Australia's Toll Group Anti-Union Rampage in U.S. Flops; Defeat Signals Global Supply Chain Industry Losing Decades-Long Grip on Workforce it Treats as Disposable
LOS ANGELES, April 12, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Amidst jubilant chants of "Yes We Did!" in Spanish and English, a brave group of professional truck drivers who haul brand-name fashion imports celebrated late evening news that they trounced in their closely-watched election to unite as Teamsters, despite their foreign employer's vicious and expensive year-long campaign to intimidate workplace leaders and suppress their free choice.
The results were 46 - 15 in favor of the union, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced. The drivers will celebrate their history-making outside of Toll Group's truck yard at Thursday's shift change at 4 pm PST along with allies and their counterparts at other companies who also seek to unionize; members of the media are welcome, 710 East G Street, Wilmington.
"Our victory means we are finally getting closer to the American Dream. If we can win, I know other port truck drivers across the U.S. can unite just like we did," said Orlando Ayala, who has hauled at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for nearly 10 years. "A voice on the job means management can no longer humiliate us or force us to suffer in poverty while they profit," added the father of 3, who questioned why Toll created such an exploitive and union-hostile environment for its workforce here, contrary to its practice overseas.
Toll Group is an iconic brand Down Under but the Melbourne-based trucking and logistics carrier has saturated that market and must expand in the U.S. to survive. The $8.8 billion giant freely negotiates with and benefits from its unionized Australian workforce, and does business with U.S. companies with strict responsible contractor policies like Under Armour, making Toll's top athletic apparel customer the target of a current petition on the online activist website, Change.org.
The victory is further being cheered by local and international supply chain workers, organized labor, and community allies as a trailblazing private sector win in a market arena that decimated middle-class jobs when it was deregulated in 1980; port trucking, one of America's most dangerous industries, became notorious for treating workers as disposable, is rife with health and safety violations and has remained virtually union-free since.
"These first-rate truck drivers decided to form their union after being treated as second-class citizens under third-world working conditions for too long," said Teamsters Vice President Fred Potter and Port Division Director. "Now these courageous employees have inspired other port drivers to fight for good, middle-class jobs at America's port's nationwide, and the Teamsters and our coalition are going to be here to help them do it."
"I am ready to fight at all costs with my co-workers, for our families, and for our union next," said Edgar Sanchez who has been misclassified at the ports for over 16 years. The industry scam endured by Edgar and his fellow truck drivers was the focus of an open letter from drivers that made the rounds on the Internet during Occupy Wall Street protests last December. The illegal practice has been a focus of a crackdown by the Department of Labor and it was further exposed on CBS Early Morning when industry spokesman delivered a slip of tongue that further substantiated workers are in fact misclassified.
When Toll's U.S. workers exposed their inhumane and unsanitary working conditions, local management, acting under the direction of top headquarters executive Andrew Ethell, fired back with a range of unethical and illegal tactics to undermine their legal rights to form a union. So egregious were the actions that the regional NLRB could not settle with the company and issued a formal complaint; Toll now faces federal trial.
The company's horrible working conditions also prompted the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) to step in condemning Toll's facilities in the U.S. for undermining workers' rights in such a severe and denigrating way and calling for worldwide solidarity measures to be initiated."
Intense support also comes from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) which represents 12,000 Toll employees in Australia. Rank-and-file and union leaders alike have traveled to Los Angeles in solidarity missions, most recently last month to serve as election monitors. Toll responded to the visit by going on a firing spree of workplace leaders.
"Toll employees in the U.S. deserve a fair day's pay for a hard day's work. In Australia we have negotiated agreements for decent pay, safe working conditions and proper job security for our members at Toll. Our colleagues across the Pacific in the U.S.A. are entitled to the same. This is an issue that has strongly motivated our members across Australia, several of whom travelled to L.A. to witness the substandard conditions which drivers toil under. We welcome this historic vote to organize at Toll," said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon. "We will continue to support for our brothers and sisters in the U.S. until each and every one of them have a strong contract with middle-class wages and safety protections, a proven model that has made Toll so successful."
Toll's treatment of its workers made international headlines and recently prompted Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D-CA) to express public outrage over Toll's barrage of anti-worker attacks that affect their constituents.
The employees at Toll Group are one of the few sets of U.S. port truck drivers who currently possess the right to collectively bargain; port trucking is a deregulated and highly exploitive industry plagued by a business model that relies on sub-contracting as a deliberate and often illegal means to keep wages low, benefits non-existent and workplaces union-free.
The typical truck driver who hauls vital consumer imports and exports at America's seaports –110,000 nationwide with some 11-12,000 alone at the largest trade complex, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach -- are wrongly classified as independent contractors, the top experts on employment law concluded in comprehensive research. The U.S. Department of Labor is increasing resources to combat misclassification in multiple industries; port trucking has been called the "poster child" for this willful employer malpractice that further robs government of needed tax revenue, undercuts responsible businesses who play by the rules, and has been directly linked to unsafe, diesel-spewing trucks that pose risks to workers and the public. Truck drivers at Toll Group enjoyed the benefits of employee status in name only:
- Toll denies its truck drivers' indoor restrooms at their primary work site and forces them to use unsanitary, filthy port-a-potties riddled with flies that lack running water.
- Toll was recently fined $25,000 by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration for a series of workplace violations.
- Toll's attacks include illegal harassment and surveillance of pro-union workers. They hired at least two anti-union consultants to intimidate and persuade workers on site.
- Toll sacked two union supporters during a high-profile solidarity mission from the TWU; one included a female truck driver for making an emergency pit stop to use a McDonalds restroom, another co-worker was fired for updating safety credentials on his lunch break.
- Toll faces federal trial as a result of the formal complaint issued by the NLRB for violating U.S. labor law, a highly citable, public document of evidence the company, curiously, denies.
SOURCE International Brotherhood of Teamsters