Bruce Tran, 2023 Boyle Fellow

Boyle Fellow Blog: “Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) Rebellion”- May 31st

*Please Note: The views expressed herein are from our Boyle Fellow as an individual and not representative of the Labor Guild as an entity.*

My initial reaction upon entering the room was one of anxiousness and excitement, being both a representative of the Labor Guild and a millennial labor activist. Here were experienced members of Teamsters Local, working for UPS, who have been fighting for workers in the delivery profession since long before I was born. Similar to the Amazon workers I met at the Labor Conference held by UMass back in March, these UPS employees said that they are being (according to their own words) “treated like cogs in the machine: easily replaced….and that the companies we work and serve like UPS, DHL, etc. are moving to a contractor or part time model to cut benefits and pay of their employees just like Lyft and Uber.” This showed me that while technology evolves, the struggle for the working-class people has been an unchanging constant and an interconnected one that transcends time, language, and profession.

As the event proceeded on schedule and speakers one by one spoke about their experiences, what caught my attention was the first person’s experience with the changes to the Teamster leadership. In his own words he said that previous leadership “Was so corrupt that all you could do was shut up and take what you get. It took the intervention of the federal government and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges for changes to become feasible. Now, the leadership is transparent, and it runs on a one person, one vote policy with Teamster members’ input into the negotiation process.”

Now UPS, DHL and other delivery companies are allegedly going back on their word to include Teamster leadership and their members in contract negotiations. They would rather have non-union employees to avoid the hassle of employee wage raises and benefits and deal with high turnover rates. But as I may have mentioned before in the March piece on the Amazon workers, logistics is important, vital and helps keep the United States running and functional even when services are cut or slowed down due to various circumstances. In every facet of modern American life, we depend on workers like these to deliver all our needs and wants to our homes and businesses. They range from food, medicine and entertainment, to dangerous and hazardous materials like toxic chemicals, flammable materials, or even explosive ones. It can be a dangerous profession given the right circumstances.             

Yet to move from full-time union employees to part time contractors while putting all the responsibilities and liability on them, will only bring disaster instead of retaining professional employees. The Teamsters members who work for UPS and DHL are trained professionals in logistics. No matter what situation you are in, you always need something moved or delivered from one point to another as quickly and efficiently as possible. Like railroad workers, if all these delivery workers were to suddenly stop working, economies would slow to a screeching halt, people would suffer from lack of access to goods and medicine in remote areas, production facilities would be unable send out their goods or products (or even make more), causing a chain of interruption or even failure in other industries. It would be short sighted to fire these professional employees for short-term profits. In the case that disaster does strike from delivering hazardous materials or other work accidents by unexperienced short-term contractors, large companies would then be forced to hire a public relations firm to deal with the fallout and to protect their company brand and reputation. If companies invest in their employees like they would in new technologies, employee retention and loyalty would prove to be a net positive boon instead of a cost that needs to be cut for short-term profit. This raises the quality of service and worker morale. Would you rather have a more expensive but loyal and qualified workforce, or one with a cheaper but less quality one that won’t stick around?

In a more meta sense, it was hard for me to digest that some of these activists have been fighting for workers’ rights and well-being for over 40 years and that I was here to see only their more recent accomplishments. I understand that activism requires constant active participation and vigilance for change to occur.  Yet I wondered how many more years before there’s a good balance between management and unions (perhaps not in my lifetime). I think the event name “Teamster Rebellion” is rather apt. The costs of living have made it untenable to accept the current standards for wages and benefits that more people are becoming aware of the situation they are in regardless of their political leanings. Laborers are starting to fight back against the corporate entities they work for: Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, Lyft and others. 2022 rail workers, hotel and hospitality workers and others fighting for decent wages against companies such as FedEx, DHL, UPS are just the latest in the long line of ongoing “rebellions” against their corporate empires. Whether or not they win and gain concessions from corporate leadership will be up to them and how much support they can drum up.

“Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.” – W. Edwards Deming

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