I had the pleasure of attending the 29th International Convention the last week of July as an Alternate Delegate for 174. 1600 Delegates and Alternates from around the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, along with around 3000 guests, were in attendance. The Convention not only nominates candidates for the upcoming election of International Union Officers (be sure to vote when you get your ballot in the mail!), it also makes changes to the Constitution and passes resolutions. Joining together with over 5,000 Teamsters and guests was a truly amazing experience.
One of the notable changes to the constitution is strike benefits. The minimum weekly benefit has been changed from $100 to $150, the maximum amount has been increased from 4 times hour dues rate to five times your dues rate, and the benefits kick in after the 8th day on strike instead of after the end of the 2nd week. These changes increase our strength at the bargaining table and our ability to weather a strike. When combined with the Local strike fund, we have the power to strike when we need to and 174 is never afraid of a fight!
There were two very moving moments. The first one involves some heroes from the sanitation industry. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed in Memphis. He was there to support the fight for recognition and for a contract for a group of sanitation workers who worked for the city. Two of the leaders of that fight, Alvin Turner and Baxter Leach, continue to be involved in union issues, and are frequent participants in political activity and rallies on behalf of Teamsters today. They both spoke with very moving recollections of both their historic fight and how they continue to fight today. You can watch the video on the IBT website at https://teamster.org/videos/2016/06/ron-herrera-speaks-29th-international-convention.
The second involved the impact of the national opiate addiction on one teamster family and what they are doing about it. Travis Bornstein, President of Teamsters Local 24 and his family had to endure the death of their son Tyler due to an overdose. Tyler had a sports-related injury and became addicted to the pain medication. That addiction led him to heroin and to his death when he was abandoned in a vacant lot while he was overdosing. The Bornstein’s have started a charity called Breaking Barriers – Hope Is Alive. They hope to buy the vacant lot where their son died and build a treatment facility. The story itself was moving. Almost everyone has been impacted by the national epidemic in one way or another. But what was amazing was to see Teamster Locals and Joint Councils, Clubs and individuals, line up at the mike for over an hour and make donations. During that time more than $1.4 million dollars was pledged, including $5,000 donated by Local l74. I have never been so proud to be a Teamster. You can find out more about the charity at http://nowwefightforyou.com.
My bargaining schedule has been slow so far this summer. I continue to meet with Metropolitan Market along with Organizer Meaza Ogbe, who has been assigned as the Business Agent for this group. We organized the catering department delivery drivers and once we get a contract, it will be the only place where you can order food that will be prepared by union members (UFCW) and delivered by union members (Teamsters). The issue standing in the way of a contract right now remains pension. The UFCW pension plan is in the red zone with a huge unfunded liability for the Employer. Secretary Treasurer Rick Hicks spoke with the CEO on Monday, and the CEO has agreed to meet with representatives of the Teamsters pension plan. We hope they can convince him that with such a small group (right now 7 drivers) his unfunded liability will be nonexistent.
We have also started negotiations for the First Student bus drivers. There are many challenges negotiating for school bus drivers. The industry is built around part-time employment, with the low wages and lack of benefits that come with part-time work. Not only are there huge economic challenges, our members are up in arms due treatment issues and to changes in the pay system that have resulted in less overtime pay. We have filed a grievance and an unfair labor practice charge on the pay issue. I am negotiating that contract with the able assistance of Business Agent Abe Taylor. That contract expires at the end of this month, and the mechanics contract expires at the end of August.
My schedule is starting to heat up with the addition of Food Services of America negotiations this week. We have a compressed schedule, with the demands meeting last Sunday, the committee meeting to put the proposal together Monday and the first meeting with the Company on Wednesday. Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks, Business Agent Carl Gasca and I are on the bargaining team, with the occasional assistant of Business Agent Larry Boyd, who worked for FSA for many years and has also been their Business Agent in the past. The FSA contract expires at the end of August.