 and 710 contracts covering 15,000 UPS Teamsters in Chicago, Illinois, and Northern Indiana are also not settled. These contracts are separate from the national agreement, still open, and vital to UPS's operations.
With a united approach, our union has more than enough leverage to defeat concessions and win acceptable contracts in Louisville, Western Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and in Chicago Locals 705 and 710. It's time for Hoffa and Hall to act like Teamster leaders instead of UPS enforcers.
The Right to Vote gives working UPSers leverage. Hoffa and Hall should be using it to negotiate contract improvements, not threatening to take that right away.Issues: UPS
SF Uber’s secret, “proprietary” insurance policy leaked
03.24.14 - 8:00 pm | Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez | (87)
A screenshot of Uber's insurance filings.
An anonymous leaker emailed Uber’s previously secreted, hidden insurance plans to the Bay Guardian and a number of taxi industry advocates over the weekend, and who is and who is not insured by Uber may give riders cause for worry.
The insurance policy describes exclusions, limits, and explicit descriptions of who is insured, all details that evaded the public, the taxi industry, and some regulatory bodies trying to investigate Uber and its insurance coverage.
Uber confirmed with the Guardian that the leaked policy was legitimate, but did not directly answer our questions about the consequences of it being leaked.
William Rouse, general manager of Los Angeles Yellow Cab and a former president of the Taxicab Association, said the insurance document raised some troubling questions.
The first problem lies in a semantics game the company may use to distance itself from paying out insurance, he said. “Uber is insuring through Rasier LLC, but contractually drivers contract with Uber. They state in the policy that it kicks in only when Raiser is liable. What we have here is a shell game. Who is Rasier?”
Uber is the parent company of Rasier, Andrew Noyes, an Uber spokesperson, told us. But how listing Rasier versus Uber as the main insurance carrier will affect insurance claims down the road remains to be seen.
Exclusions in the policy are many, such as one for the “movement of property by mechanical device.”
It states: “‘Bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’ resulting from the movement of property by a mechanical device (other than a hand truck) unless the device is attached to the covered ‘auto’” is excluded from coverage. Spokesperson Andrew Noyes said this exclusion deals with unloading and offloading of material from a vehicle via a pallet jack or forklift.
One wonders what exclusion Uber used to argue against insurance payment in an incident last year, when a driver using Uber drove into a fire hydrant, which flew 81 feet down Divisadero and landed on a woman named Claire Fahrbach. The resulting geyser flooded several nearby businesses. Fahrbach is suing Uber for medical coverage, litigation that is still ongoing.
Many revelations from the document are sure to come, and the Guardian will seek analysis from insurance industry experts on the leaked document.
Uber’s insurance practices came under sharp investigation after the New Year’s Eve death of six year old Sofia Liu, who died after a collision with a car driven by a driver who had been using the Uber app.
“We have not made the policy — in its entirety — public,” Noyes wrote to us. But now that Uber’s insurance policy is released, advocates and the public can openly discuss the legitimacy and reach of Uber’s insurance.
San Francisco. New York. Seattle. Cities and states across the country are grappling to regulate the so called rideshare companies, known legally as Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft.
The municipalities grappled with many questions: who pays the medical bills, the fees to repair or replace damaged autos, or pay for the damage to property in an car accidents with Uber vehicles? A number of lawsuits filed against Uber so far show that the company has been unwilling to pick up the tab.
At a state insurance hearing in Sacramento last week, the personal automobile insurance industry blasted Uber for shifting some insurance liability onto its drivers’ personal insurance policies.
“It is well documented and publicized that the business model does attempt to shift the cost and the risk to the drivers personal auto insurance,” said Armand Feliciano, the vice president of the Association of California Insurance Companies. But personal insurance is not for people driving what is essentially a taxi cab, he said.
“The risks are fundamentally different,” Feliciano said to the state insurance commissioner. Rideshare companies need to “step up and be the insurers of their drivers. That’s the right policy decision.”
Uber has repeatedly stated they do not want their insurance policy revealed to the public.
“We have spent a great deal of time and effort acquiring this policy and do not share it publicly for competitive reasons,” Noyes told the Seattle Times earlier this month.
When we repeatedly asked him if it was troubling to Uber that their insurance policy was leaked, despite public affirmations that it remain private, Noyes wrote to us "not sure what you mean."
The California Public Utilities Commission directly regulates rideshares, or Transportation Network Companies, is one of the few regulatory bodies to have a copy of the policy, but so far it has declined to distribute it openly.
We contacted the CPUC for clarification as to why they withheld the documents, but they asked for more time to get back to us, and did not reply before press time.
Now that’s changed. We’re embedding Uber’s insurance policy below. If you have any analysis, tips or concerns, please email us at email@example.com.
Leaked Uber Insurance Policy by FitztheReporter
Canada: Seven Months on Picket Line, Toronto Workers Vote 117-1 Against U.S. Company’s Contract Offer
March 25, 2014: YRCW’s annual meeting on April 29 is open to anyone who owns any common stock. And Teamsters own stock. Want to question CEO James Welch, in front of the media?
Do you want to ask why he got a big bonus after the concession vote passed? Why they paid Harry Wilson $12.5 million over a year’s time?
Any votes are meaningless, because management holds the proxies of the big institutional investors. But, the media will be there, and would be interested in what YRCW Teamster employees are asking, and how Welch answers.
April 29, 10 a.m. YRCW Headquarters, in Overland Park.Issues: Freight
From the Boston IWW
On Sunday, March 9, just six days after a settlement between Insomnia Cookies and four workers who went on strike last August, the company suspended bicycle delivery “driver” and union organizer Tasia Edmonds. Quick action by the Industrial Workers of the World, which represents Edmonds, the four strikers, and several other area workers, forced the company to reinstate Edmonds. Two dozen IWW members and allies picketed the Boston Insomnia Cookies location, where Edmonds is employed, on Friday, March 14. Organizers planned another rally for Saturday, March 22, after student allies from the abutting Boston University return from Spring Break, but the company capitulated, agreeing on March 20 to bring Edmonds back to work.
The United Parcel Service’s self-proclaimed “appropriate and justifiable action” of firing nearly 250 employees sparked protests outside its Maspeth facility Friday with elected officials and union leaders who thought otherwise.
Disputes arose after UPS fired Jairo Reyes, a company driver for 24 years, last month. Workers with Teamsters Local 804 argued that Reyes was not given a proper termination hearing, as stated in his contract, and 248 of them walked out on the job for about 90 minutes in protest at their Maspeth site Feb. 26. Their employer used that same contract as a means to threaten the workers with pink slips for violating their legal agreement.
Click here to read more at The Forum.Issues: UPS
Teamsters score a win against “sharecropping on wheels.” But will the trucking industry really change?
Along with auto technicians, fast food workers, and baggage handlers, another profession has been hit by the separation of labor from employer: Port truckers, who haul containers from cargo ships on short trips around the terminal. Years of deregulation have led to more of them being classified as "independent contractors," with lower pay and fewer rights, rather than unionized employees.
Yesterday, however, they took a step in the other direction, with a National Labor Relations Board determination that could start to reverse the trend.
Click here to read more at The Washington Post.Issues: Freight
Canada: Truckers and rail workers face antistrike laws
By Carl Bronski 25 March 2014
Contract disputes at the Port of Vancouver and at Canadian National Railways are providing further illustration that the Canadian ruling class has for all intents and purposes abolished the legal right to strike. Any strike that threatens to have a significant impact is illegalized, sometimes as soon as or even before workers have walked off the job.
Yesterday, British Columbia’s Liberal provincial government introduced legislation criminalizing a strike by about 300 members of Unifor’s Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association at the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest port facility. Prior to walking off the job March 10, the truckers had been working without a contract since June 2012.
After overwhelmingly rejecting a tentative agreement placed before them by Unifor officials, the unionized drivers joined an already existing strike mounted by over a thousand nonunion independent truckers. The independent tuckers have been on strike since February 26.
To augment the Liberal provincial government’s efforts to break the truckers’ strike, federal officials have notified the nonunion strikers that their licenses to access the port will not be renewed unless they immediately return to work. Proceedings have already been initiated against 150 striking independent truckers whose licenses expire over the next several weeks.
Meanwhile, CN Rail, which is also involved in a separate dispute with its yardmen and conductors, has asked for an injunction against striking truckers who have blockaded one of their container shipping yards that services the Port of Vancouver.
Both union and nonunion truckers are demanding a pay hike, standardized rates to prevent hard-pressed drivers from undercutting one another, and an end to bottlenecks at the port, which increase idling time and reduce the number of loads truckers can transport in a day. Unionized drivers earn only $15.59 per hour, a rate $8 per hour less than the average in the British Colombia trucking industry. Nonunion truckers, who are paid by the load, need to access four to five loads per day to make ends meet but, due to the bottlenecks, average only two or three.
Meanwhile, over this past weekend, Teamsters officials representing 3,300 Canadian National Railway (CN) yardmen and conductors agreed to continue negotiations with CN management after the membership voted down a tentative agreement for the second time in less than two months. That deal not only failed to restore any of the massive givebacks imposed in the last contract, but also offered little protection for rail workers forced to work grueling hours by company supervisors.
The CN Rail workers have been in a legal strike position since early February. But Teamsters officials have refused to authorize strike action, bowing before the federal Conservative government’s threat to enact legislation illegalizing a strike the moment the union gives the legally required advance notice of an impending walkout.
CN management have said they will give the union one last “chance” to reach a “negotiated” deal before asking the government to impose binding arbitration.
The disputes at the Port of Vancouver port and CN Rail shed light on the current state of industrial relations in Canada. The current antistrike measures are simply the latest volleys in a government drive to effectively outlaw all forms of industrial and social dissent and trample on basic democratic rights.
Since June 2011, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has passed back-to-work legislation against striking railway workers at Canadian Pacific, against Canada Post workers, and on two occasions against Air Canada workers. It has used the threat of such legislation to force “settlements” in several other disputes. Provincial governments have followed suit, with Ontario’s Liberal government suspending teachers’ collective bargaining rights and right to strike so as to impose a cut in pensions and real wages and Quebec’s Parti Quebecois government illegalizing a strike by 75,000 construction workers.
Buoyed by this support, employers have taken the offensive against significant sections of the working class, demanding ever-greater concessions, including the gutting of pensions, confident that they can rely on the government to illegalize any worker resistance and to task an arbitrator to dictate the workers’ terms of employment.
Time and again, union officials have pointed to the threat of antistrike laws to pressure workers into accepting concessionary contracts and to argue that all resistance is futile. Teamsters officials have already made clear their adamant opposition to any strike action, let alone defiance of a back-to-work law. Unifor’s predecessor, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), has a long, ignominious record of using demagogic denunciations of big business and their political hirelings as a cover for cravenly capitulating to the government and policing their back-to-work laws.
Although the BC Liberals had made clear they would be introducing back-to-work legislation against the Port of Vancouver truckers on Monday, Unifor President Jerry Dias refused to say over the weekend what course the union would recommend if the strike was illegalized, blithely declaring, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Far from mounting any struggle, both Unifor and the Teamsters have striven over the past months to ensure that the contract demands of CN and the trucking companies were swallowed whole by their memberships.
CN workers have twice voted down tentative agreements presented to them for ratification and “fully endorsed” by their erstwhile leaders. (See:“Canada’s Conservatives threaten CN Rail workers with anti-strike law”)
Similarly Unifor negotiators said they were “pleased” with a tentative agreement they had reached with the trucking companies only to see it rejected by 98 percent of the truckers. Following this vote, Gavin McGarrigle, the quickly chastened Unifor area director, stated, “the immediate economics of the situation for our members is just intolerable. That’s why they gave us the result they gave today.” Why the union was so “pleased” to present to its members an intolerable contract, McGarrigle did not say.
Even after the vote, Unifor officials did everything in their power to prevent their membership from joining the striking nonunion truckers. When the Unifor truckers entered into a legal strike position in early March allowing them to join the ongoing job action by nonunion workers, union officials held back from authorizing strike action in order to extend negotiations with Vince Ready, a mediator appointed by the federal government.
Unifor’s attitude toward the strike was summed up by Manny Dosange, a leader of the United Truckers Association (UTA), which represents the nonunion independent truckers. “Unifor may have a big strike fund but it looks like the UTA is doing most of the dirty work here. So far, Unifor is coming around with their banners and their pretty shirts, and they wrap up at four o’clock”. Dosange went on to explain that the cynical posturing of the Unifor leaders would do little to encourage truckers to join the union.
The strike at the Port of Vancouver has had a significant and growing impact on business interests. The port estimates the strike is affecting about $885 million of cargo per week. Small businesses are being forced to pay exorbitant storage fees for their containers stuck in port warehouses. Meat, poultry, egg and vegetable producers are looking for alternate ports to ship their products. Ships have begun to bypass Vancouver altogether in favour of docking in Washington State or at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Lumber mills in the province’s interior have stopped sending products to the port. Grain shipments from the prairies, already backed up by inadequate rail service, run the risk of missing delivery deadlines to overseas customers.
In another era, workers organizations would have taken advantage of these employer vulnerabilities to press not only for significant contract advances but to shore up their democratic right to strike. Today, the unions do everything in their power to limit damage to the employers and to dragoon an unwilling and increasingly restive membership behind the demands of big business. Needless to say, the unions and their NDP allies are adamant that any defiance of the government’s threats and the mobilization of the working class in opposition to big business and state attacks are unthinkable.
Rail and trucking workers should place absolutely no faith in their erstwhile representatives to settle the disputes in their favour. Workers should begin to organize rank-and-file committees independent of the union apparatus to prepare for an all-out struggle against both the companies that impoverish them and the governments that strip them of their democratic rights. Above all this will require a political struggle—the building of a mass socialist party to prosecute the fight for a workers’ government that would radically reorganize socioeconomic life so as to place social needs before capitalist profit.