Although Teamsters Local 445 has one of the best success rates in the country right now when it comes to winning organizing elections for non-union workers (27 wins to only one loss during the past three years, with over 1400 new members), that statistic only tells part of the story.
For all the companies our Union has wrestled to elections, there are many more organizing campaigns where the employers’ often-illegal actions have delayed or effectively squashed the efforts to win the right to negotiate a contract.
These latter campaigns illustrate the strong need for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would force an employer to begin negotiations once a strong majority of employees sign union Authorization Cards. (Employees would not be required to pay dues until they approve the contract by secret ballot).
Take the case of Acme School Bussing in Middletown, which services all Orange County special needs children. Last September 63 of the 100 employees who work at Acme signed Authorization Cards for our Union.
Then all hell broke loose.
The Acme manager immediately fired two of the Union’s main organizers after they notified him they were distributing literature on behalf of Local 445. (That notification is necessary for the Union to be able to bring a case on the employees’ behalf before the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency in charge of setting up the election at the workplace once the cards are filed.) The manager then embarked on a campaign of allegedly illegal harassment, intimidation, surveillance and interrogations that continues to this day.
Our Union filed the Authorization Cards signed by Acme employees with the NLRB. However, once it became clear that the manager’s actions were having an incredibly negative effect on the employees, the Union asked the NLRB to block the election pending the outcome of the charges we then filed against Acme. Then in early June 2009 the NLRB announced that the situation was so bad at Acme, it would take the unusual step of issuing a Bargaining Order requiring that the company negotiate with the employees. That case is set to be introduced into court within the next few weeks.
“My co-workers are afraid to talk with me,” said Kathy Poinsella, who stepped up to become the lead employee organizer at Acme. “They tell me I have a huge target on my back.”
The Union’s strategy at Acme is to have the NLRB find Acme guilty of the charges, hopefully win full backpay and reinstatement for the fired workers, and then form the Negotiating Committee among the employees. However, all this takes time, which leaves management the opportunity to “persuade” the employees to vote no.
Then there’s the case of the C&S Warehouse in Chester. Recently our organizers began handbilling at the entrance to the facility, only to be greeted by a manager for the trucking company that subcontracts the shipping for C&S. Although NLRB regulations specifically forbid an employer from conducting surveillance while handbilling takes place, this manager blatantly stood over our organizers, hurling insults and urging employees not to stop to take the information. Our Union has filed charges with the NLRB so that the next time we are handbilling the same thing will not happen, but meanwhile the damage is done.
Local 445 members may have read in the local Times-Herald Record the sad story of what has happened to Local 445’s efforts to organize Concepts Packaging, a cosmetics manufacturer in Newburgh. Nearly two-thirds of the employees signed Authorization Cards for our Union in mid-October. Three days later the boss laid off one-third of the workforce, and began a tirade of allegedly illegal actions that included interrogations, threats to close the factory, a phony protest led by managers, and more. He even sent a manager to a union meeting, something so blatantly illegal that it has never happened in our Union’s long history. As with Acme, the Union filed the cards with the NLRB seeking an election, but then was forced to postpone the election pending the outcome of the case. Once our Union filed the charges, the boss immediately returned to work the laid-off employees, but the damage was done. The NLRB recently ruled that the company violated the law with its threats and intimidating tactics. Soon an election date will be set. One wonders whether the employees will be so frightened at what happened that they will be reluctant to proceed further with the effort.
Then there’s the case of Sullivan Structures, a concrete supplier from Wurtsboro. After our Union began handbilling at the facility, the boss reached out to a non-Teamster union he had befriended and gave them recognition. Local 445 blocked the recognition by winning charges filed with the NLRB, then won a jurisdictional dispute against the other union. Furious, the boss illegally threatened to sell or close the facility, then illegally let his employees know that he was aware of who was attending Teamster meetings. Once again our Union filed NLRB charges, and the election is in limbo pending the outcome.
There are more such cases in the recent past, including knock-down struggles at the GAP warehouse in Dutchess County, Kohl’s Warehouse and MobileMedic ambulance services in Sullivan County, and Miron Building Supplies in Ulster County.
To be sure, there are success stories too. Our Union hung tough to organize workers at the Fresenius Medical Supplies warehouse in Orange County, and is in the midst of negotiations despite several allegedly illegal actions by management that still continue. Also, after an employee organizer was fired at a company that subcontracts housekeeping work from West Point’s Keller Hospital, our Union leaders put such pressure on the company that the employee was put back to work 48 hours later. The Union won the election a few weeks later by a unanimous margin of 21-0.
During the past few years former President Bush made a special effort to “pack” the NLRB with anti-union lawyers who have weakened the power of the agency.
President Obama has promised to reverse this terrible trend, and has further promised to give his full backing to the Employee Free Choice Act.
Let’s hope he succeeds. Far too many good people are suffering while we wait for meaningful reform of the laws protecting workers seeking the right to negotiate a union contract.