Round One: American Truck Drivers v. Australian Transportation Giant
February 3, 2012
The first in a series of real-time dispatches, live updates and social media/video updates to assist LA workers achieve democracy in the workplace by monitoring and reporting Toll Group’s attempts to undermine their free and fair vote to unionize. [Check back or sign up here for instant alerts.]
It’s not hard to make some assumptions about who the underdog is here.
In our corner you have roughly 75 underpaid Southern California workers who have endured nearly a year of humiliation and harassment on the job. On the other side, there’s an Australian CFO-turned-CEO of an $8.3 billion global mega corporation and his team of U.S. executive henchmen.
Astonishingly though, it was the truck drivers who challenged their employer to step into the ring. Last week, via an international telephone press briefing, they announced they had filed for a workplace election – a balloting process unlike voting in an American political context that has been compared to “illegitimate charades staged by authoritative regimes outside of democratic nations.”
So why are these workers inviting what is seemingly a fixed fight?
First, these symbols of the 99% are as smart as they are strong when it comes to overcoming their handicap against the 1%. They launched their challenge just as the nation’s top labor agency issued a formal complaint stating that Toll “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The move by the National Labor Relations Board is the result of Toll refusing to remedy a series of workplace violations and the company will now be prosecuted in an upcoming federal trial. Second, while a workplace election is advantageous to union hostile employers, the workers have carefully evaluated the risks, assessed their strong majority support for the union, and came up with a real plan to withstand the sucker punches their employer is sure to pull.
Since the drivers can’t rely on “good sportsmanship” of Toll Group to give a clean fight, they’ve put the call out to an alliance of community, labor, and public health groups to join their corner, and they’ve accepted. The alliance will serve as roving watchdogs to closely monitor management’s behavior. Each week several trained advocates will drop by the Toll yard at undisclosed times so workers can report any employer foul play such as spying, harassment, and unwarranted disciplinary actions.
Not wasting any time, the port driver’s corner threw the first combination of punches last week. A delegation of local clergy went to Toll’s facility to deliver a set of principles for the company to agree to ensure a clean and fair election—they were shunned (see the delegation video).
“We were treated with disdain. Why are they afraid of clergy and other religious leaders in our support of their truck drivers’ efforts to union?” recounted delegation member Father William Connor of Long Beach during a teleconference, “If this is how they treat us, how much worse must be their treatment of their employees?” He adds, “These drivers are members of our congregations and our community. An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Drivers are welcoming the additional set of eyes on the prize. “I am heartened by the tremendous support the community and clergy is once again providing in this fight of our lives. Time and time again they’ve collected petitions, sent letters, and marched with us to pressure the company at every turn. Now they’re here monitoring to insure we get the victory we deserve,” states Xiorama Perez, a 41 year-old mother of three, and Toll port driver.
The efforts of first community monitoring is already paying dividends. Last night, the monitors started taking note of the new union-busting tactics being reported by drivers. Toll’s Texan union-buster has forced drivers to screen anti-union videos during mandatory meetings to sway their vote from yes to no.
Sounds like the first of Toll’s blows below the belt! More info coming very soon, stay tuned…