Early 2014, Teamsters Local 804. A wildcat cat strike took place known as the “Maspeth 250”. Today, 2018, there exist a “Vote No” campaign being organized against the contract between Teamsters Local 804 and United Parcel Service. What I find interesting is the fight the workers are showing in Teamsters Local 804, particularly when it comes to the word strike. When splitting hairs, I find it even more so when I hear members speaking about fighting for their rights and exercising their right to strike. I then remembered it was not so long ago that we did stand up for something, which eventually lead to the end of what was known as Teamsters Local 804. The union is still alive today, but the spirit is nearly extinct. The beginning of the end can be easily traced to that particular day. The following is my opinion during that period of time:
Leadership is a quality I have not witness too often. Although recently I was able to be bear witness to a situation in the past most that changed my opinion about the qualities needed to be a leader with the upcoming elections for Teamsters Local 804. I remember around 5 or six years ago, a new slate was running for Teamsters Local 804. They didn’t strike me as anything special compared the incumbents. As most politicians promise a great deal of change, but once in office they the actual reality of the job added to the very fact they are not so qualified for the job in the first place exposes them for what they really are, union politicians. I voted for that particular slate because of the confidence of the President Tim Sylvester and the a little unknown business agent at that time named Liam Russertt.
Liam had a certain type of confidence within him I can not describe in words. The one quality that struck me was his knowledge. It wasn’t just his knowledge, but he exuded a confidence in his knowledge without flaunting it. The other characteristic I did notice about him was is extraordinary ability to listen closely to individuals. When others individuals would approach him, while he was speaking to someone else, he would politely ask them to wait while he finished his conversation with the first individual. This takes patience. He did not rush the individual he was speaking with in order to get to the next conversation. He just quietly listened. I noticed the two times I spoke to him during their campaign he answered all my questions and explained why he was running. He didn’t sell me the typical lemonade without sugar most try to sell to the members, he simply let his knowledge sell his candidacy. I voted for the slate simply because of his character.
His situation was one that is typical situation within our company of harassment that eventually leads to termination. The one fact that struck me about Mr. Russertt was that he was driven to make sure what happened to him would never happen to another individual. He personally understood what it was like to go through the typical process of termination for any number of questionable reasons by UPS.
Going through this type of process, Liam understood personally what it was like to be terminated by the inquisition style of investigation by UPS management. This knowledge enabled him to cultivate the necessary relationships the eventually played out on February 26th, 2014 when 250 UPS drivers staged a wildcat strike. The first thing one must consider is the fact by walking off the job, these drivers put themselves in situations to be fired by UPS by following Liam in what some would deem as a unauthorized wildcat strike.
“It started with a disagreement over time-cards. Then it turned into a protest involving hundreds of UPS workers. Now it’s become a stalemate of national significance, as New York officials and union members fight to prevent 250 layoffs at a UPS facility in Queens.” – Resnikoff (UPS threatens to fire 250 protesting workers, 2014, April 08).
It is a difficult situation to maintain any type of unity in the cynical world of unionism. The concept during the 1930’s when the workers were starved for representation, because of the exploitation of big business has been lost in the new ideals of “Globalization.” During this period of time, the members were frustrated with the heavy handed style of discipline that was being handed down by management’s, which could best described as UPS being the judge, Jury, and executioner. When the a particular disputed situation occurred with Mr. Reyes was terminated without due process, Mr. Russert chose to stage a “Wildcat” strike.
Two hundred and fifty (250) Drivers walked out on his word. They walked out under his leadership and trust. It is unfortunate that not all business agents in Local 804 have the trust that Liam Russert has developed, but this situation offers a window into the confidence leadership provides to those who follow. It is easily debatable as far as if the strike was covered within the contract or not. What is not debatable was the ability of one individual to inspire others to show unity through strength and numbers. Not since 1997, had any members of UPS shown unity toward management in a show of unity in the form of a strike. Aware or not of the situation revolving around the walkout, those 250 members followed Mr. Russert out the door and commenced a 90 minute wildcat strike. UPS responded by putting all 250 drivers on notice of discharge pending a hearing. UPS slowly executed their planned terminations by placing several drivers on non-working discharges on a daily basis.
The extraordinary move my Mr. Russert, may have been ill-advised, because of the ambiguous language in the contract between UPS and the National Teamsters, but the decision made by Mr. Russert was one of frustration. This move created a movement and caused others to not only join the cause, but to act.
“This is not going to end this way,” said City Controller Scott Stringer, referring to UPS’s dismissal of 250 workers who participated in an illegal, 90-minute walkout Feb. 26.” – Otis (UPS and union to discuss fate of 250 Queens drivers fired for illegal walkou 2014, 2014 April 08)
The walkout brought treatment drivers by UPS to the attention of the media and their customers. The issue of the treatment of their employees by UPS was a well kept secret behind all the “what can brown do for you” commercials. The conversation amongst drivers, within Teamsters Local 804, centered on whether they would have personally participated in the wildcat strike despite the treatment they received form UPS. The question of trust became an issue within my own building. Some drivers did not trust either our Union or UPS. Most did not know who to listen to as the far as whether what the 250 had done that day was a wise move or a show of solidarity when it came to the issue of workplace harassment.
The one of the many driving forces behind the support of the “Maspeth 250” was the fact that a petition was created online supporting the “Maspeth 250” and garnered over 100,000 signatures. At the same time social media started to buzz about the draconian move by UPS and the treatment of their employees. Some UPS drivers became proactive in producing and posting YouTube videos with their customers protesting the proposed firing by UPS. The story began to gain traction in both social media and Main Stream Media (MSM).
“The union contends it has the right to walkout when the company doesn’t adhere to proper grievance procedures…..Some UPS customers have come to their drivers’ defense, including Lois Toscano, from Little Neck.”
This single act by one individual challenging a system caused so many others to act. City and State officials for the New York held a press conference on the steps of City Hall challenging UPS to sit at the table and negotiation with Teamsters Local 804. Eventually UPS caved to the pressure of the politicians, social media and MSM, there customers, and of course The Teamsters. The Union was aware that the wildcat strike may not have been their first option in addressing the issue of UPS deals with disciplinary action, but it is my belief that Liam Russertt lead by taking a gamble that paid off for Teamsters Local 804.
In Game Theory, they took a financial hit in the form of a fine, but earned within the world of politics made a few connections and may have made a name for Teamsters Local 804 at the same time; fighting for the rights of the their members (working families) And more importantly, the union members of Teamsters Local 804 have a win, which they can hang their hat on after years of abuse from management in UPS. I learned from Liam that in order to lead, one must be able to listen and know the people you are dealing with.
The two aspects that had to exist in order for him to have had the wildcat strike in the first place is the ability to gauge the mood of the people you are dealing with. If Liam did not understood the mood of the individuals within the Maspeth facility, then how he have been able to inspire them to stage a wildcat strike. More importantly, despite the fires of actually losing their jobs, the drivers did not realize they took the same steps many other have taken in the past by taking a risk in order to protest for better working conditions. Afterwards, many frowned upon the walkout, but at the same time did not realize they actually won by causing UPS to back off on their draconian methods of trying to improve production by harassing their employees.
The ability to strike are long gone as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters will never strike as they once did 1997. More importantly, as the members are speak of holding a strike with the upcoming contract is being negotiated by UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, in the truth is the “Maspeth 250” showed that afterwards, may were divided as if the strike was authorized or not, but at the same time forgetting the fire in the belly the drivers showed in initially walking out. The subsequent actions of UPS showed that initially individuals will have the strength to fight, but at what cost are UPS employees willing to sacrifice, if they after the walkout question it’s legitimacy without considering what they won in the end. What they don’t understand is that by being upset about losing their jobs and afterwards having ill feeling towards Liam for the walkout, the drivers forgot that there were those many years before them that faced some serious perils in fighting for the basic rights they enjoy today. This fact was not lost on UPS. The Maspeth 250 more than likely will be the last civil protest shown by UPS employees moving forward. Any movement has the potential of asking it’s members to be prepared to sacrifice for the cause. Today the word strike is used, but in truth the stomach for such actions no longer truly exist. If the mental strength does not exist, then the fight is lost, because the leverage the workers may possess in any type of walkout becomes a moot point.