TEAMSTERS General President Jim Hoffa addressed the hundreds of Teamster women gathered in New York City on Saturday for the second day of the 2011 Teamsters Women’s Conference.
As New York braced for the impact of Hurricane Irene, Hoffa called on Teamster women to stand up to another powerful force – anti-worker politicians and their corporate funders who are waging war on workers.
‘Teamsters know how to fight, how to organize and how to win. We’re facing a war on workers, but Teamster women are going to take back America for the middle class. I’m calling on each and every one of you to get involved,’ Hoffa said.
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY, 11) commended the Teamster women on the important role they play in standing up for workers’ rights.
‘I recognise now more than ever the importance and necessity of unions in today’s political discourse. You are the women who move a nation. You are the now and the future of organized labour,’ Clarke said.
While Teamster women work under gender-blind contracts, many women still struggle for equality in non-union workplaces.
‘When a working woman is able to do her job and receive appropriate compensation, it’s not just the woman that’s empowered, it’s the family that does well,’ said Thomas DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller. ‘It is in the interest of working men that working women are treated with dignity and respect.’
Equality in the workplace is achieved through organising for power, said conference speakers.
‘We’re building a movement, empowering workers and lifting up the middle class,’ said Jeff Farmer, Director of the International Union Organising Department.
Farmer presented an update on current Teamster organising campaigns, including the campaign to bring Teamster representation to the nearly 20,000 correctional, probation and parole officers with the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). The FDOC is the third largest prison system in the country.
Cindy Garlinghouse, Vice President of Local 445 in New York, told the crowd about the recently ratified Teamsters’ national agreement at First Student, the nation’s largest school bus services provider.
This historic agreement is driving up standards for tens of thousands of school bus workers.
Teamsters are now working to organise school bus workers at Durham School Services, the second largest school bus provider.
Cheryl Orzech, a Durham School Services driver, spoke about being terminated from the company as she actively worked to form a union with the Teamsters at her location.
‘I will not go away. I will continue to fight wherever workers’ rights are being violated,’ Orzech said.
For her work as a dedicated member organizer and activist, the annual Teamsters Women’s Conference Achievement Award was presented to Lori Polesel, a member of Local 445 and a driver at First Student.
‘This one’s for the workers,’ Polesel said.
As Hurricane Irene rolled through the area late Saturday into Sunday, hundreds of Teamster women continued their conference undeterred by the weather.
‘We’re indoors right now, but we rallied Saturday to support the Teamster brothers and sisters locked out at Sotheby’s. We were there to stand in solidarity. It was an emotional experience for them because they were so happy to have our support,’ said Margarita Rangel-Sumano, an eight-year Teamster with Local 315 in Martinez, Calif.
‘Fighting the war on workers also means fighting the war against women. There is a strong attack on public sector unions and the majority of these workers are women,’ said Diane Ersbo, a UPS member with Local 638 in Minneapolis. ‘We can never sit down and rest. We need to be involved.’
For some women, this was the first Teamsters Women’s Conference they had attended, while for others, it was a return visit.
Teamster sisters travelled from far and wide to attend the conference. Lena Phenix, a shop steward with Local 879 in Hamilton, Ontario, was one of the many participants from Canada.
‘This conference is a great opportunity for us to network, learn from each other and get involved,’ Phenix said.
‘Teamster women are strong and gaining power in the work force.
‘I am very grateful and appreciative to have the opportunity to be here with all my fellow Teamsters,’ said Nikko Hashimoto, a shop steward with Local 848 and a forklift driver.
‘It’s great to come here to learn and feel the support that I can take home to get the women and men fired up,’ said Katherine Bostic, a nuclear power plant worker and member of Local 579 in Knoxville, Tenn.
‘There ain’t no hurricane that’s going to run off a bunch of Teamster women.’
While Teamsters are donating time and money to their communities, helping areas affected by natural disasters, and helping fight terrorism, they are continuing the fight that is the central focus of this conference.
Tracey Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 117 in Washington State, spoke to great applause about the need for Teamsters to fight the war on workers, a war that will leave great damage in its wake if it is not won.
‘We cannot sit back and hope things will get better. We cannot wait for someone else to take the lead.
‘I feel a huge sense of urgency about the war on workers. If we do nothing, there will be no middle class. Doing nothing is not an option,’ Thompson said.
‘It is up to us to fight to protect working families. It’s what Teamsters do.’
Hurricane Irene may have been fast approaching, but there was another type of storm in full force yesterday in front of the Sotheby’s auction house on 72nd and York Avenue in Manhattan.
Art handlers of the Teamsters Local 814 union, who were locked out of their jobs at Sotheby’s earlier this month, doubled their efforts to make their anger heard.
Hundreds of workers and supporters took over the usually staid streets of the Upper East Side in front of the Sotheby’s offices, shouting for union rights.
After meetings on both August 10 and 16, Sotheby’s and Local 814 have failed to find common ground on a new contract that would cut the workers’ hours, pay and pensions, as well as replace several experienced unionized handlers with temporary unskilled employees.
Local 814 President Jason Ide explained that the auction house has been less than willing to negotiate, cutting meetings short and refusing to back down on any of their contract demands.
‘Sotheby’s has sent a clear message that they do not want to compromise,’ Ide said.
‘Sotheby’s has pushed off the next meeting till September 12, a strange move that ensures the labour conflict will continue to wage on as the auction house gears up for its fall season and the beginning of its Asia Week sales.
‘Investors and buyers may very well be greeted by the mob of angry Teamsters, who promise to continue protesting until they get what they want. I reached out to Sotheby’s for a comment but received no response.’
Things started off somewhat calm on Friday afternoon as Local 814 members walked the picket line as they have been doing everyday since they received letters from Sotheby’s on July 29 telling them not to come back to work.
The union blow-up rat mascot was in hiding, but was replaced by a giant fat cat in a suit, ruthlessly squeezing a union worker in his greedy claw. Two large speakers blasted music on the corner of 72nd Street and workers danced and blew whistles (and one vuvuzela) in the picket line.
Art handler Mark Keenan noted that morale has been great among the workers, and from the block party atmosphere that hung in the air, there is no doubt that the Teamsters are keeping their spirits high.
‘The longer we stay out here the stronger the morale gets,’ Keenan said.
Several notable guests were in attendance at the rally, including George Miranda, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York, Teamsters president James P. Hoffa, and New York State Assemblyman Micah Kellner from the 65th district, which includes the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island.
Kellner pointed out the fact that Sotheby’s has enjoyed record profits this year and demanded that ‘everyone should share in that.’ He added, ‘I don’t want public dollars being invested in a company that breaks the back of its workers.’
At about 4.30pm, Local 814 was joined by hundreds of Teamster women who were in town for the 2011 Teamster Women’s Conference. Crossing over York Avenue, the women carried posters of famous artworks vandalized with rips and markings to show ‘what can happen when you put art in the wrong hands,’ as Ide explained.
Other signs read ‘Jackson Lewis destroys good art,’ indicting the law firm that Sotheby’s hired to mediate the contract dispute.
Ide lambasted Jackson Lewis in a recent press release as ‘one of America’s most notoriously union-hostile law firms.’ The firm has a reputation for helping New York employers replace union workers with a temporary workforce.