A Union Buster Strikes Out

drivers

Teamster president James Hoffa (in the center) with Toll drivers in March. (Change to Win)

On April 11, port truck drivers working for Australian transportation conglomerate Toll voted by a 3-1 margin to join the Teamsters. They were the first port truck drivers in a generation to vote to unionize, giving hope to the 11,000 other drivers in the region trying to improve their generally miserable working conditions. (See video below.)

The victory came despite the efforts of Joseph Brock, a former Teamster turned anti-union consultant parachuted in by Toll to discourage workers from organizing. Union busters have become a standard feature of contemporary union organizing, trading on intimidation, false promises and even illegal firings.

Brock’s message was a well-worn one – unions are like businesses, they are only looking for dues, they ignore or misrepresent their members and so on. But he wasn’t a slick attorney in a suit or a browbeating manager. The fact that he’d been a union official for over a decade and came from a die-hard union family was supposed to carry weight with Toll drivers.

It didn’t. Maybe some of the drivers were turned off by the fact that Brock was using his past to help employers break organizing campaigns and bust unions. Or perhaps he lost credibility when the drivers found out that his work as an anti-union crusader was not stopping him from receiving a pension from his time as a union member and another from his tenure as a union official. During one captive-audience meeting in which Toll  employees learned of Brock’s multiple union pensions, a driver told Brock that Toll drivers would rather have the chance to be anti-union with a pension than anti-union without one.

francisco cendejasIn the end, Toll employees saw through Brock’s pitch because they understood that the decision they made to form a union and join a powerful organization of millions of other workers like them was a democratic one. They ultimately had more faith in themselves and the potential that union membership has to change their lives than they did in the warnings of a high-priced consultant.

Brock, meanwhile, has probably moved on, not thinking a second more about Toll drivers and looking for suckers willing to pay big money for stock stump speeches and corny videos.

Francisco Cendejas
The Frying Pan 

Published by the LA Progressive on April 19, 2012
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About Francisco Cendejas

Francisco joined LAANE in 2010 as an Analyst on the Clean and Safe Ports Project. Prior to joining LAANE he’d worked in the labor movement for 5 years, both as an Organizer and as a Researcher. Francisco attended Stanford University and received a BS with Honors from the Science, Technology, and Society program, and a minor degree in Urban Studies. He wrote his thesis on the utilization of internet-based media by labor unions. A life-long Southern-Californian, he lives in City Terrace, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles.