Teamsters Punish Lockout With Rolling Sympathy Strikes
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As for management, Whobrey says, “I wouldn’t say they’re more dug in, but I think that they’re following whatever plan of action they had from Day 1 of negotiations.”
The Teamsters have also reached out to Republic’s shareholders, contrasting the cost of pension payments with a promised death benefit for Republic’s CEO, which they say is worth $23 million. Last month the union protested outside a shareholder meeting and introduced a shareholder resolution that would have given shareholders a vote on death benefits; it failed with 41% of the vote.
Republic did not respond to a request for comment, but in interviews last month, local general manager Mark McKune described the lockout as a response to “threats of war” from the union, and the proposal to replace pensions as motivated by concerns over the pension fund’s solvency.
The Sympathy Strike Strategy
Before the National Labor Relations Act established legal collective bargaining rights within discrete bargaining units, and the Taft-Hartley Amendments banned many solidarity actions, strikes would commonly spread from one group of workers to other worksites in the industry, or to other workers in the supply chain. Today, such solidarity strikes are rare.
The Teamsters’ ability to pull them off rests in part on a “conscience clause” in some of their contracts, which specifies that workers can’t be required to work if it means crossing a picket line. (Other workers who had expired contracts have participated in solidarity strikes this year, and thus weren’t prohibited from striking.) Wherever other Teamsters – even a single one – set up a picket line, workers with a conscience clause have the right the forfeit pay and refuse work.
In March, union officials in Mobile, Alabama, credited such solidarity strikes with a big role in the contract they won at Republic. As I reported for Alternet, workers in Mobile struck for eight days after alleging that Republic was attempting to back out of already agreed-upon provisions in tentative contract agreements. During that strike, workers in three other cities refused work for days at a time.
“I think it’s awesome,” Mobile striker Michael McLean said during the strike. “It shows that the brotherhood is strong, wherever you’re at.”
Reviving the Strike author and In These Times contributor Joe Burns observed at the time that “The Teamsters are relatively rare within the labor movement” because their contracts protect “the ability to honor picket lines.” Burns, a negotiator for the Association of Flight Attendants, said that while there are “plenty of examples within the Teamsters of conservative trade union officials choosing not to honor picket lines,” overall the Teamsters “still have that culture of solidarity within their union that’s been lost by a lot of unions” barred from such actions.
But there are limits to the tactic. While Mobile workers told me during their strike that they’d welcome the chance to show reciprocal solidarity, their contract has no conscience clause, and so they’d be bound by the “No strike” clause of their current contract even if Evansville workers showed up to picket.
“We’ve brought it up,” in negotiations, says Levon “Rooster” Lindsey, a business representative for Mobile-based Teamsters Local 991. "The company’s never even offered to accept that language. But it’s something, looking forward, that we’re looking to get.” Lindsey was interviewed while in Evansville, where he was meeting with locked-out workers to share stories from the Mobile victory.
Barred from striking, workers in Mobile and elsewhere have taken less disruptive acts of solidarity, including wearing stickers that say “Stop Trashing Our Contract.” Lindsey says Mobile workers may do informational pickets at the Mobile facility, in which union members show up early before their shift and demonstrate outside the plant during non-work time.