After moving out of Brisbane, in part to get away from it’s long time contractual relationship with Teamsters Local 853, VWR’s 68 new employees in Visalia voted on February 14 to be represented by Teamsters Local 948.
VWR, which was founded as a local California company, has grown into a global corporation, reporting more than $4.1 billion in sales for 2011. The Teamsters have represented VWR employees at their distribution center in Brisbane for more than 50 years. For most of that time, labor-management relations were good. But when Madison Dearborn, a Chicago-based private equity firm, bought the company in 2007 things quickly changed.
In the midst of contract negotiations in 2010, VWR announced plans to close its Brisbane distribution center and move its operations 220 miles south to a new 500,000 square foot facility in Visalia. The company did not offer their employees the right to transfer.
VWR benefited from federal, state and local subsidies to open its distribution center. The City of Visalia agreed to pay VWR the $1.3 million it needed for road and sewer improvements for the facility and granted VWR a delay in paying more than $500,000 in local impact fees until April 2016.
VWR’s move was highlighted in state hearings examining the Enterprise Zone program, which enables the company to secure up to $3 million in “job creation” tax credits from the State. Under the program, the company is not eligible for credits if they allowed their Brisbane employees to transfer. In March, a dozen former VWR employees gave impassioned testimony at the Oakland hearing about how they have become victims of the program. They were joined by about a dozen other Teamsters who work for another company that did the same thing.
Despite VWR’s long history of providing California workers good wages, pensions and health care, VWR offered starting wages in Visalia of $10/hour – an average of $12/hour less than what Bay Area employees earned for doing the same work. With that in mind, Visalia employees contacted the Teamsters and voted overwhelmingly in favor of the union.
“Visalia VWR employees are telling the company they want equal pay for equal work,” said Local 948 Secretary-Treasurer Adam Ochoa. “We hope that VWR will sit down with us and negotiate a fair contract.” VWR and the City of Visalia still face ongoing environmental litigation in state and federal court, having lost in the 5th District Court of Appeals last year and more recently when the California Supreme Court denied their motion to appeal. Attorney General Kamala Harris filed an amicus brief in support of the environmental, community, and Labor plaintiffs in the case.
The employer has filed multiple frivolous charges and protests to the election. Local 948 is currently working through those and moving towards a certification of the election from the NLRB
Since a long and destructive strike in 2004, Teamster Locals 287, 853, 912, and 890, have had many problems with Graniterock. This involves numerous strikes, lawsuits, NLRB charges, and decertifications.
Graniterock filed a lawsuit against Local 287 that was litigated all the way to the Supreme Court. The company prevailed on part of the case, with much of it being dismissed against the other locals and the International. The case cleared the way to set up an arbitration procedure to settle what the company claimed was as much as $30 million in damages. While this case involved the ready mix part of Graniterock, we had numerous problems with the construction and quarry side of the business as well. Additionally, a number of Graniterock employees, along with Local 853 participated in a class action suit against the company. Then, in 2012, the CEO of Graniterock suffered an untimely death in a boating accident in Lake Tahoe. After a respectful amount of time passed, the company chose a new CEO, Tom Squeri.
Late last year, both Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise and Graniterock new CEO, Tom Squeri, mutually agreed to sit down and attempt to put the problems behind us and move forward. What followed were long negotiations with Local 287 Secretary-Treasurer Bill Hoyt, attorneys Duane Beeson and Bob Bonsall, and many lawyers for the company, leading to settlement of the lawsuits and all the arbitrations. Both parties agreed to put the past behind and move forward to attempt to build a decent working relationship.
“The lawsuit and continual distraction of the dispute took away from what we needed to be doing— organizing the non-union ready mix companies that threaten our members’ wages and benefits,” said Aloise. “It was time to settle the disputes and move on."
Although each local still had some contractual relationship with the company, the ready mix units were not under contract to Locals 287 and 853. In February, the ready mix drivers from Redwood City and San Jose contacted the Locals and wanted to come back to the union. An NLRB election was scheduled and in March, by an overwhelming margin, the drivers voted to have Teamster representation again. Negotiations will start soon.
Graniterock driver Carl McGeachy, the former and now current shop steward in Redwood City, said “we knew the minute we didn’t have Teamster representation that we were vulnerable. Sure enough, promises were not kept, and we lost the good health and retiree benefits that we had, and slowly but surely, our conditions were taken away. The only way to get all of this back was to do the right thing and get the Teamsters back.”.