by Chaz Bolte
2011 was a year in which the Labor Movement reappeared at the forefront of the national political conversation. Born out of the Wisconsin struggle, a sense of solidarity swept the country’s organized workforce and, as extreme actors in the GOP continue to attack unions, more middle class mettle is being primed for the 2012 haul.
Still, in 2010, a total of 11 strikes were documented; this compared to as many as 300 at any given time in the 1970s, according to Mortimer B. Zuckerman.
But the Teamsters Union, which represents workers in myriad fields from bus drivers to art handlers and everything in between, currently has hundreds of workers on strike, all over the country, that nobody in the national labor media is dedicating much copy to. The only Teamsters struggle to get any legitimate media attention has been the Sotheby’s lockout (see below). Only Sotheby’s workers have witnessed “solidarity actions” from Occupy Wall Street or higher-profile union efforts. The largest group of striking Teamsters, though, is affiliated with the Pipe Line Contractors Association. They are striking over unreasonable contract demands by a profitable industry organization looking to gut workers’ retirement security.
Below is a brief summary of ongoing Teamsters strike and lockout actions.
Pipe Line Contractors Association (PLCA)
This strike started with 200 Pennsylvania and West Virginia workers walking off the job but has since gained support from Teamsters pipeline workers nationwide. The National Pipe Line Agreement between the Teamsters and the PLCA expired on January 31st, 2011 but was extended twice last year. The PLCA’s inability to negotiate a fair deal has caused workers to strike after the latest December 31st, 2011 deadline passed. What is at the heart of the issue is that the PLCA wants to force the Teamsters into 401K retirements instead of their traditional pensions. 401K plans are more vulnerable to Wall Street fluctuations and do not provide the same security as the current pension system the workers are fighting to keep. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa, Jr. said in a Press Release:
“The association’s ultimate goal is to gut workers’ security and gamble their retirement in the stock market with a 401(k) plan,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “This is yet another example of the rich getting richer on the backs of the middle class.
“It’s not enough for this rich industry to be gouging Americans struggling to pay their gas and heating bills. Now the industry is trying to squeeze its workers too.”
The affected workers perform difficult tasks related to hauling and laying pipe at construction sites.
CertainTeed — Norwood, MA
In New England, Teamsters have been heading to Norwood, Massachusetts to show their solidarity with CertainTeed employees who have been on strike since their contract expired on December 19th. CertainTeed is a French based company that makes roofing products and asphalt shingles. The 90 affected workers are striking because they need relief in their health care costs which have continued to rise despite past concessions:
The Company (CertainTeed) has become the epitome of greed, treating its workforce unfairly without regard for health and welfare and job security. CertainTeed is a prime example of what happens when a multi-million dollar corporation buys out a local business. Shortly after the French company acquired the locally owned Bird Corporation in 1998, workers have seen the stark differences between a local company who cares about its employees and a conglomerate only concerned with the bottom line. With no local ties, they are able to bully their workforce and enough is enough.
C.H. Guenther & Son — San Antonio, TX
Members of Teamsters Local 657 working at C.H. Guenther & Son flour mill in San Antonio, Texas have been on strike since April 25th, 2011. The workers, who make Pioneer brand pancake and pancake mixes, are demanding a raise in wages to counter the rising healthcare costs they are incurring. Another key issue is safety. The union filed charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing C.H. Guenther & Son of illegally surveying striking workers. The strike continues today in its 9th month. The video below shows workers explaining the situation at the plant.
Sotheby’s — New York, NY
As has been reported in the past, Sotheby’s art house has locked out 43 art handlers represented by the Teamsters for refusing to take a 10 percent pay cut in the same year their company’s CEO, Bill Ruprecht, saw his salary double to $6 million and the company saw a profit of $680 million. Throughout the lockout, Sotheby’s has spent $2.4 million on union-busters. On January 1st of this year the 43 workers lost their health care benefits. Below is a We Party Patriots video featuring a Teamsters member speaking about the situation facing Local 814 at Occupy Wall Street this past October.
Redburn Tire Company –- Phoenix, AZ
Members of Teamsters Local 104 went on strike this July to fight rising health care costs at this 100 percent union shop. The owners of Redburn Tire have been accused of union-busting throughout the strike. The mood in Arizona is particularly tense:
It’s another hot, dusty, July day in west Phoenix.
An official from Redburn Tire Company holding a sign steps out of his air conditioned front office and crosses an asphalt yard shimmering with waves of heat radiating from the hundreds of coal black tires stored there. He pauses for a moment and surveys the spot where hours earlier a group of men were marching just outside the gated yard. He turns and fastens the sign he’s holding to a yard post. In blood red letters it reads – Striker Replacement Applications Received: 125 +.
The following morning eleven striking workers, all members of Teamsters local 104, arrive on the strike site – see the sign – and then start their march. They are growing accustomed to the disdain management of Redburn Tires has shown them; first at the bargaining table and now on the picket line.
In the opinion of Local 104 Business Representative Jerry Ienuso the sign is another example of union busting.
Daycon Products — Washington, DC
Teamsters Local 639 fought Daycon Products’ powers-that-be throughout 2011. The year started off with the NLRB filing a petition against Daycon for refusing to reinstate workers who had made an unconditional offer to return to work. The NLRB heard their case in mid-December but did not publish its decision. The strike, which dates back to April of 2010, continues.
The list does not quite end there. Teamsters also currently on strike or locked out include: Local 104 (Phoenix, AZ) and Local 384 (Norristown, PA) in solidarity against JDM Materials Co.; Local 682 (St. Louis, MO) against Wholesale Plumbing Supply; and Local 89 (Louisville/Bowling Green, KY) representing 69 workers against Irving Materials.
The labor movement saw a surge in visibility last year and hopes to uptick the trend in 2012. While high-profile strike actions are being debated by Oakland and Los Angeles Occupy Wall Street groups, Teamsters locals around the country are taking action seemingly unnoticed. The right to strike reminds us all of the Labor Movement’s significance in American history and one can only hope that these actions provide the framework and momentum needed to help all workers — union and non — to stand up to pressure from leadership to make unfair concessions while company profits soar.
Chaz Bolte is a native of Pittsburgh, PA where he attended Slippery Rock University. He currently contributes to WePartyPatriots, Addicting Info, Secret Party Room, and Football Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @ChazBolte.. This post originally appeared on WeParty Patriots, which is becoming one of our must read labor blogs.