Saturday, July 2, 2016

Teamsters and Taylor Farms. Boycotts are not enough.

2014, Hoffa at Taylor Farms rally
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

My small town newspaper, the San Leandro Times, had a piece in it a couple weeks ago about a local Safeway store manager who called the cops on the Teamsters who were leafleting outside.  They were handing out fliers protesting Safeway selling products from Taylor farms an outfit the unions claim, “…mistreats and underpays workers…”  *

No worker would object to that but all these companies underpay and mistreat workers. In this case, most of the workers are immigrants though, working for an outfit called Taylor Farms. This makes a difference as there is more support from socially conscious white liberals at the disgusting treatment of immigrant workers here in California and a passive attempt to shame the company and get shoppers not to shop, in what is an area with a large Latino population, might have a small affect. More importantly it gives the impression that the union movement is actually doing something for the most vulnerable and oppressed among us.

Here in California we have a constitutional right to leaflet on private property like a shopping center parking lot. This right came about I believe through the Pruneyard decision and I have refused to leave these areas in the past when managers send out the guard or ask me themselves to leave. In fact, I generally tell them to call the cops who have always supported my right to do so. The reader might find this interesting and a little humorous.

They have been chipping away at this right and normally when confronted say that there is a designated area for such free speech activity. Naturally, the designated area is way off in the corner and away from the members of the public who you want to read you leaflet.

In this instance, the president of teamsters local 70, Dominic Chiovare was there. This local is one of the largest if not the largest Teamster local in the area.

According to the Times, when the cops got there the Teamsters were told to move down to the designated area where no one would get the leaflet as that is likely where the bosses chose to designate it, and the courts, their courts and their legislators, have given this chicanery approval.  As they always have with me, they accused those leafleting of harassing people, blocking the entrance etc. This is standard procedure.

Claiming they weren’t going to be there long, the Teamsters “…complied, just to keep the peace” the Times reports.

The problem is that labor officials have been keeping the peace at their members’ expense for decades.

Teamster President, Dominic Chiovare confirmed this, being quoted in the paper, “We did it the friendly way……we’ve been friendly and polite the whole time.”  I assume he means to the customers and I would believe him. The Times reporter also confirmed this, writing, “But the entire time a San Leandro reporter was there, the path for customers was clear, no teamster obstructed anyone’s path, and the teamsters couldn’t have been more polite.” The bosses, more accurately their policies, are not friendly at all, not at Taylor Farms, not at Safeway.

Chiovare complied with Safeway telling the Times,  “We did it the friendly way….but if we wanted to we could have hundreds of teamsters down here in an hour and shut this place down. That’s how things get ugly---when you stop people from exercising their rights.”

Leaving aside that neither the Teamsters nor any other union for that matter has shut a business of this size down and don’t really attempt to. And as far as I understand it, the “designated Area” is a legal definition and you’d need a lot more than 300 people and have to violate the law here. I am not opposed to violating the law and in fact argue we have to violate the law if we want to throw back and defeat the austerity agenda of capital or the 1% as people refer to it. But we have to violate the law in a mass way and that means mobilizing the members and the wider working class. The union hierarchy is much more afraid of this than they are the bosses.

But the heads of organized labor from the top down have not shown any inclination that they are willing to actually go on the offensive against the employers, especially ones like Safeway. Even when there is no law to violate, the position of the strategists atop organize labor is to help the employers compete which amounts to concessions on the part of their members. In every bargaining situation they start from a position that concessions have to be made. Workers have to be “realistic.”

Two years ago the Teamsters held a rally outside the Taylor Farms plant in Tracy CA. It was the usual scene, 700 people were there which can be empowering. But the bosses' are not afraid of rallies like these. What they respond to is profits and profits are hurt when plants are shut down. At this rally the Teamster International president Jimmy Hoffa shows up, gets his picture taken and makes a speech:
“I bring you greetings from the 1.4 million members of the Teamsters union,” Hoffa told workers at the rally. “I’ve heard about the lack of respect here, the fact that people can’t use the restroom when they need to, and that workers have been here ten years and are temporary employees. That's got to change – and we’re going to change it.”

The problem is that the old "I bring you the greetings of millions" speech is not new and one million 375,000 Teamsters have probably never heard of the dispute. And even if they did, greetings don't back bosses off. What Hoffa won't do is mobilize these millions to act on their own behalf.

Most of the workers inside Safeway are represented by the UFCW. The leadership of the UFCW called its members out back in 2003 readers may remember.  The strike was pretty effective in Southern California shutting down much of the stores’ activity. The leadership sent strikers up to the Bay Area for informational picket lines encouraging shoppers to boycott the stores up here. As one shopper told me when I was on those lines, “UFCW members, in the same union as those on strike are in the store stocking the shelves and you want me not to shop here in support of the strikers?”

Of course, he shouldn’t have gone in but he has a point. The problem was that they were in different locals. The way to win would have been to bring the workers here out and indeed, push that 2003 strike to become a national strike. In other words, in every possible way make the dispute more general. Safeway is a giant global corporation, and no one union can beat them. But this would have been illegal, and the labor officialdom never breaks the law or gets involved in shady deals except when it comes to dealing with their own members. My union Afscme has done it the ILWU has done it, the Machinists, all of them.

Only recently myself and others were on picket lines at the local Waste Management center where the lowest paid workers, mostly immigrant workers and members of the ILWU Local 6, had gone on strike. Teamster officials from another local but a member of the same council as Local 70, were escorting their drivers across the picket lines along with management; it was an ugly sight indeed. Their argument was that there was some unmet organizational obligations and they wouldn’t honor the strike. The teamster drivers hated it, they knew it was wrong but the officials have economic power over them. It’s not easy to cross them if you’re not organized in to an open caucus.

The way to win for the immigrant workers at Taylor Farms is by linking up all these struggles. The workers inside Safeway have seen their living standards decline. The newer hires often receive lower wages and fewer benefits, concessions forced on them by contracts that they could not vote on.

When I hear a labor official like Dominic Chiovare talk about being friendly I have to laugh a bit. Power is what attracts.  The average union member on the job might not say it openly but the general view is not only that our leaders are corrupt, it’s that they’re too close and friendly with the boss.  They are absolutely right about that though they may not be clear as to why.

We would do wise to listen to our enemies who are clear about the class nature of society and how to maintain their interests. The powerful bourgeois George Schultz writes:

Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table. 

The strategists atop organized labor ensure that the show of power is absent at the negotiating table.

The top union officials do not have to work under the contracts that they impose on their own members. Rome Aloise, a Teamster official who was VP of the Teamster Joint Council 7, a Teamster International Vice President and also an official in Local 853 that represents the drivers that he ordered to cross the lines in the above Waste Management strike, earned $346,722 in salaries and allowances in 2014. The workers whose picket lines his local violated earned $12 an hour. Aloise has since been in some hot water himself.  

It’s incredible arrogance that someone like that, earning the money he did or does**”…told the Mercury News that the fight against Waste Management is “unrealistic” and that the workers were just “pawns” of the ILWU leadership and that the campaign for these workers , “…is based on a promise that cannot be met and is designed to create false hopes for the workers.”

No one would oppose leafleting a store about another rotten employer, especially if it was part of a wider strategy to bring all the workers together, not just the organized but the unorganized and workers in our communities as well. But the point of doing that would be to raise everyone’s standard of living. It would mean fighting for jobs, health care, and waging a general struggle against austerity.  

This can only lead to chaos from the union officials view of the world.  It is one thing to bring thousands of people together to fight for their rights and livelihoods. It’s another to control its direction once people get a sense of their commonality and real power. Plus, it would mess up the relationship they’ve built with the employers based on labor peace.

Teamsters have been getting their asses kicked too. It’s not simply the poorest and low waged workers. The bosses’ aren’t afraid of the Teamster or any other union officials’ threats after years of concessionary deal making. There’ll have to be some changes made in the unions to change that dynamic.

*San Leandro Times 6-23-16
** I am not aware of the situation at this time with regards to Aloise’ status after being brought up on charges.

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