Teamsters enlist consumers in their protracted fight
By Hank Kalet
Special to the Progressive Populist
Franklin Park, N.J.
The Edwards Super Food Store in Franklin Park, N.J., is your typical suburban
supermarket. It is large, nondescript and quite busy. Cars jam the parking
lot well into the evening most days as families file through the automatic
doors and leave with carts filled with groceries.
The community is mixed, middle class and not normally associated with political
action, but that is what it has become - at least on this brisk autumn day.
Willie Rodriguez and Chris Cruz of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Local 680 are out in front of the store, passing out leaflets asking shoppers
not buy milk processed at the Farmland Dairy.
A little more than half the shoppers take the fliers, which accuse the dairy
of selling milk that contains a higher level of bacteria than federal standards
allow. They are blaming the replacement workers hired by the dairy to combat
a nearly year-long strike by drivers and technicians at its Wallington-based
Occasionally, a shopper will shout good luck. Or one will ask where they
can buy milk. But most just take the flier, or rebuff the men completely.
This Edwards store and hundreds of other supermarkets across the northern
half of New Jersey have been the target of an educational and organizing
campaign designed to inform shoppers about the 10-month-long strike the
Teamsters are waging against Farmland Dairies.
The union also is picketing the dairy but the leafleting, an element of
the "adopt-a-store" campaign supported by the Communications Workers
of America and the state Industrial Union Council, is part of a growing
trend within the labor movement to involve a wider range of people in labor
Sometimes referred to as a "corporate campaign," the idea is to
raise the ire and then gain the support of consumers and stockholders for
the union's cause so that they can be used as leverage against recalcitrant
Strikers across the country have used a variety of tactics. They have included
boycotts of the products made by the companies and by their affiliates,
boycotts of stores and restaurants that they do business with, and the reporting
of environmental violations and unscrupulous business practices to government
agencies and the press.
The Teamsters are hoping that the use of a "corporate campaign"
against Farmland will slow the family-held dairy's sales and give the union
some leverage when dealing with management. So far, a consortium of 54 local
clergy, called Religious Leaders for Justice for Farmland Dairies Employees,
has been supporting the strikers.
Farmland president Marc Goldman, however, says the strikers are trying to
force his plant to close and that union leaders do not have the strikers'
best interests at heart. He has filed federal charges accusing the union
of violating anti-trust and racketeering laws. He also has hired replacement
workers to produce and deliver his milk to stores.
The union has responded by filing complaints against the dairy for unfair
labor practices accusing Goldman of trying to intimidate workers.
At the heart of the strike is the creation of a third wage tier. Farmland's
management has offered union workers a $1.75 per hour raise over three years
and the right to hire its less skilled workers at $8.25 per hour, about
$6 less than what is currently being paid entry-level people.
Management also is asking for the Teamsters to forego a contract provision
that protects them from having to cross the picket lines of other striking
Teamster officials say the offer is designed to break the union. In particular,
they are concerned that the multi-tiered wage structure will create divisions
within the local between younger and older members, divisions that had started
cropping up when the local accepted a two-tier structure as part of its
They also want the dairy to end its more than 20-year practice of using
owner-operators to deliver to outlying markets, and instead to give those
routes to Teamsters drivers.
Goldman refuses to budge on the drivers, while union officials are adamant
in their opposition to the contract and say they are willing to wait management
But time does not appear to be the union's friend. The dairy, thanks to
the replacement workers, has had little difficulty in shipping its milk
to the hundreds of supermarkets and convenience stores that sell it, either
under the Farmland label or as the store brand.
And while union members say they are ready to stay the course, divisions
within the union have cropped up. An attempt in August to merge with the
1,700-member Local 584, which represents dairy workers in New York, has
apparently created a rift that has resulted in the union local being placed
under trusteeship by Teamsters General President Ron Carey.
Union members admit that 10 months is a long time to be out of work. The
$385 per month strike benefits they get only go so far, though assistance
they have been getting from Local 584, their sister union in New York -
about $50 per worker per month - has helped.
Despite this, Rodriguez and Cruz, both of whom are drivers for the dairy,
say they will stay out as long as necessary.
"Look, companies are prospering," says Cruz, an eight-year Farmland
employee. "But the only thing they can afford to do for workers is
to take back. I would trade in any day of the week to go back to work, but
I believe wholeheartedly in what we're doing."
"They chip at you," Rodriguez says. "They chip at one union
and then they chip at another. Before you know it, the standard of living
That's why the union is standing fast against adding the third wage-tier,
"Why should people make less than me when they're doing the same job,"
he says. "We gave him a second tier in the hopes that we could bring
those guys up (to the level made by longer-term employees) in the future.
But then he asks for more."
Goldman calls the third wage-tier a "red herring."
"This union negotiated in tandem with Local 584 in New York and they
signed a contract with an $8 pay scale for new plant employees at the New
York dairies we compete with and reduced benefit levels," he says.
"The total hourly labor cost in that contract is about $12 for new
employees, while our so-called second tier was in the $21 to $22 range.
The third tier was necessary for us to remain competitive with other union
"If they had no problem with it in New York, then I don't know why
they're so worried about me."
Union officials say there were special circumstances surrounding those contracts.
The two dairies were experiencing severe financial difficulties and the
wages agreed upon were the only way to keep them from closing.
Goldman accuses the union of trying to force Farmland out of business. He
says that that Teamsters Local 584, which has been helping Local 680, has
harbored a grudge against the Wallington dairy since the mid-1980s when
it forced the New York dairy industry to allow milk produced outside of
the state to be sold there. He says the New York local has exhibited an
undue influence on its New Jersey counterpart that has resulted in negotiating
tactics detrimental to both the dairy and the workers.
"It is clear to us that their demands are designed so that if we agreed
to the demands we'd go out of business," he says. "This is just
the culmination of a vendetta."
And to be sure, Local 584 has been intimately involved in the strike. Non-striking
dairy workers from Local 680 and Local 584 have been involved in the campaign.
They are contributing money from their paychecks on a weekly basis to supplement
the Farmland workers' strike benefits, and they're helping distribute leaflets
at stores. The reason: They are concerned that other dairies in the New
York/New Jersey area could demand the same concessions from their Teamster
workers if the Farmland workers agree to the cuts. Also involved in the
campaign are members of the CWA and the state Industrial Union Council.
"Farmland Dairy is threatening our whole industry," Local 584
member William Mulieri, who works at Sunnydale Farms in Brooklyn, told the
Teamsters magazine. "Our bosses are watching this and saying, 'If Farmland
can get away with it, we'll want the same thing.' "
Rodriguez and Cruz say this is just part of the way unions need to work
together to fight corporate power.
"We have to help each other," Rodriguez says. "I don't care
if you're USCW, CWA, it doesn't matter. If they're on strike and they're
asking for a boycott then we have to honor it."
Goldman doesn't see it that way.
"Anyone's got the right to say they are not going to work here,"
he says. "We don't conscript anyone. But to say that we're going to
withhold our labor and then to say we going to kill you economically, to
concertedly take action to drive you out of business, I don't understand
But as Goldman's use of replacement or scab labor shows, the power of the
simple strike, the power to force management to play ball by withholding
labor has been relatively ineffective in recent years.
The movement has been beset by an assortment of difficulties, including
a public image tied to brute force and mob influence and a membership that
has shrunk to a fraction of what it was during the union movement's heyday
during the 1950s and 1960s.
And corporate America has used this to its advantage, locking out workers
during contract disputes, hiring scabs and outsourcing jobs to temporary
agencies or smaller contract firms.
Hence the so-called "corporate campaign," something that Rick
Engler, program director for the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, a
misnomer. He says most of these tactics have been employed by unions for
years, but that their use now is a "recognition of the limited power
that a strike can have in some cases."
In the case of the Farmland strike, the "corporate campaign" has
taken the form of a boycott with striking Teamsters and their allies asking
that shoppers not buy Farmland milk or milk produced by Farmland. And the
way they've chosen to get their message to shoppers is through the distribution
of fliers in front of supermarkets.
Those fliers have included a parody of milk industry advertisements showing
famous people with milk white mustaches. Only, pictured on the Farmland
flier were children with bloody noses carrying the message that Farmland's
contract offer would create "poverty-wage jobs." And more recently,
the fliers accuse the dairy of producing milk that "contained high
levels of bacteria."
The idea is to cut into Farmland's business to such a degree that Goldman
is forced to sit back down with the strikers and hammer out a deal.
"Milk is a volume business," Rodriguez says. "And he's losing
the volume. That's how we're hurting him. Every gallon of milk he doesn't
sell is good for us."
Goldman says the boycott has not affected Farmland's business, which produces
about 50 million gallons of milk a year and grosses over $100 million, according
to newspaper reports. Replacement workers have kept the plant operating
at normal capacity and he says he is willing to continue using replacement
As a woman with a young child pushes the grocery cart toward the electronic
door, Cruz pushes a flier at her.
"Don't buy your milk here," he says. "Read this. The test
was conducted by Citizen Action, an independent group."
She looks at him and whisks by. Another shopper, an older man, walks up
and tells Cruz that he just returned a quart of milk because it was sour
and another woman takes a flier from Rodriguez and reads it as she wheels
her cart through the door.
"Surprisingly, we're getting a lot of good support," Rodriguez
says. "Middle management people have been getting the ax and they understand
that we're just fighting for a little bit."
Hank Kalet is news editor for the Princeton Packet's Middlesex County
newspapers and a political columnist for The Aquarian Weekly. He writes
frequently about labor issues.
Teamsters battle over trusteeships
Teamsters Local 680, which represents 770 dairy workers in New Jersey, in
October became the 66th union local to be placed under trusteeship by International
President Ron Carey.
Because of this, it has become the latest issue in the war between Carey
and Jimmy Hoffa Jr., the man challenging him for the presidency of the union.
Citing a power struggle at the heart of the local, Carey said he established
the trusteeship "to restore order and rebuild the members' confidence
that their union is putting their interests first." He appointed Joseph
Padellaro, head of the Teamsters Bakery & Laundry Division, as temporary
trustee of the union, 200 of whose members have been on strike against Farmland
Dairies for nearly a year.
The move was met by relief by some members of the local, who said it could
lead to a resolution of the strike.
"I think 'relief' is the best word to describe" Carey's decision,
senior shop steward Jim MacDermid told The Record of Hackensack. "We
were getting torn apart from both sides and we didn't think the executive
board was working in our best interest. Now, we feel that there are people
who will work in our best interest and get everyone back to work soon."
As of this writing, Hoffa's camp had not commented on the Farmland decision,
but Hoffa, a labor lawyer, has been highly critical of Carey's use of trusteeships
since declaring himself a candidate for general president of the International.
Hoffa, son of the disappeared longtime union president, says Carey is interested
only in consolidating his own power and that he is using the trusteeships
to do just that. Most of trusteed locals were led by Hoffa partisans, he
says, and their removal was designed to quiet their opposition to Carey
and his policies.
Carey disagrees. He says that the trusteeships have been necessary to root
out corruption and to ensure that union members are represented by those
who have their best interests at heart.
Carey, a former United Parcel Service driver, came to power in 1992 after
a government takeover of the union led to its first ever open elections.
Carey, leading a reform slate, defeated old guard Teamsters and began a
process by which the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, notorious for
its disregard for its members' rights and misuse of their dues money, might
eventually become a progressive force in the workplace and community.
In doing so, however, Carey angered the old guard, generating a massive
backlash that has led to accusations by Hoffa and his supporters that Carey
has bankrupted and weakened the International.
"He has failed in his financial obligations to the International,"
Phil Young, president of Local 41 in Kansas City and a Hoffa supporter,
told the Kansas City Star. "We're borrowing money from smaller unions.
We used to be the union that other labor groups turned to for help."
It is this longing for the past that Hoffa, whose father led the union through
one of its greatest growth periods, has attempted to exploit as he rallies
the faithful behind the slogan "Restore Teamster Power" and accusations
that Carey is controlled by "outside forces."
And that's why criticism of Carey's use of trusteeships to rid the union
of corruption has been an important weapon in the Hoffa arsenal. He has
called them "extra-political moves designed to accomplish what he can't
do by legitimate means" and he accuses Carey of using the trusteeships
as "political retaliation against Hoffa supporters."
Ballots were to be mailed to Teamsters members in the middle of November
and are expected to be tallied by the end of December.
At that point, there will be a clearer sense of the direction that the Teamsters
union - and ultimately the whole of the labor movement - will take in the
future. - Hank Kalet
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