Challenge to labor movement: UPS fires 250 union workers

April 4 press conference for fired UPS workers.WW photo: Anne Pruden

April 4 press conference for fired UPS workers.
WW photo: Anne Pruden

Bosses fire workers for being late. But Jairo Reynes, a 24-year United Parcel Service worker at the company’s Maspeth hub in Queens, N.Y., was fired for being early.

With management approval, Reynes came in early sometimes to find a good spot at the loading dock for his truck. The UPS bosses then turned around and fired the driver on Feb. 26 for “stealing time.”

The real reason for Reynes’ firing was because he signed a mass grievance against UPS for ignoring seniority rules with respect to starting times.

Reynes’ firing was a provocation aimed at Teamsters Local 804. The local’s membership responded by staging a protest for 90 minutes on Feb. 26.

UPS — the 53rd largest U.S. company in the 2012 Fortune 500 list, with $54 billion in revenue — retaliated by firing 250 workers.

Local 804 was the home local of the late Ron Carey, who as International Teamsters president led the 1997 strike against UPS. That’s the last time a big company was successfully struck in the U.S.

The present mass firing is a challenge to the entire labor movement, and it is happening right in New York City.

Union members are fighting back. Local 804 held a news conference on April 3 at New York City Hall. “Union members from Teamsters locals all across the city were joined by [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] workers from Transport Workers Union Local 100, Service Employees 32BJ and members of Communication Workers of America and other union supporters,” reported FightBack! News on April 3.

“President of Teamsters Local 804 Tim Sylvester told the crowd, ‘UPS is threatening to bankrupt 250 families,’ and described the attacks as a heartless attack on drivers and their families. The crowd responded with shouts of ‘Shut ‘em down!’ and ‘Save the 250!’ ”

Teamsters point out that UPS got a $43 million contract to deliver packages for city and state agencies. At the same time former Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the outfit a sweetheart deal by wiping off nearly $16 million annually in parking fines.

In return UPS is trying to fire Domenick DeDomenico, who was struck by a car last year while delivering packages. The union brother was in a coma for 10 days, had brain surgery and received physical therapy.

After DeDomenico returned to work, UPS sought to get rid of him for delivering 11 packages an hour instead of 13. This loyal Teamster with a 13-year-old son now has a second discharge notice for being one of the 250 workers who stood up to UPS.

War against Teamsters

The wealthy and powerful are rooting for UPS to smash the Teamsters. With huge job cuts in manufacturing, UPS has one of the largest number of union workers of any U.S. company.

The war against the Teamsters is decades long. By deregulating the trucking and airline industries, former President Jimmy Carter set back the entire labor movement. This so-called reform opened the door for union busting in both industries and smashed the Teamsters’ master freight contract.

Another motive for the UPS mass firings is the corporate plan to privatize the U.S. Postal Service. Along with FedEx, UPS is a prime contender to take over the best parts of the postal service when big business takes over. In order to do so, UPS feels it has to break the Teamsters.

UPS has led the corporate charge toward part-time work with few benefits. Alongside full-time employees at UPS, who are often forced to work overtime, are tens of thousands of part-timers. They have to work as long as 11 to 13 years before they can hope to get a full-time job.

Teamsters have fought heroically for nearly 40 years against this exploitation. A UPS worker was killed in Secaucus, N.J., during a 1976 strike that was partly against replacing full-time workers with part-timers.

Although Carey and the Teamsters won 10,000 more full-time jobs after winning the 1997 strike, there continue to be an army of UPS workers earning hardly more than the minimum wage.

That situation could help kill any desire by FedEx workers to stick their necks out in supporting a union drive.

Solidarity from Boston’s school bus workers

The UPS mass firing in Queens is a carbon copy of what Veolia — another multibillion-dollar transportation behemoth — did in Boston last October. Five leaders of United Steelworkers Local 8751 were fired after hundreds of school bus workers were locked out for protesting violations of their contract.

While fighting to get their own jobs back, two of the fired Boston union leaders declared their support for the fired UPS workers.

“The labor movement, including at the highest levels, needs to reinforce, with every resource available, the workers like those at Local 804 who are fighting to defend themselves from this coordinated corporate campaign to break unions, decapitate union leadership, and lower wages and benefits even further,” said Steven Gillis, USW Local 8751 vice president and pension plan administrator. “We have to go on the offensive to win back what these modern-day robber barons have illegally stolen!”

“The survival of a fighting union movement is at stake,” said Stevan Kirschbaum, a founding member of Local 8751 and chair of its grievance committee. “We were proud to ‘walk the line’ with the Teamsters in their historic 1997 strike of UPS.  It is time once again to demonstrate to UPS and Veolia that if you try to bust our unions, our unions will bust you.”