Conservative news sites slander Teamsters in Puerto Rico

Conservative news sites published false reports accusing members of the Teamsters Union in Puerto Rico of conducting a strike that impeded relief efforts during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The false accusation against union truck drivers infuriated Alexis Rodriguez, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 901 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Let me be clear,” said Rodriguez. “The Teamsters in Puerto Rico have been working on relief efforts from day one. Anyone who has said something different is lying. Our sole purpose is to help Puerto Rico recover and become better and stronger.”

Local 901 has been joined by other Teamster organizations working to bring aid to victims of the worst natural disaster in Puerto Rico’s history.

The Teamsters are also working with the AFL-CIO to mobilize union members on the US mainland to support relief efforts for people struggling to survive the hurricane’s devastation.

“There is currently a need for volunteer truck drivers who hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to transport shipping containers from the port to distribution centers throughout the island,” said a Teamster message to members asking for volunteers. “Additionally, the Teamsters Freight, Airline, Passenger Transport, Package, Public Services, and Waste Divisions are contacting Teamster employers that operate in Puerto Rico and our local unions throughout the US and Canada to identify avenues of support and volunteer.”

According to George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York City, the response of Teamster members has been “inspiring.”

“We have had hundreds of members contact us to volunteer their time to go down to Puerto Rico to help with the relief efforts,” said Miranda.

The Teamsters also set up a website for people who want to donate money to the relief effort: https://tdr.teamster.org/ .

The so-called news sites that reported the fake news claimed that the strike was the main cause for the delay in getting relief to people, not the late and inadequate response by the Trump administration.

Because of flooding, downed communications systems, the lack of fuel, and damage to roads and to people’s homes, some truck drivers had difficulty reporting for work.

Those who were able to get to work found that the lack of diesel fuel made it difficult for them to deliver aid to people.

But those Teamsters who were able, got involved in the relief effort as soon as the hurricane passed.

“The truth is that members of Local Section 901 of the Teamsters Union in San Juan have been working or volunteering since the next day the hurricane passed through the area, helping with disaster relief and the recuperation,” said Rodriguez.

Teamsters President-General Jim Hoffa attacked the conservative news sites that spread the misinformation.

“These viral stories over the internet are just lies perpetrated by anti-union entities to further their destructive agenda,” said Hoffa. “The fact that they are trying, by propagating these false stories, to take advantage of the suffering of millions of citizens in Puerto Rico who desperately need our help only exposes their true nature.”

In addition to the Teamsters, other unions have set up websites where union members can donate to help their union sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico.

Here’s a partial list:

CWA: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/help-cwa-members-devastated-by-hurricanes-irma-and-maria

UNITE HERE: https://app.moonclerk.com/pay/2tj1vmqdq437

USW: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/usw-members-impacted-by-hurricane-harvey-need-our-help?source=direct_link&

UAW: https://uaw.org/uaw-brothers-sisters-puerto-rico-desperately-need-help/

SEIU: https://action.seiu.org/page/contribute/harvey-relief

National Nurses United has activated its Registered Nurse Response Network to mobilize nurses who want to go to Puerto Rico and help with relief efforts.

“Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico are suffering under unimaginable conditions wrought upon them by Hurricane Maria,” said Hoffa.

He said that Teamsters and other unions will continue to work together to  identify ways in which unions and union members can best assist those in need.

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Teamster Joint Council 16 declares itself a sanctuary union

Teamsters Joint Council 16 on September 13 became a sanctuary union.

Joint Council 16 is composed of 27 Teamster locals in the New York City area and Puerto Rico.

The locals have a combined membership of 120,000.

“As a sanctuary union, the Teamsters will not assist federal immigration agents in deporting (our) members and will proactively provide training, legal assistance, and organize support for immigrant Teamsters,” said the Teamsters in a statement issued after Joint Council 16 passed a resolution declaring itself a sanctuary union.

The resolution was passed just one week after Eber Garcia Vasquez, a longtime Teamster member was deported to Guatemala.

Garcia, a member of Teamster Local 813 for 26 years, fled Guatemala in the 1980s during the country’s bloody civil war.

When he arrived in the US, he sought asylum as a refugee escaping the threat of political violence at home.

While his request for asylum was being considered, Garcia was given permission to work and took a job at a waste treatment facility on Long Island, New York.

While living in the US, he married an American woman and began raising a family.

After working in the US for many years, his request for asylum was denied, but he appealed the decision and received a stay of his deportation order.

While his appeal was being considered, he was required to report once a year to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to submit paperwork requesting that he be allowed to remain in the US while his asylum repeal was under review.

For four years, he did so without incident, but this year when we reported in August, he was detained.

While he was in custody, the Teamsters circulated a petition urging ICE to exercise its legal discretion and release Garcia, who was in the process of obtaining a Green Card.

“ICE should not be trying to deport someone who is eligible for a Green Card and is on his way to getting it,” said Zachary Sanders, Garcia’s attorney during an August Teamster rally in support of Garcia. “He has a family to support and a community that values him. I am hearing from so many of his coworkers and neighbors that want him to stay. ICE has the discretion to release him as his case moves forward and they should do just that.”

The Teamsters also circulated a petition urging ICE to release Garcia

“Eber’s family depends on his union job,” said the union in a statement directed  at ICE. “His wife was in a car crash earlier this year and is now in a wheelchair. His deportation will wreak havoc on their lives.”

But ICE chose not to heed the plea, and in a matter of weeks, Garcia was transferred to an ICE detention center in Louisiana and then on September 6, he was deported.

At the August rally, Ron Herrera, director of the Teamsters Waste Division, said that Garcia’s detention is not an isolated event.

“This year, we have seen an increase of attacks on our immigrant brothers and sisters in the form of ICE detentions at homes, job-sites, and schools,” said Herrera. “. . . These actions harm our economy, destroy our communities, tear families apart, and do not embody the values that we hold as Teamsters. . . I encourage my Teamster brothers and sisters, regardless of your industry, status, or personal background, to stand with our sisters and brothers in the immigrant community, as they face an unprecedented attack on their basic rights and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”

After Joint Council 16 declared itself a sanctuary union, George Miranda, president of the council, said that other immigrant members of the Teamsters should be confident that their union would stand behind them.

“Being a sanctuary union means we will do all that is in our power to keep our immigrant members safe and keep their families together,” said Miranda. “The Teamsters have fought against racism since our first days as a union, and this is the next step.”

“Standing up for immigrants is part of standing up for workers,” continued Miranda. “Companies will take advantage of undocumented workers to drive down wages and safety standards for everyone. Politicians will promote racial resentment in order to divide workers and weaken the working class. Unions know that workers are strongest when we are united and it’s on us to strengthen that shared compassion and solidarity.”

Teamsters confront XPO CEO for ignoring workers

As Bradley Jacobs CEO of XPO Logistics delivered his keynote speech to a conference on global logistics being held in Long Beach, California, he could faintly hear his name being called.

The faint voice grew louder, and as it turns out, it wasn’t a single voice; instead, it was the united voice of 100 Teamsters and their supporters, who had marched into the hotel lobby where the conference was being held chanting, “Bradley Jacobs you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”

Some of the members of the group chanting in the hotel lobby were XPO workers who voted to join the Teamsters in union representation elections. Even though XPO workers voted to unionize in a number of election overseen by the US National Labor Relations Board, Jacobs and XPO’s executive management refuse to meet and bargain with the new Teamster members.

The new union workers at XPO say that they unionized because of low pay and the lack of benefits.

“XPO’s Board of Directors just authorized a $110 million stock bonus plan for Bradley Jacobs. Meanwhile, my coworkers and I package and distribute parts for military helicopters to governments all over the world, yet at $12 an hour we can’t support our families without government assistance,” said Monica Abraham, an XPO warehouse worker in New Haven, Connecticut.

Instead of listening to the workers’ grievances, Jacobs ignored them and tried to block their attempts to unionize.

“When we raised concerns with management we were ignored, so we decided to organize,” said Ryan Janota, a freight driver at XPO in Aurora, Illinois. “Instead of respecting our rights, XPO spent a fortune on high-priced union-busting consultants to try and silence us. It didn’t work and we elected to join the Teamsters so Bradley Jacobs will have to listen!”

New XPO Teamster members were joined in the hotel lobby by shorthaul truck drivers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. They work for XPO, but, according to the workers, the company misclassifies them as independent contractors.

“Because XPO treats us like employees but pays us as ‘independent contractors’ and deducts their truck expenses from our paychecks, there are many weeks when we don’t even earn the minimum wage,” said Luis Meza, an XPO shorthaul driver. “This is abuse and that’s why my co-workers and I have filed lawsuits against XPO.”

The drivers’ suit alleges that XPO has committed  wage theft by misclassifying them as independent contractors.

XPO workers and other Teamsters were joined in the hotel lobby by members of Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, a faith-based social justice organization and the Los Alliance for a New Economy.

William Carr, a Catholic priest from Los Angeles spoke to Jacobs from the hotel lobby over a bullhorn.

“The Church teaches that worker rights are God-given rights,” said Carr. “These workers are here today demanding to speak to you Bradley Jacobs. You have repeatedly refused to meet with them. You must stop interfering with and begin respecting  the XPO workers’ federally protected right to organize a union. This is a God-given right.”

“What you’re doing is immoral,” said another clergy member who didn’t give his name. “Listen to your workers.”

Teamsters turn back threat to their pensions; prepare for more

Before the holidays, scores of retired Teamsters gathered in Washington DC to urge lawmakers to oppose a bill that threatened their retirement security.

They returned home victorious after convincing lawmakers to omit from inclusion in a must-past budget bill the Multiemployer Reform Act of 2016.

This bill, also called the Composite bill, would have allowed pension plans whose members work or worked for multiple employers to create Composite pension plans that shift investment risks onto the backs of individual workers and retirees.

“We stopped another ambush of our retirement security,” said Greg Smith, a Teamster retiree from Akron, Ohio to Teamsters for a Democratic Union, an organization of rank-and-file Teamster members building union power on the job. “(We) did a lot of hard work to make sure the Composite (bill) wouldn’t see the light of day.”

Smith, a member of National United Committees to Protect Pensions, an organization of local committees of Teamster retirees, also said that retirees who didn’t go to Washington DC made phone calls and sent e-mails.

“It’s the grassroots effort we’ve organized that’s making a big difference.” continued Smith.

Multiemployer pension plans are common in industries such as transportation, construction, and hospitality.

Until recently, these pension plans provided a modest yet secure retirement for millions of hard working people.

But some of these plans have hit on hard times. Pension plans for Teamsters have been especially hard hit. First they suffered large financial losses when Wall Street speculation caused the Great Recession and a subsequent market downturn.

As the markets recovered, the pension plans were hit by the long-term effects of political policies enacted nearly 40 years ago. One of those policies was the deregulation of the trucking industry that allowed hundreds of new non-union trucking companies to begin operating.

These non-union trucking companies didn’t contribute to the multiemployer pension funds that protected Teamsters’ retirement, and their race to the bottom wages and benefits put pressure on union trucking companies to lower labor costs, which in many cases led to insufficient pension contributions from employers.

Forty years ago, the US government also began chipping away at laws that protected workers’ rights to join a union. As a result, union organizing became more difficult, and fewer workers were able to join unions, which weakened their ability to protect pension plans like those that protect retired Teamsters.

The result is that some multiemployer pensions like those of the Teamsters are under funded.

Congress has been trying to deal with the under funding problem, but the solutions that it has considered start from two questionable assumptions: first, the interests of business always take priority over the interests of workers and second, retirees and workers must shoulder more of the risks and burdens of saving their pensions.

Two years ago, Congress enacted its first law dealing with the under funding problem. It also was named the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act. It allowed under funded multiemployer pension plans to reduce benefits.

Last year, the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund used this law to propose  pension cuts, but a grassroots effort by retired Teamsters stopped the proposed cuts.

The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2016 was Congress next effort to deal with the under funding problem. The Composite pensions that it would have authorized are a hybrid cross between traditional pensions and 401(k)-type retirement savings accounts.

Composites are a boon to employers because they make it possible for employers to lower their pension contributions, but they put workers’ retirement security at risk.

Composite plans allow workers to retire with a lifetime annuity, but the amount of that annuity depends on the health of financial markets. If markets take a big hit like they did in 2008 and 2009, the amount of annuity is subject to reduction.

There is another way to deal with the under funding problem. The Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPP), sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, would allow the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to help troubled multiemployer pension plans by paying a small portion of the plans’ benefits in order to prevent benefit cuts.

Financial assistance under KOPP would be paid for by closing two tax loopholes that benefit the very wealthy.

Unlike other proposals, KOPP puts the interest of workers and retirees first, but given the leadership of the new Congress, it is more likely that when Congress turns its attention to dealing with the under funding problem, it will pursue proposals like the Composite bill.

Members of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions are gearing up to fight any new Composite bill that may surface in Congress and to fight other threats to their pension.

“We’re going to continue what we’re doing. We’re going to step up the effort a little bit,” said Mike Walden, chairman of National United Committee to Protect Pension to Channel 26 News in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “We have to get a little more professional, which is why the national committee was formed. And, we have some power on both ends now. But, the majority of our power is still power in numbers.”

Judge orders striking pilots back to work

A federal judge on the day before Thanksgiving ordered striking airline cargo pilots to return to work.

The pilots, members of the Airline Pilots Professional Association, Teamsters Local 1224, walked off the job on November 22 at ABX Air, a cargo airline whose main customers are DHL Worldwide Express and Amazon.

The workers voted almost unanimously in May to authorize a strike against ABX.

The pilots went on strike to protest under staffing at the company and the company’s violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

The collective bargaining agreement requires pilots to be on call during off days to make so-called emergency flights when no on-duty crews are available.

But the union says that under staffing has resulted in overuse of emergency flights.

“To date in 2016, pilots have been scheduled to cover over 8000 emergency assignment days on days they should have had off,” said the union in its media release about the strike.

As a result of under staffing at ABX, pilots (are) continuously being forced to work ’emergency’ assignments on their off time,” states the release.

Taking away pilots’ off time, according to the union, is a violation of collective bargaining agreement that allows pilots to receive compensatory days off after they have worked six emergency flights in a year.

Cincinnati.com reports that as of July, 59 percent of ABX pilots and 48 percent of its first officers had worked at least six emergency flights.

The lack of off time is taking its toll on ABX’s pilots and their families.

“I take my job as a pilot seriously, and I’m committed to serving ABX Air and our customers, but I’m also a father of a little girl and help care for my aging mother,” said Randy Riesbeck, a long-time ABX pilot. “On numerous occasions I have had to miss my daughter’s school events and previously scheduled medical appointments for my mother, all because ABX Air emergency assigned me to work on a day I had scheduled off. How am I supposed to explain to my daughter why I wasn’t there to see her grow up? How do I explain to my mother that I can’t take her to the doctor?”

Tim Jewell, a pilot who has worked for ABX for 20 years, said that the company’s under staffing and over reliance on emergency flights “stretches us so thin that our bodies and families are suffering.”

“ABX Air needs to restore the status quo and hire enough pilots so we can get the job done,” continued Jewell.

ABX’s under staffing problems go back to the Great Recession when the business slump caused layoffs at the company.

The laid off pilots were supposed to be called back to work when business picked up.

Eventually business did pick up and in fact began to boom after ABX reached a deal to fly cargo for Amazon.

ABX now makes 35 flights a day for Amazon.

But instead of calling back the furloughed pilots, ABX “extinguished” their recall rights and began trying to hire new lower paid pilots to take their place, said the union.

But the low pay made it difficult to attract new pilots leaving the company short staffed.

The strike threatened to disrupt Christmas season deliveries especially those that come from Amazon, and ABX went to court seeking a temporary restraining order to force pilots back to work.

The union argued that ABX’s refusal to allow pilots to take compensatory leave they earned was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, which made the strike legal under the Railway Labor Act, which regulates labor relations in the rail and airline industries.

But District Judge Timothy Black disagreed. He said that the disagreement between the union and company was a “minor dispute” over the contract’s interpretation that should be resolved by arbitration and ordered an immediate end to the strike.

The fact that ABX carried cargo for Amazon also entered into Black’s decision.

“Imagine Christmas without Amazon!” wrote Black in his decision.

Before the strike, the union had been trying to address under staffing and other issues through collective bargaining, but those negotiations have been going on for two years with no end in sight.

The union said that the pilots would return to work but would continue to fight for adequate staffing and an end to the company’s contract violations.

XPO workers resist anti-union campaign; vote to join Teamsters

XPO Logistics workers in Illinois and Connecticut resisted an intense anti-union campaign and voted in two separate elections to join the Teamsters.

“This is all about us workers standing up to this corporate bully and demanding fair wages, affordable health insurance and an end to the mistreatment,” said Ted Furman an XPO employee at the company’s North Haven, Connecticut warehouse. “XPO’s CEO, Bradley Jacobs, had the audacity to come to our warehouse and tell us we don’t need a union, and then he returned just a couple of days before the election. Well, Mr. Jacobs, we are now proud Teamster members!”

The North Haven warehouse workers on October 13 voted 72-49 to join the Teamsters and became XPO’s first warehouse workers in the US to unionize.

On the same day, XPO drivers in Aurora, Illinois also voted to join Teamsters Local 179.

“Our victory is important to all of us because we have seen how XPO operates since taking over Con-way Freight,” said Cliff Phillips, a driver in Aurora. “XPO is treating us unfairly, denying us any voice on the job and just seems interested in the bottom line. But now we will fight back as Teamsters!”

XPO Logistics is one of the world’s largest transportation and logistics companies. It operates businesses in every link of the supply chain all over the world.

It has been on a buying binge as it tries to capture more of the transportation and logistics market. In 2015, it purchased Con-way Freight, where the Teamsters were conducting an organizing drive.

After the purchase, XPO continued and expanded the anti-union efforts initiated by Con-way.

In Aurora, XPO spent money on a union avoidance company to keep its Aurora site union free.

On the days before the Aurora union vote was taken, consultants from the union avoidance company hopped into the cabs of freight trucks and gave drivers lecutures on the right to work for less by remaining union free.

XPO has used other tactics to prevent workers from joining a union.

In Laredo, Texas, workers at what then was Con-way voted in 2014 to join the Teamsters.

Instead of bargaining with the union, the company went to court to overturn the election.

When XPO bought Con-way, XPO could have withdrawn the challenge and recognized the workers’ union, but the company chose not to.

Unfortunately for XPO, a federal judge in September denied XPO’s request to set aside the Laredo election results.

“The company has tried to do everything to delay and frustrate the workers, but for over two years they have remained strong and united in their fight for a more secure future and a voice on the job,” said Frank Perkins, president of Local 657.

Tyson Johnson, director of the Teamsters Freight Division, urged XPO to halt further efforts to nullify the union vote.

“We demand that the company gets serious about negotiating a contract in Laredo. These workers have waited far too long,” said Johnson.

Shortly after the union victories in Connecticut and Illinois, the Teamsters took advantage of the momentum generated by the pro-union vote and conducted a mass leafletting of XPO work sites.

“The national campaign continues to gain momentum (as). . .workers have realized that the new XPO, which is highly unionized in Europe, needs to be a union employer here in the US, too,” said a posting on the Teamsters XPO Facebook page.

The next union election will take place at an XPO site in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania where 52 drivers will vote on whether to join the Teamsters.

Ryan Janato, an XPO driver in Aurora had a message for the King of Prussia drivers and other XPO workers who want a union voice on the job.

“They said it couldn’t be done. We did it; you can’t be scared of these guys. The union busters come in; they did what they tried to do. It didn’t work. We made a better future for our families and co-workers, and you can do it too. Just believe in your local,” said Janato.

Hoffa urges anti-trust action against possible beer merger

Teamster President Jim Hoffa in a recent letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch urged the Justice Department to reject a proposed merger of the world’s two largest brewing companies unless one of the merger partners reverses its decision to close its brewery in Eden, North Carolina.

The closure would leave 450 Teamster members without jobs.

SABMiller’s, the world’s second largest brewer, announced in September 2015 that it would close its Eden brewery in September 2016. The announcement of the closure came two days before the merger talks between SABMiller’s and Anheuser-Busch-InBev (AB InBev), the world’s largest brewer, became public.

In his letter to the attorney general, Hoffa writes,

If this closure is permitted to move forward, it will not only affect good American jobs. . . but also negatively impact competition in the industry. The impact on consumers, we believe, will become apparent within months after the transactions take place and is likely to persist for years. Reductions in industry capacity of this magnitude translate directly into higher prices for consumers, particularly in an industry that the Antitrust Division itself characterized in 2013 as not behaving competitively.

SABMiller’s, a London-based brewer with its roots in South Africa, operates in the US in a partnership with Molson Coors. In the US, it’s known as MillerCoors, which, in addition to the two main brands, produces an assortment of other beers.

Beers brewed in Eden include Coors, Coors Light, Miller High Life, and Miller Lite among others.

According to the Teamsters, the Eden brewery produces 12.5 percent of the MillerCoors production capacity and 4 percent of all the beer made in the US.

Eden’s production will be transferred to other MillerCoors breweries, but Hoffa argues in his letter to Lynch that the other breweries don’t have the capacity to absorb Eden’s production.

“Closing Eden will not just eliminate production capacity in North Carolina; we believe it will drive down barrelage output at other MillerCoors breweries,” writes Hoffa.

Hoffa proposes that as condition for approving the merger between AB-InBev and SABMiller’s, MillerCoors at least be required to offer the Eden brewery for sale, an option that MillerCoors has been unwilling pursue.

Hoffa suggests that MillerCoors doesn’t want to sell the brewery because in the past when “breweries have been sold to competitors, the result has been good for competition and consumers but bad for the former owner.”

Closing the Eden brewery also will be bad for the local community, which stands to lose more than the 520 good-paying union and non-union jobs at the brewery.

The impact of the closure will ripple throughout the community.

Three local trucking companies have major transportation contracts with MillerCoors, and a Ball Corp. factory in nearby Reidsville makes cans for the brewery.

The brewery is also the source of $1.3 million in tax revenue for a city with a $22 million operating budget.

“This shutdown will be devastating for the brewery workers, their families and our whole community, said Vernon Gammon, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 391, which represents the Eden brewery employees, at a March rally to keep the brewery open.

“This community and our entire state will suffer because of the loss of these good paying jobs,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said at the same rally.

Both the US and North Carolina attorneys general are reviewing the proposed merger for possible violations of state and federal anti-trust laws.

The proposed merger of AB-InBev and SABMiller will create a mega-corporation that will control 30 percent of the world’s beer market and is the latest in a series of mergers that have winnowed competition in the global beer market.

In 2004 AmBev, a Belgium brewer, whose most notable brand in the US is Stella Artois, and Inbrew, a Brazilian brewer, merged to form the largest brewing company in the world–InBev.

In 2008, InBev grew bigger by acquiring Anheuser Busch.

That merger drew the interest of the US Justice Department but was allowed proceed.

SAB, or the South African Breweries, acquired Miller’s in 2002.

Hoffa in his letter noted that the two companies involved in the merger would like to get approval quickly, but he warned that a rush to approval would have consequences.

“The companies involved, no doubt, would like to see the investigation wrapped up in short order so they can complete their mega-merger,” Hoffa said. “Their desire to expedite cannot take precedence over the need to ‘get it right’ for consumers and working families.”