A resolution to support high-speed rail and the union jobs that should go with it was passed this week by delegates to the Teamsters 28th International Convention with full support from its 70,000-member Rail Conference.Fred Simpson, President of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, rebuked politicians such as Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who want to privatize Amtrak. Simpson said Mica's latest proposal "would give away America's most successful rail corridor to his political friends, and provide them with massive government subsidies." "There is no tax savings to the American people in this scheme," Simpson said. "It will not produce improved passenger service, good paying jobs, or economic growth. But it will transfer our tax dollars into the pockets of Wall Street speculators and corporate profiteers." Dennis Pierce, President of the Teamsters Rail Conference and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, led the successful resolution for the IBT to support the conference in its efforts to form bargaining coalitions Pierce explained why it's so important for railroad unions to stick together. He told the gathering that railroad carriers for generations have preyed on weak or vulnerable unions to establish "pattern settlements" that undermine stronger unions at the bargaining table. "We are currently leading the struggle to defeat the railroads' attempt to shift the cost of health care from an industry enjoying record profits to the workers who are least able to bear that cost," Pierce said. The Teamsters represent 11 crafts in 11 unions for a total of 75 percent of the total employees in the railroad industry. UPS is the Teamsters Union's largest bargaining unit, and members and leaders spoke not only about remaining vigilant there, but the challenges faced by workers at UPS' main rival, FedEx. UPS Teamsters spoke to the crowd about the difference a Teamster contract has made in their lives and the importance of staying vigilant as UPS continues to test that contract. "I've seen the good times. When our economy was flourishing, we all benefited," said Nancy Aleccia, a 33-year member of Local 396 of Covina, Calif. "And when our economy went into a downturn, we faced challenges...Going through that time has made me appreciate more than ever the value of my Teamster contract. We have seniority and recall rights, something nonunion employees do not have." FedEx workers are clamoring for Teamster representation, but there are roadblocks to overcome before the union can organize. "Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, will do whatever he needs to remain nonunion and keep his employees from having a voice. He skirts laws, misclassifies employees and when all else fails, threatens and tries to scare not only his employees, but also the federal government," said Ken Hall, International Vice President and Package Division Director. The millions of dollars Smith has given to politicians make sure FedEx continues to enjoy the loopholes they take advantage of to keep unions out. "The Teamsters have been working with states and allies in the federal government to level the playing field and force FedEx to play by the same rules as other companies in the same industry," Hall said. One of the Teamsters' key allies in this fight has been Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, whose determination on righting misclassification wrongs has essentially forced FedEx to change its entire business model across the country, to a multi-route model, and he has remained aggressive in protecting Ground drivers in his state. "This is a nationwide problem and it deserves a nationwide solution," Bullock said. "They may have the money, but we have two things they don't; we're right and we'll work harder than them. It will be labor leading the resistance to the war on workers." Danny DeVito, who directed and acted in the film "Hoffa," in 1992, brought the crowd to its feet with a stirring attack on corporate greed and reactionaries who want to roll back progressive reforms. "These bozos want to turn back the clock to when the fat cats paid the workers pennies and took dollars for themselves," he said. "Should we go back to slavery? Take the vote away from women? Go back to child labor? Give raises to CEOs?" "I got an idea, how about outsourcing the CEOs and bringing the jobs back to the USA," he said, to thunderous applause. Another diminutive person brought the crowd to its feet -- and some to tears. Ten-year-old Christopher Duffley, born autistic and blind, sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" a cappella for the opening ceremonies. Hours later, he sang "Stand By Me" as an homage to General Secretary-Treasurer Tom Keegel, who is retiring. General President Jim Hoffa paid tribute to Keegel. "I am so grateful to have had you as our Secretary-Treasurer," Hoffa said. "Your strength, perseverance and wisdom have helped to make the Teamsters what we are today. You will never be forgotten." Keegel's emotional farewell speech was another high point of the convention's fourth day. Keegel, introduced as a man who never forgot where he came from, recounted his early days in what is now Local 120 in Minneapolis. There, he said, he was inspired by veterans of the 1934 Truckers' Strike. "It has been a fantastic trip. I'm so proud to be a Teamster," he said. Micky Ward, the welterweight boxing champion, signed autographs and had his pictures taken with Teamsters after speaking to the delegates. "When people ask me what I do," he said, "My proudest thing is that I'm a Teamster for Local 25." According to the Teamster Constitution, the International Convention, held every five years, is the supreme policymaking body of the union with the power and authority to modify the Constitution, establish programs, address fiscal issues and set priorities. Contributed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
********** Published: July 7, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 12