Working for the Teamsters has been an honor …

After 17 years with Joint Council 7, this is my last column as your political director. It has been an immense honor to work with our union.

Starting as an organizer

I was first hired into the Teamsters in 2006. Under the direction of our then Joint Council President, I ran the organizing campaign with misclassified truck drivers at the Port of Oakland. At the campaign’s peak, we put 5,000 people on the streets of downtown Oakland. Together with a caravan of hundreds of Teamster horsemen motorcycles and dozens of trucks, we marched on Port headquarters and secured commitments from the Oakland mayor and port director to require every trucking company operating on port property to use employee drivers, giving those drivers the right to join the Teamsters union. 

The industry sued to stop us and the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where we lost. It would take us nearly nine years after that loss to pass AB5—the strongest worker misclassification law in the country/ But we did not give up. Still, we fight lawsuits from a trucking industry that will do anything it can to hold onto a business model based on exploitation.

Creating political success to benefit workers

In 2010, a new Joint Council President took over and merged Joint Councils 7 and 38, bringing together more than 100,000 Teamsters throughout Northern California, the Central Valley, and Northern Nevada. I was hired as political director and set out to build a program to organize new workers into the Teamsters and win the very best contracts we could for our members. By all accounts, we’ve been very successful.

Since that time, we’ve organized over 20,000 new members into Joint Council 7. The organizing spreads across nearly every Teamster Division, building power for our union. 

Good organizing leads to good policy, and good policy leads to more organizing. Joint Council 7 organizing campaigns won policies that have become models for the rest of the country. For example, Local 517’s organizing campaign at Marquez Brothers won the strongest law in the country protecting immigrant workers from retaliation for speaking up for their rights. (Then) Local 601’s campaign at Taylor Farms won the strongest state-level joint employer law in the country, holding corporations accountable when the temp agencies they use violate labor laws. Local 350’s organizing drive at Republic Services won a federal joint employment standard that is still in the sites of the national business community.

Local 853 and 665’s successful campaign to organize thousands of Silicon Valley shuttle bus drivers led to innovative policy by San Francisco requiring labor harmony for these companies. When one company ran an antiunion campaign against us, we tied up traffic for four blocks during the morning commute with a ULP strike, paralyzing the mid-market area. It was Teamster solidarity that finally won the day when Local 350 threatened to honor the picket line and not pick up the garbage during Superbowl festivities served by that company. Before you could even say “Teamster power,” the company folded, paving the way for those drivers to join our union. 

Local 665 used that labor harmony policy to organize the first scooter company workforce in the country, and then helped workers at the same company organize with San Diego Teamsters. On top of that, the wage increases we secured for our shuttle bus members at Facebook, Apple, and other tech companies led to 25% wage increases throughout the region for Teamster bus drivers in every sector, as employers tried to keep pace with our Silicon Valley contracts just to hold on to drivers. All proof that a rising tide lifts all boats, or in this case, a “rising road lifts all buses.” 

No other region of the country has made so many gains in the construction sector. Where others were rolling back the prevailing wage for construction workers, we successfully expanded it for ready-mix drivers. Our NorCal construction leadership went on to negotiate groundbreaking project labor agreements that brought higher wages and Teamster protections to on-haul and off-haul drivers that don’t exist anywhere else outside California.

When a Local 853 employer tried to use tax credits to bust the union and move our jobs to the Central Valley, we got into action. We took on—and took down—the largest corporate welfare scheme in the country that funneled billions of our tax dollars to California corporations with no strings attached. The replacement program, California Competes, actually rewards companies that pay good wages and have union agreements.

Our worksite campaign to fight the antiunion ballot initiative Prop. 32 was the largest Teamster Get-Out-The-Vote operation in California history. Our rally, truck caravan, and barn visit campaign resulted in registering 25,000 Teamsters to vote. Prop. 32 went down in flames. The California Labor Federation awarded us Top Performing Union—one of many awards our work has won in the last decade.

Back when I started in 2010, we made endorsements for candidates running in all federal and state races, but only 20 endorsements in local races such as county supervisors, city council, and school board. We can’t sit those races out when it comes to our contracts and communities. In the November 2022 election, we made over 200 endorsements in local races—a 900% increase. And we’ve consistently won over 70% of those races.

That sort of local political action pays off. In the last year, Joint Council 7 led the nation in taking on Amazon’s aggressive expansion, stopping them dead in their tracks twelve times in a row for their proposed projects from San Jose up to Santa Rosa. That took getting votes from politicians we supported who understand that Amazon is the single biggest threat to our jobs. And the Amazon work is just beginning.

The Gillig story tells it all

Finally, I don’t think there is a better example of why we do politics than my first campaign as your political director. The bus company Gillig is home to more than 600 Local 853 members who build the last 100% made-in-the-USA buses. Although Gillig was located in the City of Hayward in Alameda County, that county’s own transit agency, AC Transit, was buying buses from a company in Belgium instead of Gillig. We backed three politicians for the AC Transit board, won all three races, and flipped the contract to Gillig. Since that time, AC Transit has bought hundreds of buses from Gillig with hundreds of millions of our tax dollars. The contract translates to about a decade of work for Teamsters.

The Gillig work did not stop there. When Gillig outgrew their Hayward plant, numerous states tried to lure them away with promises of tax credits and subsidies. We worked with an Alameda County Supervisor to get help for Gillig to stay. We then used the California Competes program to secure funds for Gillig to build a new state-of-the-art factory in Livermore. At the opening ceremony, the company owners and politicians sat in the audience and watched Teamsters cut the ribbon up on stage because they know that without Teamsters there is no Gillig. When the plant opened in 2017, we signed a seven-year agreement that makes us the highest-paid heavy manufacturing workers in the U.S. And our collaboration with Gillig continues with energy and training grants that we helped them secure.

As a father of two young children and a Teamster, I cannot be prouder of the work at Gillig. We used politics to deliver our tax dollars to a company where union workers get top wages and benefits to build public buses and fight climate change. That’s what I signed up to do, and it’s been the best part of my 30 years as a labor and community organizer. Thank you for the privilege and bless you all.

Trish Suzuki Blinstrub, Political Director