Striking Back:

Teamsters enlist consumers in their protracted fight

By Hank Kalet
Special to the Progressive Populist

Franklin Park, N.J.

The Edwards Super Food Store in Franklin Park, N.J., is your typical suburban supermarket. It is large, nondescript and quite busy. Cars jam the parking lot well into the evening most days as families file through the automatic doors and leave with carts filled with groceries.

The community is mixed, middle class and not normally associated with political action, but that is what it has become - at least on this brisk autumn day.

Willie Rodriguez and Chris Cruz of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 680 are out in front of the store, passing out leaflets asking shoppers not buy milk processed at the Farmland Dairy.

A little more than half the shoppers take the fliers, which accuse the dairy of selling milk that contains a higher level of bacteria than federal standards allow. They are blaming the replacement workers hired by the dairy to combat a nearly year-long strike by drivers and technicians at its Wallington-based processing plant.

Occasionally, a shopper will shout good luck. Or one will ask where they can buy milk. But most just take the flier, or rebuff the men completely.

This Edwards store and hundreds of other supermarkets across the northern half of New Jersey have been the target of an educational and organizing campaign designed to inform shoppers about the 10-month-long strike the Teamsters are waging against Farmland Dairies.

The union also is picketing the dairy but the leafleting, an element of the "adopt-a-store" campaign supported by the Communications Workers of America and the state Industrial Union Council, is part of a growing trend within the labor movement to involve a wider range of people in labor disputes.

Sometimes referred to as a "corporate campaign," the idea is to raise the ire and then gain the support of consumers and stockholders for the union's cause so that they can be used as leverage against recalcitrant companies.

Strikers across the country have used a variety of tactics. They have included boycotts of the products made by the companies and by their affiliates, boycotts of stores and restaurants that they do business with, and the reporting of environmental violations and unscrupulous business practices to government agencies and the press.

The Teamsters are hoping that the use of a "corporate campaign" against Farmland will slow the family-held dairy's sales and give the union some leverage when dealing with management. So far, a consortium of 54 local clergy, called Religious Leaders for Justice for Farmland Dairies Employees, has been supporting the strikers.

Farmland president Marc Goldman, however, says the strikers are trying to force his plant to close and that union leaders do not have the strikers' best interests at heart. He has filed federal charges accusing the union of violating anti-trust and racketeering laws. He also has hired replacement workers to produce and deliver his milk to stores.

The union has responded by filing complaints against the dairy for unfair labor practices accusing Goldman of trying to intimidate workers.

At the heart of the strike is the creation of a third wage tier. Farmland's management has offered union workers a $1.75 per hour raise over three years and the right to hire its less skilled workers at $8.25 per hour, about $6 less than what is currently being paid entry-level people.

Management also is asking for the Teamsters to forego a contract provision that protects them from having to cross the picket lines of other striking unions.

Teamster officials say the offer is designed to break the union. In particular, they are concerned that the multi-tiered wage structure will create divisions within the local between younger and older members, divisions that had started cropping up when the local accepted a two-tier structure as part of its last contract.

They also want the dairy to end its more than 20-year practice of using owner-operators to deliver to outlying markets, and instead to give those routes to Teamsters drivers.

Goldman refuses to budge on the drivers, while union officials are adamant in their opposition to the contract and say they are willing to wait management out.

But time does not appear to be the union's friend. The dairy, thanks to the replacement workers, has had little difficulty in shipping its milk to the hundreds of supermarkets and convenience stores that sell it, either under the Farmland label or as the store brand.

And while union members say they are ready to stay the course, divisions within the union have cropped up. An attempt in August to merge with the 1,700-member Local 584, which represents dairy workers in New York, has apparently created a rift that has resulted in the union local being placed under trusteeship by Teamsters General President Ron Carey.

Union members admit that 10 months is a long time to be out of work. The $385 per month strike benefits they get only go so far, though assistance they have been getting from Local 584, their sister union in New York - about $50 per worker per month - has helped.

Despite this, Rodriguez and Cruz, both of whom are drivers for the dairy, say they will stay out as long as necessary.

"Look, companies are prospering," says Cruz, an eight-year Farmland employee. "But the only thing they can afford to do for workers is to take back. I would trade in any day of the week to go back to work, but I believe wholeheartedly in what we're doing."

"They chip at you," Rodriguez says. "They chip at one union and then they chip at another. Before you know it, the standard of living is poor."

That's why the union is standing fast against adding the third wage-tier, Rodriguez says.

"Why should people make less than me when they're doing the same job," he says. "We gave him a second tier in the hopes that we could bring those guys up (to the level made by longer-term employees) in the future. But then he asks for more."

Goldman calls the third wage-tier a "red herring."

"This union negotiated in tandem with Local 584 in New York and they signed a contract with an $8 pay scale for new plant employees at the New York dairies we compete with and reduced benefit levels," he says. "The total hourly labor cost in that contract is about $12 for new employees, while our so-called second tier was in the $21 to $22 range. The third tier was necessary for us to remain competitive with other union dairies.

"If they had no problem with it in New York, then I don't know why they're so worried about me."

Union officials say there were special circumstances surrounding those contracts. The two dairies were experiencing severe financial difficulties and the wages agreed upon were the only way to keep them from closing.

Goldman accuses the union of trying to force Farmland out of business. He says that that Teamsters Local 584, which has been helping Local 680, has harbored a grudge against the Wallington dairy since the mid-1980s when it forced the New York dairy industry to allow milk produced outside of the state to be sold there. He says the New York local has exhibited an undue influence on its New Jersey counterpart that has resulted in negotiating tactics detrimental to both the dairy and the workers.

"It is clear to us that their demands are designed so that if we agreed to the demands we'd go out of business," he says. "This is just the culmination of a vendetta."

And to be sure, Local 584 has been intimately involved in the strike. Non-striking dairy workers from Local 680 and Local 584 have been involved in the campaign. They are contributing money from their paychecks on a weekly basis to supplement the Farmland workers' strike benefits, and they're helping distribute leaflets at stores. The reason: They are concerned that other dairies in the New York/New Jersey area could demand the same concessions from their Teamster workers if the Farmland workers agree to the cuts. Also involved in the campaign are members of the CWA and the state Industrial Union Council.

"Farmland Dairy is threatening our whole industry," Local 584 member William Mulieri, who works at Sunnydale Farms in Brooklyn, told the Teamsters magazine. "Our bosses are watching this and saying, 'If Farmland can get away with it, we'll want the same thing.' "

Rodriguez and Cruz say this is just part of the way unions need to work together to fight corporate power.

"We have to help each other," Rodriguez says. "I don't care if you're USCW, CWA, it doesn't matter. If they're on strike and they're asking for a boycott then we have to honor it."

Goldman doesn't see it that way.

"Anyone's got the right to say they are not going to work here," he says. "We don't conscript anyone. But to say that we're going to withhold our labor and then to say we going to kill you economically, to concertedly take action to drive you out of business, I don't understand that."

But as Goldman's use of replacement or scab labor shows, the power of the simple strike, the power to force management to play ball by withholding labor has been relatively ineffective in recent years.

The movement has been beset by an assortment of difficulties, including a public image tied to brute force and mob influence and a membership that has shrunk to a fraction of what it was during the union movement's heyday during the 1950s and 1960s.

And corporate America has used this to its advantage, locking out workers during contract disputes, hiring scabs and outsourcing jobs to temporary agencies or smaller contract firms.

Hence the so-called "corporate campaign," something that Rick Engler, program director for the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, a misnomer. He says most of these tactics have been employed by unions for years, but that their use now is a "recognition of the limited power that a strike can have in some cases."

In the case of the Farmland strike, the "corporate campaign" has taken the form of a boycott with striking Teamsters and their allies asking that shoppers not buy Farmland milk or milk produced by Farmland. And the way they've chosen to get their message to shoppers is through the distribution of fliers in front of supermarkets.

Those fliers have included a parody of milk industry advertisements showing famous people with milk white mustaches. Only, pictured on the Farmland flier were children with bloody noses carrying the message that Farmland's contract offer would create "poverty-wage jobs." And more recently, the fliers accuse the dairy of producing milk that "contained high levels of bacteria."

The idea is to cut into Farmland's business to such a degree that Goldman is forced to sit back down with the strikers and hammer out a deal.

"Milk is a volume business," Rodriguez says. "And he's losing the volume. That's how we're hurting him. Every gallon of milk he doesn't sell is good for us."

Goldman says the boycott has not affected Farmland's business, which produces about 50 million gallons of milk a year and grosses over $100 million, according to newspaper reports. Replacement workers have kept the plant operating at normal capacity and he says he is willing to continue using replacement workers indefinitely.

As a woman with a young child pushes the grocery cart toward the electronic door, Cruz pushes a flier at her.

"Don't buy your milk here," he says. "Read this. The test was conducted by Citizen Action, an independent group."

She looks at him and whisks by. Another shopper, an older man, walks up and tells Cruz that he just returned a quart of milk because it was sour and another woman takes a flier from Rodriguez and reads it as she wheels her cart through the door.

"Surprisingly, we're getting a lot of good support," Rodriguez says. "Middle management people have been getting the ax and they understand that we're just fighting for a little bit."

Hank Kalet is news editor for the Princeton Packet's Middlesex County newspapers and a political columnist for The Aquarian Weekly. He writes frequently about labor issues.

Teamsters battle over trusteeships

Teamsters Local 680, which represents 770 dairy workers in New Jersey, in October became the 66th union local to be placed under trusteeship by International President Ron Carey.

Because of this, it has become the latest issue in the war between Carey and Jimmy Hoffa Jr., the man challenging him for the presidency of the union.

Citing a power struggle at the heart of the local, Carey said he established the trusteeship "to restore order and rebuild the members' confidence that their union is putting their interests first." He appointed Joseph Padellaro, head of the Teamsters Bakery & Laundry Division, as temporary trustee of the union, 200 of whose members have been on strike against Farmland Dairies for nearly a year.

The move was met by relief by some members of the local, who said it could lead to a resolution of the strike.

"I think 'relief' is the best word to describe" Carey's decision, senior shop steward Jim MacDermid told The Record of Hackensack. "We were getting torn apart from both sides and we didn't think the executive board was working in our best interest. Now, we feel that there are people who will work in our best interest and get everyone back to work soon."

As of this writing, Hoffa's camp had not commented on the Farmland decision, but Hoffa, a labor lawyer, has been highly critical of Carey's use of trusteeships since declaring himself a candidate for general president of the International. Hoffa, son of the disappeared longtime union president, says Carey is interested only in consolidating his own power and that he is using the trusteeships to do just that. Most of trusteed locals were led by Hoffa partisans, he says, and their removal was designed to quiet their opposition to Carey and his policies.

Carey disagrees. He says that the trusteeships have been necessary to root out corruption and to ensure that union members are represented by those who have their best interests at heart.

Carey, a former United Parcel Service driver, came to power in 1992 after a government takeover of the union led to its first ever open elections. Carey, leading a reform slate, defeated old guard Teamsters and began a process by which the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, notorious for its disregard for its members' rights and misuse of their dues money, might eventually become a progressive force in the workplace and community.

In doing so, however, Carey angered the old guard, generating a massive backlash that has led to accusations by Hoffa and his supporters that Carey has bankrupted and weakened the International.

"He has failed in his financial obligations to the International," Phil Young, president of Local 41 in Kansas City and a Hoffa supporter, told the Kansas City Star. "We're borrowing money from smaller unions. We used to be the union that other labor groups turned to for help."

It is this longing for the past that Hoffa, whose father led the union through one of its greatest growth periods, has attempted to exploit as he rallies the faithful behind the slogan "Restore Teamster Power" and accusations that Carey is controlled by "outside forces."

And that's why criticism of Carey's use of trusteeships to rid the union of corruption has been an important weapon in the Hoffa arsenal. He has called them "extra-political moves designed to accomplish what he can't do by legitimate means" and he accuses Carey of using the trusteeships as "political retaliation against Hoffa supporters."

Ballots were to be mailed to Teamsters members in the middle of November and are expected to be tallied by the end of December.

At that point, there will be a clearer sense of the direction that the Teamsters union - and ultimately the whole of the labor movement - will take in the future. - Hank Kalet

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