Labour Rights and Solidarity In NAFTA Renegotiation

by James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and François Laporte, President, Teamsters Canada. Originally published here.

 
NAFTA talks start in Washington, D.C. today on an ambitious schedule to come up with a “modernized” agreement by the end of the year. The Teamsters Union will be tracking them closely. As North America’s transportation union, our members on the roads and rails, in warehouses and ports from coast to coast, depend on trade for their livelihoods. The livelihoods of Teamster members in bakeries, breweries and the dairy industry also depend on a stable trade relationship. Teamsters are pro-trade – but we want fair trade.

First, we remind negotiators from both countries of the importance of Canada-U.S. trade. Contrary to what some may believe, there is no significant trade imbalance between our two nations. In fact, we are each other’s biggest customers – 64 percent of all Canadian trade is with the U.S., and 48 U.S. states count Canada as one of their largest export markets. Last year, the United States exported more to Canada than any other country. It’s why we believe NAFTA renegotiations must not inadvertently disrupt our trade relationship – a belief shared by our governments and most business stakeholders.

That said, we also remind the new NAFTA negotiators why Teamsters opposed the original agreement a generation ago and why we have opposed its expansion in numerous trade deals since – most recently in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Simply put, the NAFTA model does not work for workers. Instead, it subordinates their interests to the bottom-line profit motives of multinational corporations, suppresses wages and labour standards, and contributes to rising inequality. We welcome NAFTA renegotiation and, on behalf of our 1.4 million members, we will engage with our governments to upgrade this flawed and failed “free trade” model.

This starts with the inclusion of a new Labour Chapter to replace the original ineffective side agreement. New and enforceable provisions that protect workers’ right to organize will be central to the success of and a precondition to our support for NAFTA modernization. The elements of an effective Labour Chapter are straightforward:

  Substantive worker protections that are grounded in the core conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) forbidding child and forced labour and protecting the freedom of association and collective bargaining;

  Sanctions for violations of those substantive protections that are at least as rigorous as those that protect commercial interests, and include denial of benefits under the agreement;

  A new and independent labour secretariat to investigate violations and help raise labour standards throughout North America; and

  The fundamental stipulation that the wages and working conditions of all workers always affect international commerce, so that enforcement and remediation are not avoided under the pretext that violations are not trade-related.

As the new NAFTA talks progress over the next several months, state and provincial Teamster leaders will speak out on other, thornier issues that are important to our members.

We will oppose including dairy market access in the new NAFTA, noting that it was kept off the table in the original agreement. We will also make the case that cross-border long-haul trucking commitments should not undermine highway safety or damage the border environment. But for now, at the start of the first round of formal negotiations, we respectfully demand a new approach and new attention to the larger expectations of workers throughout North America.

Finally, real reform towards a pro-worker NAFTA replacement model that we can support is achievable only if the negotiation process is open and inclusive. We urge our governments to share the negotiating texts after each round of talks with Parliament, Congress, the labour movement in all three countries, with civil society stakeholders and the public at large. Standing ready to support the best instincts of the Trump and Trudeau trade teams to make NAFTA work for workers, the Teamsters Union urges that negotiations be democratic and transparent.

 
Toronto, July 27th 2017 – Over 700 workers employed by Swissport at Pearson Airport walked off the job tonight at 9:30 pm. The workers handle baggage and cargo, tow planes, clean cabins, and perform flight operations tasks for over 30 airlines. The company’s uncompromising attitude and disrespect for workers are directly responsible for this labour dispute.

“We tried our best to reach an acceptable agreement with the company. Swissport just wasn’t interested,” explained Harjinder Badial, vice-president of Teamsters Local Union 419, which represents Swissport staff.

Badial regrets that passengers will likely have to deal with lost luggage, significant delays and flight cancellations at Pearson. “We spent weeks trying to avoid getting to this point. Sadly, the company is insisting on forcing a bad deal on workers.”

Swissport is attempting to impose a 3-year wage freeze on the majority of their workers.

The company also wants staff to work a minimum of 30 hours a week to qualify for full benefits. However, workers’ drug, health, and dental coverage should not depend on volatile weekly schedules.

Finally, the employer is asking for more “flexibility”. They want the right to change schedules with 96 hours advance notice. That means workers would no longer have stable, predictable schedules. People should be able to plan their lives more than four days in advance.

Swissport Scabs

Swissport recently brought in hundreds of untrained, inexperienced temporary agency workers. The company told journalists that they were there to help handle the summer travel rush.

But Swissport VP of Operations, Pierre Payette, told the union’s bargaining team a different story over the weekend. He said that “the temps would be gone” as soon as a new collective agreement was ratified by members.

At that point, it became clear that the agency workers were actually strikebreakers. Their purpose is not to handle a summer travel rush, but to attempt to continue operations in the event of a strike.

“We’re shocked at how Swissport is willing to sacrifice airport safety and jeopardize travel plans to gain an upper hand at the barraging table,” said Badial. “We have no idea how Pearson will be able to operate safely and normally with this crew.”

To safely work in sensitive areas of the airport, baggage handlers normally require 3 to 4 weeks of training. The temp workers only received 3 to 4 days of training. This has already led to several accidents, injuries, and cases of lost luggage. In one case, they even damaged a plane.

Moreover, it is unclear how hundreds of agency workers were able to pass airport staff background checks so quickly. These normally take 3 to 6 months.

Swissport butted heads with the union over safety in the past. Over the past few months, the company threatened to discipline workers who refused to work due to health and safety concerns. When the chief steward complained, the company threatened to remove his Restricted Area Identity Card (RAIC), which is tantamount to firing.

The last collective agreement expired on July 23, 2017

Teamsters represent 125,000 members in Canada in all industries. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with which Teamsters Canada is affiliated, has 1.4 million members in North America.

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Information:

Christopher Monette
Director of Communications, Web & Social Media
Teamsters Canada
Cell: 514-226-6002
cmonette@teamsters.ca

Laval, July 25, 2017 — The strike at the Sleeman-Unibroue plant in Chambly is over. The agreement in principle reached between the parties last Thursday was ratified this weekend by the 80 or so workers affiliated with Teamsters Local Union 931.

Management’s overtime demand, which was the main bone of contention between union members and plant management, was ultimately withdrawn. The employer has also agreed to improve labour relations, which have been acrimonious for several years.

The new collective agreement, which will be in effect for the next 5 years, meets the expectations of the parties. The workers will get a 6.5% wage increase for the contract period.

“Our members wanted to be respected, and our discussions with the employer before the arbitrator last week indicate that we are going in the right direction,” explained Teamsters Local Union 931 president, Gerry Boutin. “I think that this is an important victory for our members who were looking for long-term industrial peace.”

The workers will gradually be going back to work this week. The labour dispute lasted a total of 7 weeks.

“I would like to thank the members for their patience and their solidarity,” said the union leader. “I would also like to congratulate the members of the Negotiation Committee, headed by Jacques Perron. Jacques did a tremendous job.”

Teamsters represent 125,000 members in Canada in all industries, including thousands of workers in the brewery industry. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with which Teamsters Canada is affiliated, has 1.4 million members in North America.

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Information:

Stéphane Lacroix, Director of Public Relations
Cell: 514 609-5101
slacroix@teamsters.ca

Toronto, July 17 2017 – Baggage handling company Swissport hired close to 250 untrained temporary workers at Pearson International Airport. Teamsters Local Union 419, which represents regular baggage handling workers, is concerned that this may have compromised safety at the airport.

To safely work in sensitive areas of the airport, baggage handling workers normally require 3 to 4 weeks of training. The temp workers only received 3 to 4 days.

“The untrained temporary workers have already been involved in accidents and injuries,” explained Harjinder Badial, Vice-President at Local Union 419. “This is more serious than lost luggage.”

In one instance, temporary workers left a ladder leaning against a parked plane, damaging the aircraft. In another instance, baggage destined for a plane was left unattended inside the terminal as the aircraft departed.

The union filed a formal complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

Pressure tactics

The use of untrained temporary workers is likely intended to put pressure on the union. Both sides are currently negotiating a new collective agreement for workers. Contract talks are set to resume on Friday, July 21.

“We’re concerned that Swissport is willing to sacrifice airport safety to gain an upper hand at the bargaining table,” explained Badial. “Despite the company’s attitude, we remain committed to negotiating in fairness and good faith.”

Swissport employs close to 700 members of Teamsters Local Union 419. They perform tasks such as towing planes, cabin cleaning, flight operations and cargo and baggage handling. The current set of negotiations covers all 700 workers.

Teamsters represent 125,000 members in Canada in all industries. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with which Teamsters Canada is affiliated, has 1.4 million members in North America.

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Information:

Christopher Monette
Director of Communications, Web & Social Media
Teamsters Canada
Cell: 514-226-6002
cmonette@teamsters.ca

Close to 25 workers at Carillion Canada joined Teamsters Local Union 419 in Toronto, Ontario. These healthcare workers are in the Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex, located beside the Humber River Hospital which currently employs 900 members of Teamsters 419!

The Carillion staff was seeking better wages, and a strong union to put an end to problems like favoritism in the workplace and a generalized lack of respect from management.

Teamsters won the union representation vote, which took place earlier this week, by over 90%

“I would like to thank Teamsters Canada Organizer Fitos Vritsios for his hard work on this campaign,” added Brian Lawrence, President, Local Union 419.

Interested in joining the Teamsters? Click here to have an organizer get in touch with you. All information is treated confidentially.

This was the letter François Laporte, the President of Teamsters Canada, sent on Tuesday to Canadian local unions on the issue of Bill C-4.

Sisters, brothers,

Good news out of Ottawa.

Bill C-4, which restores automatic card-check certification for federally regulated workers, passed and will officially come into force on Friday. This is a major victory for workers. People can now once again safely form unions, unbeknownst to unfair and sometimes abusive employers.

As you know, automatic card check certification (often simply called ‘card check’) allows workers to automatically form a union when a majority of their colleagues sign a union membership card.

In 2014, the old Conservative government introduced a new system, which forced a vote to take place after workers had signed their cards. Employers were notified in advance of votes, giving them time to launch anti-union campaigns in the workplace.

This was incredibly wrong – it meant that workers could face retaliation for exercising their democratic right to join a union.

Later, we learnt that the Conservatives had studies showing that getting rid of card check was one of the best ways to weaken unions in the private sector.

C-4 also repeals a series of Conservative measures which were designed to drown unions in red tape and to force us to publicly disclose our members’ personal information. Luckily, these measures never actually came into force.

Restoring card check and repealing union-busting Conservative laws were major Liberal campaign promises. I would like to thank Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, MP Rodger Cuzner, and Senator Diane Bellemare for their tireless work on this issue.

In solidarity,

François Laporte
President
Teamsters Canada

Sisters, brothers,

I was saddened to learn of yesterday’s workplace shooting at a UPS warehouse in San Francisco, which took the lives of three of our fellow Teamsters.

Today, the thoughts and prayers of over 125,000 Canadian Teamster members are with the victims’ co-workers and loved ones. I would also like to wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

While we mourn our collective loss, I have no doubt in my heart that the affected members will emerge from this tragedy stronger and more united than ever.

In solidarity,

François Laporte
President
Teamsters Canada

Earlier this week, union representatives from Ontario and across the country took part in the annual Teamsters Ontario Invitational (OTI) for Variety Village, a children’s charity dedicated to making a difference in the spirits and lives of young people with disabilities and their families.

This year, Teamsters raised $108,000 for Variety Village.

“It is an honour and privilege to be able to help this charity with this cheque for $108,000.00,” wrote Randy Doner, the President of Joint Council 52, in a Facebook post. “Thanks to all those who participated. There is no greater feeling than to be able to help children.”

Being a Teamster is about more than negotiating collective agreements and taking care of grievances. It’s also about lending a hand to those in need and building up a better country. Brother Doner would like to thank the volunteers, Teamsters representatives, friends and corporate sponsors who made this tournament another great success.

Since 1989, Ontario Teamsters have donated over $1.7 million to help children facing overwhelming adversity to have the tools to achieve their dreams.

The next Ontario Teamsters Invitational is tentatively set for June 4th & 5th, 2018.

Laval, June 7, 2017 — Unacceptable offers by management and a breakdown in negotiations forced some 80 workers at Sleeman-Unibroue, a subsidiary of Sapporo, to go on strike this morning.

The workers are members of Teamsters Local Union 931.

A final offer from the company was presented at a union meeting on June 3 and was subsequently rejected by 93% of workers. The results of the vote sent a clear message to the plant’s management team.

Teamsters are currently setting up picket lines around the plant.

The main issues

Seniority rights are at the heart of the labour dispute between the Teamsters and Sleeman-Unibroue. Repeated violations of the collective agreement and issues involving overtime are also sticking points.

Achieving a work/life balance at the brewery is impossible for some workers, who are often forced to work overtime on short notice. Company managers maintain that mandatory overtime is preferable to hiring new workers to fill positions left vacant due to retirements and job cuts.

The employer is also asking for provisions in the collective agreement that would allow experienced workers to be laid off and replaced by temp workers who don’t already work for the company.

“Our members feel disrespected and that’s why they walked off the job,” explained the President of Local Union 931, Gerry Boutin. “We also want to make it clear that salaries and pensions are not an issue.”

Training is another problem. Workers have a difficult time acquiring the skills needed to operate some of the equipment, leading to health and safety concerns.

Moreover, a hostile work environment has led to over 200 grievances being filed in past months on a variety of collective agreement violations. Acrimonious labour relations unsurprisingly led to problems at the bargaining table.

On top of everything else, the company decided to install surveillance cameras throughout the brewery, violating workers’ privacy.

“Intransigent and inflexible corporate executives caused this labour dispute,” explained Boutin. “Instead of working with workers and seriously trying to resolve problems at the brewery, the company decided to go to war with their employees in what I can only describe as a lose-lose strategy.”

“Management is solely responsible for this tremendous failure.”

Background on the negotiations

Negotiations started on November 7, 2016, one month prior to the expiration of the collective agreement. After just one meeting with the employer, the Teamsters were forced to seek help from a mediator given the company’s complete disinterest in tackling the issues that were harming labour relations at the brewery.

All in all, both parties negotiated for 10 days, 9 of which were spent in the presence of a mediator, for an actual total of 8 hours of face-to-face talks.

A strike vote was held on May 13 and, in an impressive show of solidarity and unity, 90% of voting members were in favour of strike action.

The brewery, which is located in Chambly, Québec, handles popular beer brands like Sleeman, Sapporo, Blanche de Chambly, la Maudite, and la Fin du monde.

Teamsters represent 125,000 members in Canada in all industries, including thousands of workers in the brewery industry. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with which Teamsters Canada is affiliated, has 1.4 million members in North America.

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Information:

Stéphane Lacroix, Director of Public Relations
Cell: 514 609-5101
slacroix@teamsters.ca

Laval, May 30, 2017 — Workers of GardaWorld Cash Services affiliated with the Teamsters Union ratified a new collective agreement yesterday. Over 90% of members who voted were in favour of the employer’s proposal.

Truck safety was the main issue in these negotiations. The fleet of trucks will meet higher safety levels, therefore giving more protection to the workers. Teamster members are also getting wage and benefit improvements. The previous contract was due on April 30th.

“I would like to congratulate the bargaining committee, especially Owen Lane who did a tremendous job,” said Jason Sweet, Director of the Armoured Car Division of Teamsters Canada. “The members stood behind their union which gave us the strength we needed at the bargaining table.”

Local Unions 419 and 879 represent over 600 workers at GardaWorld in Ontario. The new contract will end in 2021.

The Teamsters represent 125,000 members in Canada in all industries. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with which Teamsters Canada is affiliated, has 1.4 million members in North America.

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Information:

Stéphane Lacroix, Director of Public Relations
Cell: 514-609-5101
slacroix@teamsters.ca