By ERWIN FREED
As a historic contract campaign at UPS begins, the company is targeting union activists in an attempt to undermine the struggle for a just contract by Teamsters members. On Wednesday, Aug. 24, UPS fired Ben Douglass and Rob Becker; both are New York drivers, union activists, and alternate shop stewards at their workplaces. These attacks come amidst a public outcry against UPS for horrible working conditions, including lack of air conditioning, forced overtime, and two-tier contracts.
At the same time, the Teamsters union, including its newly elected president Sean O’Brien, has been actively building support for a strike next year. UPS is one of the cornerstones of the U.S. economy. According to the company, UPS facilities transport commodities amounting to 6% of the country’s GDP everyday, and the company employs over 425,000 people. The Teamsters’ contract with UPS is the largest private-sector collective bargaining unit in the country.
Douglass was fired on the grounds that he was unable to fully complete a difficult route during a record-breaking heat wave, while Becker was let go for stopping for a few minutes to purchase an iced tea in the same context. Both of these are normal practices for drivers, and these attacks amount to a transparent attempt by the company to silence internal opposition in the run-up to a strike.
Douglass tweeted on Aug. 25, “I’ve been organizing with coworkers, pushing for workplace safety and standing up to management’s bullying. In response, UPS bosses have only increased their retaliation against me and my coworkers. … Many UPS workers have similar stories of being subject to management harassment and bullying, especially among those who are close to the union and fight for a better workplace. Management uses lies, slander and complete distortions to target us.”
However, UPS’s actions may very well backfire. Workers at the company are in a fighting mood, as they have been shown decisively that management cares more about maintaining profits than keeping them alive. Everywhere around the country, drivers and warehouse workers are struggling to maintain pace amongst a hiring shortage and horrible weather conditions, often with no climate controls in facilities or trucks. The most tragic case is the death of 24-year-old Esteban Chavez in Pasadena, Calif., earlier this summer.
Following Chavez’s death in June, Ben Douglass told the Insider journal that he and his coworkers in New York were concerned, and that union members were fighting for better safety. “There’s a constant pressure on drivers to meet the quotas and try to deliver everything that’s put on the truck,” Douglass said. “I don’t think UPS management prioritizes safety.”
Organizing in solidarity with the fired workers has already begun with a well-publicized social media campaign finding supporters throughout the whole labor movement. Teamster locals and other unions and workers are voicing their anger on Twitter, Instagram, and around the whole internet. The official Teamster account has shared solidarity with Ben and Rob and are positioning for a real response. A recent example of how UPS employees are fighting against these attacks was the December action in Chicago by members of Local 705, who carried out a work action and demonstration of over 150 workers.
Workers’ Voice stands for the rights of all workers to organize and calls for the immediate rehiring of Ben and Rob!
Photo: Fired UPS worker Ben Douglass (from Left Voice / Facebook)
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