UPDATE: Monday, November 11, 2018 – it is reported that 11,000 UPS Freight drivers – whose contract is separate to the main UPS package delivery worker contract – approved a new contract, thus averting a strike. Contract negotiations had broken down over union demands for restrictions on subcontracting, and wage increases among other issues. If this strike goes ahead in the run-up to the holiday season it could have a massive economic effect and could be a rallying point for other workers in the transport, logistics, and distribution sector.
At UPS 54% of Teamster members voted no in October to the terrible contract negotiated by the sellout leadership. Despite the rejection, Hoffa and the Teamster leadership imposed the contract on members using a constitutional loophole.
The union’s voting process was a failure and therefore a clear indication of the Hoffa leadership’s intentions ahead of the vote. Forty-four percent voted online in a new voting system implemented for this contract. Across the country, many reported not receiving their ballots in the mail. Previously the membership could watch the physical ballots being counted. With the new system there was no possibility for rank-and-file oversight. The uptick in union militancy, kicked off by the teachers’ revolt in West Virginia, greatly worried Hoffa. The officialdom he leads, in fear of losing control over the rank and file, did everything possible to suppress votes and intimidate members to make sure they got their contract.
Despite widespread anger and discontent, rank-and-file Teamsters did not move into action to fight the imposition of the contract. While the fear mongering – such as claiming that a no vote would automatically put workers on strike or that UPS would withhold millions from the pension fund – was unsuccessful in winning a majority in favor, the lack of an organized rank-and-file fight left the door open for Hoffa to impose the contract.
This unfortunately reflects the weakness of the organized opposition. Teamsters United (TU), a coalition of different opposition trends and the principal opposition to Hoffa, failed to mobilize the rank and file. There was a lack of any real plan to win or to build power within the membership. Representing the right wing of Teamsters United, Sean O’Brien failed to organize any response despite his influence within the locals there.
Much of this anger will now be channeled into building the campaign for Sean O’Brien and Fred Zucherman in 2021 as they challenge Hoffa for the leadership of the Teamsters. With the high rates of turnover among part-time workers, a large section of the workers that vote in that election will have not been around for this contract fight or Hoffa’s betrayal. If Teamsters United wants to kick out Hoffa and his cronies, they need to start building rank-and-file power now, organizing to kick out rotten local leaderships and fight management on daily local struggles for better conditions in the workplace. The TU leadership cannot be expected to do this by themselves. Even before the vote, for all his posturing, O’Brien had no answers when members pressed him on what the next steps were after a no vote. Rank-and-file militant leadership is needed in every local.
Teamsters United could and should have called rallies against Hoffa outside UPS facilities around the country demanding that they go back to the table to negotiate a better deal. They should follow that up by calling for rank and file committees to organize workplace actions such as work-to-rule, sick outs, and community rallies. In addition, the Teamsters need to use their vast resources as well as the overlap and turnover within the logistics industry to begin organize at Amazon, Fedex, and other non-union shipping companies. The Teamsters built themselves on working class struggle across the trucking industry. There is a need to look to past struggles by the Teamsters that successfully challenged the bosses and the mass militant tactics that they employed. While Teamsters have an enormous amount of unrealized power, there is even more power by uniting workers across the logistics industry. These connections and solidarity will be imperative to winning future battles.