Workers Seeking Teamsters Representation File for Workplace Election; Unveil Plans to Put Toll Group's Management Under Microscope to Make Good on Promise for Free, Fair and Fast Vote to Recognize Their Union
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 26, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A group of American port truck drivers engaged in a highly public organizing struggle announced unique and surprising new plans to win recognition from their antagonistic, Australian-based employer: They are officially taking the $8.3 billion Toll Group up on its challenge that if they want an employee union, they must take a vote in the workplace – a deeply flawed process that companies hostile to unionization most often bank on to bust workplace democracy.
In a Thursday press briefing with advocates, the workers further unveiled a creative set of measures to minimize the unethical and often illegal misconduct that typically coincide with such employer campaigns to undermine a free, fair and fast pathway to union representation. Unlike the word "election" suggests in an American political context, secret balloting in U.S. workplaces most often resemble the illegitimate charades staged by authoritative regimes outside of democratic nations to retain power. Weak and easily exploitable labor laws are to blame, experts say.
"For nearly a year management has threatened our jobs for speaking out against unjust working conditions, for wanting some dignity and respect for making our company so profitable," said Luis Alay, a father with 15 years experience hauling at America's largest port complex. "Their retaliation has only made my co-workers stronger and more united. The community is with us. The people who read about us in the newspaper and on the Internet are in our corner. Our voices will be heard."
On Monday, Mr. Alay and his co-workers formally filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to seek representation with the Teamsters, the nation's largest union of transportation workers. The federal agency that oversees labor law enforcement requires 30% of eligible workers to prove support to qualify for an election; nearly triple that number, a supermajority of 80% of Toll's 74 truck drivers based in Wilmington, Calif., submitted official signatures.
The move appears to turn the tables on Toll's management, whose top U.S. executive mailed a letter just this past weekend taunting employees that they had failed to garner even the minimum threshold of support, and thus calling on them to "immediately file for a petition" for a board election or stop the organizing drive.
The poor handling of the widening dispute has put Australia's iconic and top transportation provider in the hot seat in the media and amongst shareholders Down Under as well as in the U.S., where the beleaguered brand is a relative unknown and it is desperately seeking to expand its market reach. The financial pages report that the company's new CEO, Brian Kruger, is being closely watched to see if he will act in a more above-board fashion than his predecessor, Mr. Paul Little.
Despite this, Mr. Alay said his co-workers were certain management would now try to delay and divide the workers through a playbook campaign of propaganda and persuasion; already, Toll's attorneys have sought bureaucratic extensions from the labor board for election scheduling procedures. Meanwhile, for months the company has flown in a "unionavoidance" consultant from Texas to stir fear.
To counteract these tactics, the drivers enlisted the help of the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, an alliance of community, labor, and public health groups that are working to end economic and environmental injustices in port regions to serve as roving watchdogs to closely monitor management's behavior.
Each week several trained advocates will drop by the Toll yard at undisclosed times so workers can report any employer foul play such as spying, harassment, and unwarranted disciplinary actions. They will assist the truck drivers in using social media, video, and live blogging to send dispatches to the public in the hopes they will get the immediate – and fair – election that Toll purports to want.
The monitoring started early this morning. Eight members of local clergy attempted to deliver a set of principles for the company to agree to ensure a democratic process. (They were refused entry and their letter was not accepted.)
The drama in this anti-union saga is further exacerbated by the fact that the Melbourne-based conglomerate has long benefited from a mutually constructive relationship with its 12,000 unionized employees Down Under. Toll negotiated a master contract with members of Australia's Transport Workers Union that increases workplace and public safety and provides family wages and benefits. The Los Angeles drivers earn hourly wages 32% less than the average truck driver in California.
In solidarity, the Australian counterparts condemned their joint employer for subjecting their U.S. "workmates" to sweatshop treatment. Michael Aird, the TWU's Senior Official, announced today that the union's top leadership as well as rank-and-file membership would raise the community monitoring to the international level and would cross the Pacific Ocean delegation to assist as "free and fair" election watchdogs.
"These workers are really a symbol of a much larger struggle for justice. Toll Group fits right in with the horrendous conditions harbor truck drivers in America have long been subjected to and are organizing to overcome," said Nick Weiner, Director of the Clean & Safe Port Campaign for the Teamsters. "The difference is Toll knows better because they know how to operate differently in Australia and still remain highly competitive."
"I don't think we've asked for anything extraordinary, but safe, sanitary facilities to wash our hands and use the bathroom has even been too much for management to provide us," said Xiomara Perez, a 41-year-old mother of three. "If we had our collective bargaining rights we could also negotiate fairer schedules, so we could catch our children's soccer game or attend a parent-teacher conference. We are professionals who work so hard. We make them rich. We just want a shot at a middle-class paycheck."
More resources for the media and shareholders can be found at: www.GrimTruthAtTollGroup.com
SOURCE International Brotherhood of Teamsters