October / November 2014
Newsletter Volume 59, Number 4

Teamsters Get Historic Laws Passed because of member involvement

In the last two years, California Teamsters made history by taking down the largest corporate welfare program in the state’s history – the Enterprise Zones – and by passing the strongest laws in the U.S. protecting immigrant workers from retaliation when they stand up for their rights. Nobody said we could win these fights. Yet we got those laws through the legislature and signed by Governor Brown.

This year we took on an even bigger fight. In warehousing, solid waste/recycling, and food processing, we see employers moving to a new business model that is a threat to every Teamster and to California’s middle class. Workers hired as so-called “temps” are working side-byside with direct hires. These “temps” may work at a company for years–there is nothing temporary about their employment. However, they are denied benefits and job security. If they want to organize a union, the federal government makes the “temps” hold a separate election from the other workers. When workers are fired for standing up, it is almost impossible to prove retaliation, because the workers are “temps” under the law. When they are injured on the job or cheated out of their wages, the temp agency and the employer point fingers at each other and deny responsibility for fixing the problem.

There is no better example of this problem than Taylor Farms in Tracy, which became the poster child for our legislative campaign. Almost 900 workers in Tracy have been organizing with Teamsters Local 601 since 2013. Half of them work for two temporary agencies— Abel Mendoza and Slingshot. This shell game allows Taylor Farms to skirt the law and abuse their workers.

Take the case of Victor Borja, who worked as a “temp” for Abel Mendoza at Taylor Farms for nine years. One day, he slipped and fell from his machine and injured his foot. His first thought was, “I am going to get fired!” because that’s what he saw happen to others when they were injured. The day after the company doctor removed his cast, he was ordered to return to work. Although he was supposed to have light duty, management increased his workload. When he complained, his manager said:

“Victor, yesterday you told me that your foot hurts, but frankly, I don’t give a damn! What we care about around here is production. If you can’t produce, I have no use for you here. In fact, you’re just another Abel Mendoza worker, and you don’t even exist for this company. I can replace or fire you anytime I feel like it and simply get another worker.”

Two days later, Victor was fired with no explanation. He is in constant pain from his injury and permanently disabled.

Taylor Farms workers like Victor took the lead, along with Teamsters from almost every Local union in Northern California, in getting AB 1897 to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk this year. It is waiting for his signature.

If the Governor signs AB 1897 into law, when a worker gets injured at Taylor Farms, the company and the temporary agencies will be held jointly liable under the law. And this law will apply to all Teamster industries where subcontracting is on the rise. In fighting for this bill, we faced opposition from every industry in California. The Chamber of Commerce put it at the top of their “job killer” list.

Everyone said we were crazy to take this fight on in an election year when legislators are gun-shy about controversial issues. And yet, the Assembly and Senate both passed the bill with solid majorities. So how did we get it done?

Active members help Teamsters win

It all starts with our members. In the last few months, more than 1,500 members in Joint Council 7 voluntarily enrolled in DRIVE, our political action fund. DRIVE stands for Democrat, Republican, Independent Voter Education. Without DRIVE, we cannot help elect politicians who will support us on our issues. This campaign was a success because of the shop stewards, business agents, and principal officers who brought it to your work place. If you are not a member of DRIVE, please talk to your shop steward.

Second, when we find politicians who support us, we work to get them elected. That means, we endorse them. We make phone calls on their behalf, knock on doors, and make sure that our members vote. Remember: if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.

Finally, when we help send people to office, we hold them accountable to our issues. On AB 1897, we met with legislators in their district offices, we called them, texted them, and emailed. And we took this campaign directly to the Capitol. This year we mobilized almost 200 Teamsters and Taylor Farms workers to Sacramento in four separate lobby days. If you haven’t been in Sacramento when the Teamsters come to town, please join us! When we come through, the highly-paid corporate lobbyists go running in every direction!

When President Hoffa came to Sacramento, the legislature shut down their regular business and brought him, our Joint Council President Rome Aloise, Joint Council 42’s Randy Cammack, and IBT Trustee Ron Herrera on to the floor of the Capitol where they were hailed with a standing ovation. That’s Teamster power!

Working closely with labor partners turns the tide

But we could never do this alone. Every Teamster in California is also represented by the California Labor Federation, the umbrella group for 1,200 unions and 2.1 million union members in this state. Many of our local unions are also affiliated with Central Labor Councils and Building Trades Councils, which are usually organized at the County level. A percentage of every member’s dues go to support these organizations. In many cases, we get a lot of bang for our buck!

The fight to win AB 1897 had the full backing of the California Labor Federation. Labor Councils and Building Trades Councils lobbied legislators around the state on our behalf. They support us on organizing drives, contract campaigns, legislative fights, and more. They cannot be effective if Teamsters don’t participate, and we cannot win without them. Talk to your Local about how you can get involved with your Central Labor Council. There is power in numbers!

Finally, the November elections are upon us. Please make sure that you vote this November, and take this newsletter as a guide with you to the polls. Very soon, we will be visiting you at the work site, calling you, and sending you information in the mail.

Since 2010, under President Rome Aloise’s leadership, we’ve shown that when we get involved, we win. Let’s keep a good thing going!