Thursday, June 20, 2013

Port drivers file charges, claim Toll threatening Teamster organizing drive

Australia-based Toll Holdings is illegally interfering with New Jersey port drivers' right to form a union. Yesterday, the drivers filed charges with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB),  charging surveillance, coercion and intimidation.

The workers filed the charges just as they are about to cast their votes to become Teamsters.

More than 100 groups and individuals have signed a petition supporting the Toll drivers’ effort to form a union, and many of these organizations have written letters of support directly to the workers.

Toll Group has been dogged by similar board charges and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaints.

Just six months ago, the company temporarily dropped its anti-union crusade after it failed  to stop Los Angeles drivers from forming a union at their worksite. The drivers, who affiliated with International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 848,successfully pressured the company into signing a strong union contract early this year.

The contract signing seemed to indicate an end to the tumultuous dispute that played out both in the U.S. and Australia. No longer, said John Lambert, a Toll driver serving the Port of New Jersey:
This is a company that says it cares about safety. But it’s forcing all the local drivers to go to so-called “safety meetings” where there’s no talk about safety at all. All they do is try to scare drivers about the union. They say things some of us know just aren’t true – like it’s going to cost drivers hundreds of dollars if we go union.
Eric Tate, Teamsters Local 848 secretary-treasurer, says he's shocked by Toll's latest moves. Tate served on the Toll contract negotiation team on behalf of the Los Angeles drivers. The contract promised to consider rewarding their L.A. drivers with greater pay if the Teamsters can unionize drivers at nearby companies, and was seen as the company finally embracing a pro-organized labor stance in the U.S. Said Tate:
I thought Toll and the Teamsters had moved past such a confrontational relationship, particularly since L.A. Toll drivers have been working harder and are more productive than they have ever been. Unfortunately, Toll’s response has been to hire its own in-house union-buster!
Tate demanded a formal retraction and public apology from Toll’s Human Resources Director, Richard Pacheco, who is using captive audience meetings to reach drivers with slanderous anti-union statements. 

In one meeting, Pacheco declared that Teamsters Local 848, the local union representing Toll’s L.A. drivers, fined one driver $2,500 and two others $1,500 for “talking bad about the union.” Both claims are false, and now the subject of potential legal action if Pacheco does not retract or apologize by June 21.

Fred Schmitt, a New Jersey Toll driver, asked:
If Toll is not against unions, why did they hire a new HR Director that lists “union avoidance” as one of his skills? At the last mandatory meeting – where they try to intimidate drivers into voting against the union - I called him out on the things he was saying and he couldn’t back them up. Instead of a straight answer, the meeting was cut short. Is he just making stuff up?
Mail voting for the Toll’s New Jersey workforce is scheduled to end July 15 for long-haul drivers, and local drivers out on vacation or leave. The in-person voting for local drivers is set for June 28, 2013.

For more background on the Toll drivers’ campaign for justice, visit their website.