March 22, 2012
A guest blog by Patricia Castellanos, LA Chair, Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports
To some it may just be a date. Another Wednesday. Many call it “hump day” – but that workplace vernacular is a foreign concept for America’s port truck drivers who must clock so many hours and pull so many loads to make ends meet, it’s impossible to tell what is the middle, and what is the week’s end.
So for the workers who haul vital consumer goods in and out of the nation’s largest port complex – the sixth largest in the world – who have been humiliated and harassed by their employer and have endured an industry that treats them , in their own words, like modern-day slaves, April 11 marks a historic moment.
April 11 is the day that the men and women who haul for Toll Group in Southern California finally get to make their voice heard and vote in a union election, in an entirely non-union industry.
There may only be 75 of them – for now – but 12,000 of their Transport Workers Union workmates Down Under, where their joint employer is based, have their backs. Some 110,000 of their port truck driver counterparts throughout the U.S. are rooting for them, knowing soon enough it will be their time. 1.4 million rank-and-filers at the Teamsters stand ready to embrace them as their union’s newest members, with open arms.
And the countless environmentalists, residents, clergy, congregants, community and online activists aligned with more than 150 local, state and national organizations united in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports certainly count as their staunch supporters too. These allies have been showing up out front of the Toll truck yard week in week out to monitor the employers’ behavior and take direct reports from the drivers on what is going on in their workplace.
Why community watchdogs? Why has an election date been so difficult to obtain? Union workplace elections, unlike American political elections that are guaranteed, are not a given. It takes a hell of a lot of guts and fortitude to petition for balloting at the National Labor Relations Board in the first place. The process is not free, fair, nor fast. Supporters get fired and often never get their say. Employers retaliate and find a million ways to delay. There is nothing about it that resembles the American way.
That’s what makes the truck drivers at Toll Group in Los Angeles such a special case. And why April 11 so important for them and all U.S. port truck drivers who have been denied a voice on the job and a democratic workplace for so long. So let me address these courageous workers directly now:
We value your service to the American economy, and we are inspired by the collective action you have taken to overcome the vicious treatment your Australian employer has inflicted upon you. One of your co-workers was fired for needing a restroom. Management forces you to attend meetings where you are held hostage and harassed for wanting a union to get the respect, dignity, and middle-class paycheck you deserve. A corporate executive named Andrew Ethell flew out from Melbourne headquarters to intimidate you for supporting the union. He’s even overseen the hiring of private security guards who brandish guns and handcuffs to tail and film you.
These sorts of despicable tactics prove that Toll will continue to terrorize you, but we are here, as your advocates, to say that April 11 is yours, and we know you will triumph.
Your strength comes from the fact that you united together and take action as one. Your power is fueled by your desire to make the world a better place for your families. That’s what other brave men and women did, on April 11, in years past.
In 1919 a group of workers founded the International Labor Organization. In 1945 American forces liberated Buchenwald, a brutal concentration camp. In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Two years later on April 11, the astronauts of Apollo 13 launched a mission to the moon.
It took acts of courage for people to transform ordinary days into extraordinary ones. And we know that in 2012, you, the employees of Toll Group will become the first American port truck drivers to exercise your legal rights and vote on a union in decades.
It may be a couple of weeks off, but let us be the first to stand up, tip our hats, and say, yes you can and ¡Sí se puede!
It’s about time. We know you, too, will make history on April 11.
We stand with you.