October / November 2015
Newsletter Volume 60, Number 4

Joint Council 7 at the forefront of fight for subcontracted workers

When I was a kid, my dad told me that when I grew up I would get a job. And if I worked hard, my employer would take care of me. I could raise my own family and some day retire. If I got sick or injured, I would be okay. He told me hard work breeds loyalty, and that is how this country was built.

I saw plenty of evidence of this in my family and still see it with some of our employers. But unfortunately, for most workers today, that deal is a thing of the past. Everywhere we look, employers are creating new systems to avoid responsibility for their workers. No union in America has seen this as well as the Teamsters. And no one is fighting back as hard as Joint Council 7 under President Rome Aloise.

Take the case of Taylor Farms, a high profile effort of Joint Council 7, Local 601, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to organize 900 immigrant vegetable processing workers in Tracy. This campaign has received a lot of coverage in our paper in the past. Part of the issue at Taylor Farms is that about half of those workers in Tracy work for two staffing agencies as so-called “temps,” even though some people have been there for five, ten or even more years. Nothing is temporary about their employment. But when one of the “temps” gets injured at Taylor Farms, files a claim with a state agency, or has a complaint, the staffing agency and the company both point their fingers at the other one.

Taylor Farms workers took their stories to Sacramento last year in a series of high profile lobbying events that included hundreds of Teamsters and a visit by President Hoffa. We were pushing a bill that would hold employers responsible when their staffing agencies and contractors get caught violating major California labor laws like overtime, meal and rest breaks, workplace safety, and workers’ compensation. No more asking, “Who’s the boss?” We know who it is.

Every industry association in California said the law would drastically harm their business. The Chamber of Commerce listed it as number one on their “Job Killer” list. The Governor had never signed a bill on that list. Everyone said we were crazy to push this bill in an election year.

Scores of Teamsters and Taylor Farms workers swarmed the Capitol, held political meetings in districts with legislators, and along with skilled lobbyists from the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the California Labor Federation, we helped push the bill to Governor Brown’s desk. He signed it into law and AB 1897—the strongest joint employer liability bill in the country—went into effect on January 1, 2016.

While AB 1897 goes a long way toward protecting subcontracted workers when their basic rights are trampled, it doesn’t deal with questions of organizing and collective bargaining. Those are things the federal government controls.

Take the case of Republic Services, the second largest solid waste and recycling company in the U.S. Teamsters Local 350 has negotiated the nation’s best contracts in this industry, so when Republic hired a few hundred new workers in San Jose to sort recycling materials, the Local stepped in to organize them. But here was the rub: Republic brought in a staffing agency called Leadpoint to hire the workers and process their payroll. Sorting recycling is dirty and dangerous work, so we knew Republic was calling the shots. But in a strange twist, the local National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) told us our election had to be with Leadpoint, not Republic. We appealed, asking for an election with Republic and Leadpoint as joint employers.

The case went all the way to the NLRB in Washington DC. As with AB 1897, every industry association in the country signed on to briefs opposing our position. They were like Chicken Little of the story books, running around saying “the sky is falling!”

Momentously, the NLRB ruled in our favor last month, with implications for the army of staffing agency, contracted, and fast food workers nationwide. Thanks to the Teamsters and our crack legal team at Beeson, Tayer and Bodine, now, when contracted workers want to organize a union or bargain a contract, they get to do it with both employers. And that is what we intend to do with Republic Services now that the case is settled and we won the election.