AS AMERICANS honoured the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, UPS Teamsters across the country mobilised to demand the giant United Parcel Service (UPS) make MLK Day a paid holiday.
They are also demanding an end to two-tier jobs, more full-time jobs, and part-time employees to be paid a living wage. UPS Teamsters held parking lot rallies and gathered petition signatures at all UPS warehouses.
‘People forget that MLK was as strong an advocate for the labour movement as he was for the civil rights movement, and it’s important that we honour MLK day to re-establish that legacy in the labour movement,’ said Emily Butt, a part-time package handler and steward from Lansing, Michigan.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) passed a resolution at their 2021 convention stating that the IBT will launch a campaign to make MLK Day a paid holiday in all Teamster contracts.
The resolution was initially proposed by General President-elect Sean O’Brien. He and the Teamsters United slate won a landslide election against the Hoffa-backed Teamster Power slate late last year. O’Brien and the Teamsters United slate will take office later this year in March.
‘People fought hard for MLK day to be a national holiday. It’s time the Teamsters observe it and make it a paid holiday. The workers deserve it,’ said Adam Gerado, a part-time package handler from Jacksonville, Florida.
The push to make MLK Jr. Day a paid holiday is the first action of many signalling that a Teamsters United administration will not be business as usual. The Teamsters United slate ran on a platform of winning better contracts, organising key workplaces like Amazon, and bringing the fight back to the Teamsters union.
‘Dr King’s dream is still unfulfilled when we still have part-timers working for poverty wages with no access to full-time jobs. By fighting to make MLK Day a paid holiday UPS Teamsters are saying it is time we all be treated with respect,’ said Eliza Schultz, a part-time package handler from Chicago.
The resolution passed at the union’s 2021 convention states:
‘WHEREAS, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters throughout our history has worked to advance the twin causes of economic and racial justice; and has participated in movements to challenge structural racism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Movement for Black Lives; and
‘WHEREAS, Martin Luther King Day was declared a national holiday in 1983 to both celebrate and advance the struggle for racial equality; and
‘WHEREAS, nearly four decades later many employers still fail to recognise MLK Day as a paid holiday; and
‘WHEREAS, major Teamster employers have non-union competition, including FedEx and Amazon, which can be subject to public pressure to finally recognise MLK Day as a paid holiday; and
‘WHEREAS, employers in many Teamster industries are dependent on government contracts, including school bus, solid waste, and public transport;
‘THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED at this 30th International Convention that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters will launch a campaign to make winning MLK Day as a paid holiday a bargaining priority in Teamster contracts and that all IBT Divisions are directed to work to achieve this goal; and
‘BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters will unite with community allies to pressure government agencies and jurisdictions such as cities, counties, states and school districts to require that vendors and contractors recognise MLK Day as a paid holiday, and pressure non-union competitors such as Amazon and FedEx to recognise MLK Day as a paid holiday.’
A Teamsters union statement on Sunday said: ‘Americans – including Teamsters – will be honouring the legacy of civil rights and labour leader Martin Luther King Jr. on January 17, 2022, and what better way to celebrate King’s achievements than passing voting rights legislation.
‘In 1965, after the US Senate passed its version of the Voting Rights Act, the House Rules Committee was holding up the legislation when King wrote an editorial in the New York Amsterdam News.’
‘ “There must be a change,” King wrote. “There will be a change. For to deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer”.’
The Teamsters statement continued: ‘Twelve days later, the House panel approved the bill, and President Lyndon Johnson signed Congress’s final version into law on August 6th, 1965. King was in attendance.
‘Fast forward to 2022. Congress has an opportunity to pass voting rights bills to protect the right to vote.’
‘On behalf of the 1.4 million-member Teamsters Union, we urge Congress to pass this vital legislation,’ said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President adding:
‘It is important for the American people. It is important for Democracy. And it is the best way to honour King’s legacy 57 years after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.
‘I urge Republicans to join Democrats in passing this vital legislation.’
- Meanwhile, on January 12, members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation union (SMART-TD) who work for the BNSF Railway initiated steps to go on strike following the railroad’s announcement of its so-called ‘Hi-Viz’ attendance policy.
This, BLET National President Dennis Pierce and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson condemn as ‘the worst and most egregious attendance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier.’
Presidents Pierce and Ferguson said the impending policy, which BNSF plans to implement on February 1st, repudiates numerous collectively bargained agreements currently in place throughout the BNSF system.
It is so restrictive that employees would be penalised for missing work to attend the funeral of an immediate family member.
‘This unprecedented BNSF policy repudiates direct and clear contract language, and in application, will attempt to force our members to report for duty without regard for their medical condition as we struggle to come out of a pandemic,’ they said adding:
‘It also stands to take away any ability by our members to avoid working fatigued when they are routinely called without warning due to the complete lack of reliable train lineups, thus creating the potential for an even more unsafe railroad operation.
‘So-called “forced overtime” in an industry where safety is so critical not only repudiates our agreements, it stands to enact irreparable harm on hundreds of full time employees whose non workplace obligations prevent them from being at work every day of their life.’
BNSF’s new Hi-Viz policy is a points-based system which penalises employees – who in many cases have no assigned days off – any time they take time off work for practically any reason.
In a letter that BNSF sent out to its employees, the carrier claimed that they ‘must improve crew availability to remain competitive in the industry’ and that their revised Hi-Viz programme helps with this issue ‘by incentivising consistent and reliable attendance.’
BNSF goes on to claim that a reduction in absenteeism will improve predictability of work assignments.
However, the affected employees and their unions have made clear that they view BNSF’s approach to this issue as a juxtaposition. That is: if the carrier instead focused its efforts on predictable scheduling of assignments and competent management of its furloughed employees, there would be no need to impose such draconian attendance policies.
‘Our members have simply had enough of the treatment they are enduring from the BNSF Railway,’ Presidents Pierce and Ferguson said.
They continued: ‘The Company’s half-baked attempt to characterise this policy as an “improvement” and an “incentive” is nothing short of disingenuous, and outright insulting.
‘Although BNSF will not admit it, it has implemented so-called Precision Scheduled Railroading and is attempting to do more with less by intimidating our members, under threat of discipline and/or termination, into working additional shifts while they continue to furlough junior employees.
‘Our members have worked tirelessly to keep goods moving during a global pandemic, but the railroad is once again placing monetary profits over people to appease shareholders and Wall Street.
‘Our membership is tired, frustrated and fed up with the treatment they continue to receive.
‘As is the growing trend among all major rail carriers, the working conditions at BNSF have deteriorated to the point that there are many tenured employees leaving the railroad industry because they can no longer tolerate the treatment that they must endure on a daily basis.
‘This new attendance policy may be the tipping point for what may be the “great railroad resignation”.’
On January 12, Presidents Pierce and Ferguson gave the go-ahead to their organisations’ respective BNSF General Committees of Adjustment to begin polling their membership for a strike over this major dispute.
Under BLET internal law, a majority of the membership at any given railroad, or their Local Chairmen, must vote in favour of a strike, and the National President and the General Chairmen must approve the date for any withdrawal from service.
Under the SMART Constitution, the Union’s leadership may authorise a strike after the affected General Chairpersons obtain two thirds majority approval from the Local Chairpersons under their jurisdiction.
Collectively, the unions represent more than 17,000 active members at the BNSF.