- Terelle Jerricks
24-Hour Strike Sends Message: We Have Rights, We Are Not Afraid
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
Three days before fast food workers across the country went out on a one-day strike, port truckers at Carson-based Green Fleet Systems did the same.
This was show of determination in their bid for union recognition from a company that’s responded to them with hostile hardball tactics. They went on strike Aug. 26 at 5 p.m., and returned to work the same time the following day with a rally of supporters cheering them on.
“This is the first time as port truck drivers that we are doing this, exercising our rights,” Green Fleet Systems employee Ramon Guadamuz said. “We started in May last year, working together, exercising our right to form our union. We have been struggling” against illegal tactics by GFS, he said. “One of the things they do is they have a anti-union petition, they intimidate every single worker to sign it. They say, if they don’t sign it, they’re going to fire” the truckers who refuse.
Green Fleet was fined more than $380,000 for wage violations against four workers early this year by the California Labor Commissioner, around the same time that Australian-owned Toll Group became the first port trucking firm to sign a union contract since the industry was deregulated in 1980. That’s also when the Green Fleet workers formalized their struggle, with a letter to Green Fleet declaring their desire for a union. Drivers at American Logistics International did the same, citing specific labor law violations.
“They saw the success that drivers at Toll had achieved with winning their union election last year and negotiating a great first contract, and I think [that] has inspired drivers at a lot of other port trucking companies, including Green Fleet,” said Nick Weiner, the Teamsters’ port campaign director.
Green Fleet mostly employ hourly workers, unlike most port trucking companies. While a third of their work force are mis-classified as “owner-operators” as well.
More recently, as the organizing has continued, drivers filed specific charges of harassment and intimidation with Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB investigated Green Fleet and issued an Unfair Labor Practice complaint alleging that the company broke federal labor law with retaliatory anti-union actions. Officially, the truckers are striking to protest unfair labor practices, which gives them protected status under U.S. labor law, although the spirit is similar to the unsanctioned 24-hour fast food strikes.
“We are so excited,” Guadamuz said. “We’re not going to run away.”
It’s not just a matter of asserting legal rights, but also asserting their basic humanity in the face of Green Fleet’s routine abuse, he explained.
“They don’t take our respect as human beings,” Guadamuz said. “They look at you like you are [an] object.”
This is reflected in systematic mistreatment, long before the recent organizing drive, he explained.
“When you get sick, you have to go to the doctor. and when you get sick, the company refuse[s]…. cause they don’t believe you are sick,” Guadamuz said. “They force you to work sick. They don’t care you can make a horrible accident. When you have a fever, you have stomach aches, you’ve got headaches–they don’t believe you. That’s really terrible. We are human beings.” Likewise, “When you’ve got a special day at school with your kids, you need to go,” but, “they deny that day or half-day, and that’s horrible. We are human beings, we are not a machine.”
That’s why he said, “The purpose of this strike is to be clear [to] the company they have to respect all their employees.”
“This is obviously a serious issue we have here with Green Fleet,” said Teamster spokeswoman Kara Deniz. “But, if you look at the coverage, there is all over the country, there’s one-day low-age strikes taking place, you know, from fast food workers to the port. So really, this is a movement, part of a larger picture going on nationwide.”
“Once the Green Fleet drivers decided to take this action, the Teamsters Joint Council approved strike sanctions, sanctioned the strike, the LA County Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO for LA County sanctioned the strike,” Weiner said. “So there’s a tremendous outpouring of support for these courageous drivers throughout the labor community in Los Angeles.”
It’s impossible to say for sure, but that support—represented by a crowd of several hundred on Tuesday afternoon—appeared extremely helpful in assuring the strike’s success. Green Fleet delayed accepting the strikers’ return for about half an hour.
“It was enthusiastic,” said labor lawyer Diane Middleton. “It was another pivotal point in organizing the truckers. It was a victory. The guys who had walked out were taken back. And, as a supporter of organizing efforts, I really look forward to Green Fleet recognizing the union, and signing a contract with these folks.”
The process of getting this far has not been easy, Guadamuz explained.
“It was a long way,” Guadamuz said. “We had to educate every single coworker to let them know our rights.”
Among other things, Green Fleet promised workers that if they didn’t join the union—which would legally provide job protection—they would have long-term job security, the exact opposite of what unionization legally entails. But systematic lying is nothing compared to harassment and intimidation.
“The company are doing interrogation. ‘Why do you want union?’ That’s illegal,” Guadamuz said. “Some guys, they got scared. Didn’t understand their rights. That’s why it took a little while to [advance] step-by-step.”
Faced with that mindset, it’s obvious why the one-day strike sends a powerful message to other Green Fleet workers who may want a union, but have been intimidated until now.
“What Ramon and his co-workers showing his other co-workers is that they don’t need to be scared,” Weiner said. “They’re taking this courageous action to go out on strike for a day. And other workers are scared…. Port drivers, fast-food workers and Walmart workers are terrified of losing their job, and speaking up and standing up for their rights…. They can stand up for their rights and demand a living wage and respect and that’s spreading, it’s now spreading to the port, that fever, that port drivers aren’t going to take it any more.”