Australia’s Toll Group Sacks Another U.S. Worker; Pro-Union Supporter Cited for Renewing Public Safety Driving Credentials
March 23, 2012
Retaliatory Firing Spree Coincides with Upcoming Union Election, High-profile TWU Visit to Los Angeles Worksite
LOS ANGELES – Toll Group has stepped up its retaliation against union supporters and has fired another one of its workers within less than two weeks, earning the company further international condemnation from high-powered government officials.
Steven Chavez’ sacking comes on the heels of a fact-finding solidarity mission by top Sydney officials and workplace leaders of the Transport Workers Union – a major source of public embarrassment for the Australian transportation giant’s beleaguered U.S. operations – and just three weeks before the Southern California port truck drivers will cast votes after petitioning for representation by the Teamsters in an April 11 union-recognition election.
Mr. Chavez used his Tuesday lunch break to renew a vital Department of Transportation certificate, a federally-mandated public safety requirement that must be current to hold a commercial drivers’ license and legally perform his job duties. Though he received verbal clearance after notifying his supervisor that morning he needed to renew his proof of medical and physical aptitude, that afternoon Toll’s management flimsily claimed he was being fired for making a persona errand.
“Toll is after us because we want to unite with the Teamsters. I know I shouldn’t be surprised after they spied on and fired my co-worker because she needed to relieve herself at a fast food restaurant on her delivery route,” said the 28-year-old driver who has hauled since he was 19.
“But one minute I get the OK to take care of this important job requirement, and the next thing I know I’m canned for somehow violating ‘company policy’? Their policy should be to ensure our federal safety requirements don’t expire! It’s ridiculous, we all know Toll is trying to fire its way out of having a worker’s union. I’ve been fighting for safer and more just working conditions for so long. They know I would vote yes so they sacked me before I could exercise my legal rights.”
Many of Mr. Chavez’ co-workers also contend Toll is trying to use scare and silencing tactics to literally rig the outcome of the workplace election.
A week-and-a-half earlier, under the direction of Melbourne-headquarters management, Toll Group sacked Xiomara Perez, a mother of three who has publicly spoken out against unsanitary and unjust working conditions. Her offense? Making a 10-minute pit stop at a nearby McDonald’s with a clean restroom. Toll claims such an emergency stop while en route is “against company policy” but has thus far failed to provide written documentation of such a harsh rule; in a joint letter to management, Ms. Perez’ co-workers readily acknowledge pulling over and parking when nature calls is a common and necessary practice on the job.
Toll Group’s firing spree, as part of their pattern of union-busting actions in Los Angeles, has come under severe criticism and public scrutiny in both the U.S. and Australia. Speaking in Federal Parliament yesterday, Australian Senator Glenn Sterle called Toll’s actions “disgraceful,” and, as the Australasian Transport News reported, singled out General Manager of Corporate Affairs Andrew Ethell. (Mr. Ethell fled his Melbourne post and flew to Los Angeles in February on the company’s profit day to instead address the workers wanting to unionize.)
“He was dragging LA truck drivers in for mandatory meetings with the company management where he was actively warning them against doing anything reckless – like perhaps getting a union to negotiate their wages and conditions,” Sen. Sterle said in “stunning” remarks.
The Senator’s outrage was matched by the members of the Transport Workers Union, which represents some 12,000 Toll employees in Australia, the largest unionized workforce the global logistics giant has in the world.
“We are taking it very personally that not only did they sack these workers for having a voice, but also for our presence in the States,” stated TWU Senior Official Michael Aird, who led the union’s solidarity mission to Los Angeles along with National Secretary Tony Sheldon earlier this month. “Our workplace leaders will report to their fellow delegates on the horrendous and humiliating conditions they witnessed their U.S. workmates being subjected to. Australian workers will not tolerate their employer trampling on our values of a ‘fair go’ by beating up on their workmates overseas. We won’t stand for union busting anywhere.”
Toll’s Los Angeles drivers are earning VIP support at home as well. Late last week during a public forum in downtown Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa listened in disbelief as Xiomara Perez, flanked by two dozen of her co-workers, told her troubling tale of being fired for needed to use the restroom. The big-city mayor who oversees the nation’s largest seaport, where these drivers work, expressed outrage over the barrage of anti-worker attacks, vowing to back them in their fight for the respect and justice they deserve, the Australian Associated Press reported.
For their part, the workers made a pact not to allow fear to stop them in their tracks. Their struggle and vote, in an entirely non-union industry, is being watched and backed by thousands across the U.S. and beyond. The Teamsters will file unfair labor practice charges on behalf of Mr. Chavez with Region 31 of the nation’s top labor agency. Last week the union assisted Ms. Perez with the same, and helped take up a collection amongst the community so she may support her family and three college-aged children until she wins her job back.
Ms. Perez was party to a set of earlier charges against the company that resulted in a formal complaint by the National Labor Relations Board for “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” in violation to the National Labor Relations Act. Toll faces federal trial as a result.