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Teamsters Score 3-to-1 Election Victory in Nearly Union-Free Industry

The 46-to-15 vote is a major step forward in the Teamsters' campaign to transform the overwhelmingly nonunion port trucking industry.

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“They try to find to find out who is pro, who is against…There’s a lot of people that are scared about the fight, because knowing about how bad the economy is now, everybody needs a job to feed their families.”

In an e-mailed statement, Toll did not address the pending NLRB complaint, but noted that some of the union’s NLRB charges have been withdrawn or dismissed, and that the NLRB has not so far issued any final verdicts against the company. Toll touted its wages and benefits as “competitive” and “among the best in the industry."

International solidarity in action

Since early in the campaign, U.S. workers’ campaign against Melbourne-based Toll has been backed by Australia’s Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents 12,000 Toll workers. TWU members made repeated visits to Los Angeles, including a delegation of Australian Toll employees led by TWU President Tony Shelton last month. 

TWU says that Australian workers have good working conditions and constructive labor relations with the company.  The Age’s Maiden wrote of the company’s U.S. workers, “by our standards, they get a pittance.” But Sheldon  told an LA crowd that if Toll succeeded in busting the union in the U.S., Australian workers would be threatened as well.  "When America makes a decision, Australia soon follows."  

"If they want to fuck with you," TWU Senior Official Michael Aird  told a group of U.S. workers, "if they want to treat you with this sort of disrespect, then there will be a consequence for them."  TWU helped spearhead outreach to Australian media and politicians, making Toll's U.S. labor relations a national story in Australia. The Australians’ involvement contradicts a common stereotype of international labor solidarity as an act of charity, granted by Americans to workers elsewhere.

U.S. workers, including Quinteno, also visited TWU workers Australia. He says that after seeing the conditions there, “I thought, hey, if they have the royal treatment, why don’t we?”  Having TWU members’ support, says Quinteno, “gives us a lot of hope…it gives us the strength to continue our fight.”

"I didn't come to this country to be treated like an animal just because of my background," says Vallecillo.  He and half a dozen co-workers formed a committee of union leaders at work.  "We had rallies against the company..." says Vallecillo.  "We talk to the drivers.  We tell them this company is trying to scare them...we tell them we can't lose."

In February (for  Alternet) I asked TJ Michels, a spokesperson for Change to Win, the labor federation that includes the Teamsters, why the union was pursuing an NLRB election despite Toll’s alleged law-breaking and the weakness of U.S. labor law.  Michels said that while workers would have preferred “a fair process”, and knew the election would be “like going through a meat grinder,” they decided they were ready for it.  The workers received support from TWU, port truck drivers in other cities, U.S. and Australian politicians, and a team of community monitors that interviewed workers and reported on the company’s anti-union campaign.

If Wednesday’s victory represents a turning point for port truck drivers, it may be less as a legal amulet than as a show of strength and solidarity. Roughly half of workers who win union elections are without a contract a year later, in part because U.S. law offers employers ample opportunity to challenge or stall election results and offers no requirement that companies make concessions in negotiations or submit to arbitration. 

But the government-certified 3-to-1 victory is likely to draw notice from currently misclassified drivers elsewhere in the United State, by U.S. politicians unions will push to address misclassification, and by media, customers, and workers in Australia, where Toll doesn’t have a reputation for bare-knuckled union-busting.

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