2001: The JeffBoat workers wildcat strike

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Workers at JeffBoat, the United States' largest inland shipyard located in on the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana, went on wildcat strike on April 30th, 2001. JeffBoat workers were presented with a contract proposal that set them back on every point and gave their union, Teamsters Local 89, the power to make deals with the company without the members' consent. Officials at Local 89 attempted to intimidate JeffBoat workers into ratifying the contract. When JeffBoat workers rejected the contract proposal by a five-to-one margin, Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman announced--after all but twenty workers had left--that he would not sanction the strike. Union officials and office staff were instructed to call workers' at home and demand they report to work as usual or face penalties.

Several JeffBoat workers refused to enter the shipyard and started an unsanctioned picket line. Other workers joined in and by lunchtime there was a total walkout at JeffBoat shipyard. That afternoon JeffBoat workers packed Local 89 demanding an answer from President Zuckerman who now claims a "clerical mistake" has resulted in a year-long extension of JeffBoat workers' contract.

The wildcat strike at JeffBoat had begun.

These texts taken from www.iww.org

Image from http://www.m-f-d.org/topic/20.000244.vxvh.php


May 1 - Teamsters local 89 tries to break strike

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

TEAMSTERS LOCAL 89 TRIES TO BREAK STRIKE AT JEFFBOAT SHIPYARD, By Harold J. Adams, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 1, 2001

Hundreds of employees who went on strike at Jeffboat yesterday after rejecting a contract endorsed by their union leaders are being urged by both the union and management to return to work.

Because of a union oversight, the workers were told, they aren't allowed to strike at this point.

Most of the day shift didn't report to work yesterday. And most who did ultimately walked out, Jeffboat spokesman James Adams confirmed. Jeffboat, which makes barges at its Jeffersonville, Ind., boat yard, has about 750 union workers, Adams said. Many of them were angry and confused after their union, Teamsters Local 89, told them that it did not authorize their strike.

That news was delivered to hundreds of workers who gathered for an often boisterous session at the union hall in Louisville's South End, part of which was attended by a Courier-Journal reporter before he was asked to leave.

Their three-year contract with Jeffboat had expired at midnight Sunday, hours after the workers voted to reject the company's "last, best and final" contract offer. Many said they thought they were then authorized to strike.

But yesterday union leaders told them they could not strike because the just-expired contract has been extended for a year due to an oversight by the union. The contract calls for an automatic extension unless one side notifies the other in writing 60 days before the expiration date that it wants to negotiate a different agreement. Local 89 leaders said they missed that deadline by one day.

"There was an agreed-upon deadline in the contract, and the conditions of that contract were not met," Adams said in an interview.

Union leaders and the company are continuing to talk. Meanwhile, "the union is urging employees to resume working," said Irwin "Buddy" Cutler, an attorney for Local 89.

Those who don't return to work will not receive the strike pay they would get under an authorized pullout, Cutler said. "At this point there is not an authorized strike," he said.

Adams said continued absences will be treated as called for in the extended contract. That means workers will be penalized points for absences, and once they reach a certain point level they will be fired.

"Both the company and the union expect employees to report for their regularly scheduled shifts," read a press release issued by Jeffboat yesterday.

Many at the union hall weren't in a mood to do that. Some were as angry with their leaders as they were dissatisfied with the "last, best and final" offer from Jeffboat. Some signed a petition calling for a new union.

"They're out," said welder Greg Walker, speaking of the Teamsters. "They're not working for us."

"The union got paid. They sold us out," several other workers shouted.

But others defended the union. "Without this union where would we go for help?" asked one, Gary Riggs. "My gut feeling is the union has not intentionally set out to hamstring the people from Jeffboat."

A union news release stressed that Local 89 "is doing everything possible to get a fair contract for these workers." Meanwhile, the company said that "Jeffboat is open for business" as the two sides continue to discuss the situation.

But the usually busy construction cranes stood still in silent testimony to the absence of workers at the boat yard between East Market Street and the Ohio River yesterday. Dozens of picketers, chanting and holding handmade signs asking for support of the strike, drew honks from passing motorists.

On the picket line across from Jeffboat, strikers complained that the contract they rejected didn't offer enough of a pay raise. "They only wanted to offer 12 percent over three years," complained welder Lisa Sweeney. She said much of that would be eaten up by a 14 percent increase in health insurance premiums.

Several complained about hazardous working conditions, rolling up their sleeves to reveal multiple scars they said came from repeated welding burns.

Cedric Riley, a welder who has worked at Jeffboat for six years, complained about what workers see as an overly strict point system for absences and scrutiny of workers. "Anytime you get hurt you get a drug test. Anytime you have to go see a doctor for anything you get a drug test," he said.

Adams said the company is focused on working with the union. "We believe we put together a fair and comprehensive package," he said.


May 3 - Day four of the JeffBoat wildcat

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Day Four of the JeffBoat Wildcat, by a Louisville IWW Member at Jeffboat, May 3, 2001
It's Thursday afternoon, the fourth day of the wildcat strike at JeffBoat. All lines are holding strong.

Yesterday many workers received two letters in the mail; one from Zuckerman, the other from Bob Greene. Both letters ordered us back to work as well as talking to us like we were dogs and, at times, very stupid children. Folks on the picket lines were passing the letters around and discussing them. To counter these letters, someone wrote responses last night, made several hundred copies and distributed them among workers on the lines. A copy of each has been sent to Zuckerman and Greene.

I have copied the workers' response letters below. I hope you enjoy. The hard copy of these letters ape the font and even the verbatim of many sentences and all the tone of the two letters sent to us workers. It's funnier to read them after reading the originals but that will have to wait. We've got photos of the originals that'll be posted on the website soon.

Louisville Food Not Bombs and IWW members gathered food from grocery stores and prepared a healthy, good-tasting late supper that feed the many folks stationed at each of the gates leading into the shipyard. Folks were delighted at the treat and we told them, "This is in repayment for your courage and strength. Thank you."

It seems police in Jeffersonville, Indiana are no longer interested in assisting JeffBoat in any way. One wildcatter quoted a high-ranking police officer as saying that he was "tired of JeffBoat's bullshit. Half of all our calls," the officer claimed, "come from those pricks complaining about somebody they're fucking with."

There was absolutely no police presence at JeffBoat today.

From being on the barricade at the main gate, I can tell you that company men are carrying pistols. Several wildcatters on the moving barricade reported seeing pistols placed on the passenger seat of the vehicles driven by management. After seeing one, a barricader announced that he had taken his 9mm pistol out of his truck and left it at home. "I strongly encourage the rest of you to do the same," he said. "That's something they'll use to try and screw with us."

I left the lines earlier today and finally got some sleep. Louisville Food Not Bombs and IWW members from the area began gathering food at about 9:30 am in order to prepare a massive, free and good lunch for wildcatters.

Your phone calls and faxes and emails are really helping. We're not only putting pressure on the company and the capitalist-sucking "union," but you're honoring the brave folks who are taking a stand today. I spent from 10:30 pm to 12:30 am reading emails to folks all along the frontlines last night and this morning. People were standing very tall after what they heard.

Out of approximately 800 workers, 7 went to work today.


May 4 - Jeffboat Wildcat Still Going Strong

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Jeffboat Wildcat Still Going Strong - Daphne d'Angelo (posted to Indymedia), May 4, 2001

Jeffersonville, IN - I've spent the past four nights walking a picket line at the local shipyard. Doing the 9pm - 2am shift. I'm so tired. If you asked me two weeks ago did I think I would be turning my life upside down so I could sit outside in the middle of the night with a bunch of burly teamster guys, I would have never have believed it. The shipyard is ghostly, eerie feeling. It's oh, so empty. No clanging, banging. No cranes whirring. Just dead and silent.

Teamsters are a noble people. I usually sit quietly after I bring them donuts and coffee. Sometimes, I sit in on a hand of cards. I don't know how to play Euchre, though. Cars and trucks blow their horns when they pass by, in support of the wildcat strike.

I'm learning all kinds of vocabulary words:

Wildcat strike - A strike that is not sanctioned by the union. Which means there is no strike pay, or benefits for the workers on strike. Basically, they're on their own.

Seven hundred and fifty workers were fired on Wednesday for not reporting back to work. One woman I talked to her daughter busted her appendix on Wednesday. The woman had been up all night sitting in a restaurant parking lot, across from the shipyard, sunburned and cold, holding her own with fifteen teamster men. This morning she was told if she didn't come back to work, she was fired. She walked the picket lines, instead. Holding the gate. Only two scabs get by.

Scab - a worker who accepts employment or replaces a union worker during a strike.

The woman calls the hospital, checks on her daughter, "Baby, you need me to come by?"

"Aw, mom, I was scared, but my sisters are here, I'm not alone, and they need you more than I do. I'm all right."

So, she teaches me a card game, calls the hospital, keeps the parking lot clean, holds her sign, and loses her pay.

At least it's spring, they could be outside in the dead of winter. I am floored by their solidarity. Out of eight hundred workers, only fifty or so passed the picket line. So, the yard is shut down. There are no barges being built. Jeffboat is losing contracts, and millions of dollars. The workers realize if they keep holding the gate, keep walking the line, it will be better for everyone in the long run.

My best friend's husband is a welder. Actually, he's a painter, but that doesn't pay the bills. Come to find out, neither does being a welder. He took this difficult job so that Mona could stay home with their baby. So that they could have health insurance for their son. Their health insurance never pays for anything. It doesn't even pay for well baby checkups, so Mona hasn't taken their baby to the doctor in a year.

They have had their phone and electricity cut off because they couldn't pay the bill.

And so I sit in the lot. Monday's the big day. I'm afraid of what will happen. There's an undercurrent of violence and anger. The almighty head of the enormous teamster union is coming on Sunday to the union hall for Local 89 for a meeting. The workers hope against all odds he will say that he will sanction the strike. Which means the workers will receive a strike pay of $200 a week. And be able to keep their insurance. And will not be fired for striking. But, apparently, that's a long shot. The guys think President James P. Hoffa will basically just tell them to bend over.

So, tonight, I'll make sure I'm dressed warmly, and take them coffee, and sit and listen and absorb. I can't believe I'm so lucky to be a part of this amazing event. How did this happen? I'm a gardener. I usually spend my days looking at bugs and flowers.

DISCLAIMER - Daphne d'Angelo is not representing the IWW and this report is neither endorsed nor condemned by the organization. Furthermore, this post was appropriated from Indymedia by the IWW.ORG website administration and its inclusion here is not meant as an endorsement of the IWW by Daphne d'Angelo.


May 6 - Louisville's First May Day Celebration

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Louisville's First May Day Celebration, posted by Tim Duncan to Indymedia, May 6, 2001
Activists, organizers, musicians, poets, students and workers gathered in downtown Louisville, Ky., to celebrate the city's first May Day Festival of Resistance and to protest low wages, corporate greed and environmental destruction caused by globalization.The event kicked off at 3 p.m. with several people distributing fliers that explained the rally's purpose to people passing by Jefferson Square Park, the center of rally activities. Louisville police officers, on foot, bicycles, ATVs, and in cruisers immediately converged on the area to the point that, at times, they outnumbered the people attending the rally. As the rally got underway, police began stopping people as they headed to the rally. In one instance, approximately 20 police officers surrounded a group of 4 young men walking toward the park and threatened to arrest them if they did not provide their names and addresses. Police lied to the young men by telling them that the rally had ended, and told them they needed to "get the fuck out of downtown." The young men, however, continued to the rally where one of them informed the crowd of the incident and warned of police harassment, as the same police involved in the incident looked on. The police would later wrestle this young man to the ground, handcuff him with both metal and plastic handcuffs, and arrest him during the demonstration.

Speakers from several organizations addressed labor, environmental, law enforcement and global trade issues during the two-hour rally. Representatives of Louisville's Green Party and Jobs with Justice spoke of the connection between environmental and labor issues, as well as Louisville's growing 'living wage' campaign. An Industrial Workers of the World representative encouraged the crowd to support the ongoing Jeff Boat strike. A Citizens Against Police Abuse spokesperson warned the crowd and on-looking police that unless concerns about police abuse were addressed soon, the community was facing a 'Cincinnati-like' situation. Serpent Wisdom provided a musical set.

Police presence throughout the rally remained large and many people in the crowd commented that such measures were intended to frighten people from stopping and listening to the speakers and music. People also reported that they overheard police officers making intimidating and sarcastic comments about speakers addressing the rally. At 5:30, approximately 50 to 60 people, many carrying protest signs and led by a group holding a May Day banner, left the rally to march to a near-by Starbucks coffee shop. The police immediately mobilized and forced the marchers onto the sidewalk. Police warned demonstrators they could only walk on one side of the sidewalk and if anyone walked on the wrong side of the sidewalk or crossed the street at any other point than at a traffic light, the demonstrator would be arrested. Police surrounded protesters as they tried to keep to one side of the sidewalk and taunted them as they marched. When a ten-year old child, accompanied by his father, was frightened by the police's menancing presence and threats and began to cry, police officers sarcastically responded that he shouldn't be at the demonstration.

Protesters made three stops along the march route, at Starbucks' coffee shop, Louisville Gas and Electric headquarters, and Salomon Smith and Barney investment office. Police presence grew in numbers as the march continued and police on bicycles, in cruisers and on an ATV continued to harass and threaten demonstrators. A police 'paddywagon' also followed the demonstrators.

Demonstrators commented that the smiles and laughter of some of the police indicated that they enjoyed intimidating the marchers. Throughout the march, demonstrators complied with police instructions to remain on half of a sidewalk. Despite this attempt, when one crowded demonstrator, while attempting to stay on the side of the sidewalk, accidently brushed against a police officer the police officer warned that if he touched him again the police officer would "rip his head off."

At Starbucks, demonstrators handed out and posted fliers citing Starbucks' practice of buying coffee from plantations that used children as laborers. Louisville Gas and Electric was targeted for reaping big profits from rising utility bills, costs that especially hurt poor people. Salomon Smith and Barney was included as a stop on the march since it is the investment firm chosen to manage the International Financial Corporation's (the World Bank's financial arm) global bond issue.

As the demonstration stood in front of Salomon Smith and Barney's investment office, the police continued to squeeze demonstrators to one side of the sidewalk. When one young man placed a foot on the 'wrong' side of the sidewalk, police immediately grabbed him, forced him to the ground, handcuffed him, and shoved him into a cruiser.

When another young man reached out to assist the arrested individual he was also forced to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested. Shocked and angered demonstrators reacted to these sudden arrests by demanding to know where they could stand on the sidewalk. Police officers either didn't react or responded sarcastically. Both young men have been charged with disorderly conduct and one has been charged with hindering arrest. A group of demonstrators maintained a jail vigil until both were released at 12:30, Wednesday morning.

Organizers and demonstrators vowed that this would not be the end of demonstrations in Louisville for local and global economic justice. One demonstrator remarked that Louisville police had the opposite effect of frightening people from participating in future protests. "I'll be back," he said,"We've had Seattle, Cincinnati, Prague, and Quebec City. Now it's time to bring the struggle home."


May 7 - Letter of Solidarity to the Workers of JeffBoat from the IWW

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Letter of Solidarity to the Workers of JeffBoat from the IWW
By Joshua Freeze, Chair, IWW General Executive Board
and Alexis Buss, General Secretary-Treasurer, IWW, May 7, 2001

The IWW declares our complete support for the workers of Jeff Boat in Jeffersonville, Indiana in their fight against both their employer and their union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

We condemn the company and the union for demanding that the workers accept an inferior contract. We clearly understand this position from the company. The primary interests of an employer will always be opposed to those of the workers. The company will always do everything in its power to squeeze every last dime out those who produce their wealth. So the IWW stands with the workers.

Unfortunately, the position of the Teamsters is not a new one either. Almost 100 years ago, the IWW was created because of business unions that believed that by cooperating with owners and managers, really surrendering, they could somehow win the battle. The actions of the Teamsters Union support only Jeff Boat, not the workers. The union has betrayed the members. By acting in accord with Jeff Boat, the Teamster leaders have become bosses as well. But the IWW stands with the workers.

Make no mistake: this is a battle. There is no common ground between those who rule and those who work. Until the workers bring democracy into the workplace and into the economy as a whole, employers will continue to profit off of our injuries at work, our death at work, and simply off of our labor.

So while we condemn the actions of Jeff Boat and the Teamsters, we come with praise and congratulations to the workers. They have taken the ultimate action of a strike against the company and against a corrupt union. By taking control into their own hands, they have demonstrated that at the end of the day, the workers control the job, whenever they choose to flex their muscles.

This battle has only begun. Neither Jeff Boat nor their allies in the Teamster leadership will give up easily. Remember the power you have - the power to produce and the power to stop production in its tracks. So remain strong, and know that by standing together, the ultimate victory will belong to those who work.


May 8 - Jeffboat Strikers Back On The Job

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Jeffboat Strikers Back On The Job
Daphne d'Angelo (posted to Indymedia), May 8, 2001

Jeffersonville, IN/Louisville, KY - On Sunday night, at ten o'clock, I drive across the river to the Jeffboat shipyard. I.m not sure what I will find. I have never seen the shipyard while it is in operation. Based on earlier accounts, workers should be reporting back to work for the ten thirty shift. As I arrive at Gate 1, I don.t notice anything particularly different. Aside from one or two cars driving in the yard, there isn't a flurry of activity. I don.t even see anyone inside except a lone security guard. There are not, however, any picketers across the street. The signs on the fence have been torn down, leaving tattered corners. I notice a cop parked in the lot, where last week the workers would have been carrying their signs. As I drive past, I notice there is at least one cop car, if not two, some not marked, facing the yard at each gate.

I get out of my truck in the lot across from Gate 8, where I spent so much time last week. Someone has cleaned up. There are neatly stacked chairs, a bag of garbage. A deck of cards has been scattered by the wind across the parking lot. A jacket I loaned a cold worker last week is hanging on the back of one of the chairs. The only lonely evidence something monumental ever happened.

Last week, seven hundred and fifty union teamsters walked out on their jobs and held the longest wildcat strike in the company's history, paralyzing Jeffboat. Less than one percent of union scabs dared cross the line. Because of a Teamster Union "clerical error", their contract rolled over for another year. The strike was also not sanctioned. Jeffboat placed calls to their workers informing them if they did not return to work, they would be fired. Then the backpedaling began.

Sunday morning, April 6th, there was a meeting held at the Local 89. It was reported that Teamster Union President James P. Hoffa would attend. He didn't bother to come, and sent Central Region Vice President, Walt Lytle, instead. The teamster big wigs arrived with a "special security" team. Five hundred and twenty four union workers showed up, and also brought along their own special security. As one worker put it, "fat, white men with bulges in their pockets". There were policemen there, as well. There were also around twenty to twenty-five picketers from all over the country, standing outside in the humidity.

Mr. Lytle started the meeting by saying, "You are not going to like what I have to say...", and tried to make the workers place a new vote on the recently proposed contract. The same contract the workers voted down last week. He informed the workers if they accepted the new proposal, then everything would be over, and they could go back to work. If they didn't, then they would have to work under the old contract for another year, and there would be a "sweet deal" worked out a month from now.

Yeah, I really don't understand what that means, either.

Before casting their votes, which should have been secret ballot, several workers marched to the front of the room and upended the ballot box, to make sure it was empty. Each worker voted, and before placing their ticket in the box, turned and showed the rest of the workers their vote. Five hundred teamsters voted nay, twenty three voted yay, and one voted "Fuck You".

After voting, a motion was made from the workers to oust Local 89 Teamster President Fred Zuckerman and Business Manager Jeff Cooper. The motion was seconded, and thirded. Mr. Lytle tried to ignore the motion on the floor, but could not. It is yet to be seen whether or not Zuckerman and Cooper will indeed be dislodged.

The meeting wrapped up with workers agreeing to go back to work under the old contract, for another year, providing, of course, that negotiations continue.

So, under a full moon, Sunday night, I find myself in a convenient store across from Jeffboat. There were several Jeffboat employees grabbing a last cup of coffee, or a snack, before reporting for work. I asked them how they felt about the strike, and the aftermath. Two men said they feel like they were cheated out of a year's worth of raises that they have worked hard for. They feel as though they have no union representation, and they hold the union responsible. They didn't understand why the union didn't sanction the strike, and took that as proof that the Teamster Union and Jeffboat are working together, that "the Company has the Union by the balls". They were very despondent. The other workers who did not want to talk to me, listened nonetheless, and nodded their heads in agreement.

I left Jeffboat feeling very sad for them. However, Monday afternoon I spoke with two people who work the day shift. They reported a different mood among the employees. One worker I spoke with said she was glad no one was going to be fired and feels there is more solidarity in the yard. She was really proud they all stuck together. She did feel as if "the company raped us". She also thought the "clerical error" was a deliberate move by the Teamster officials. She wondered how they could miss a very obvious deadline. She also did not understand why they did not go ahead and sanction the strike, and feels Hoffa has received very bad PR because of all this.

Another worker agreed and said he felt great about how strong everyone was, and there was still a feeling of solidarity. He was happy to go back to work, but not happy with Jeffboat. He feels the workers will continue to hold out for the next year and maintain control. A Worker's Defense Committee has been formed to deal with problems at the worksite. He also pointed out that Vane Brothers has just signed a new contract with Jeffboat for two new ocean going tankers. And since it typically takes sixteen months to complete a tanker, he didn't think Jeffboat would want a huge labor dispute in a year, before they could be finished.

There is now talk among the workers of voting out the all powerful Teamster Union. It is reported that of the six or seven union scabs who dared cross the picket line, one had his windows broken out of his truck, and one had to be moved to another area because of harassment.

I am very interested to see where this goes. I, too, am happy the workers are back at work. I also feel that this is long from over.

DISCLAIMER - Daphne d'Angelo is not representing the IWW and this report is neither endorsed nor condemned by the organization. Furthermore, this post was appropriated from Indymedia by the IWW.ORG website administration and its inclusion here is not meant as an endorsement of the IWW by Daphne d'Angelo


May 12 - The IWW Presence at JeffBoat

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

The IWW Presence at Jeffboat - By x347685, May 12, 2001
Before dawn on Monday, April 30, four IWW members arrived at Gate 8 of JeffBoat shipyard. Two of the Wobblies walked along the sidewalk across from the gate while another Wobbly flashed his sign at oncoming traffic. Workers drove into the adjacent parking lot and, upon seeing the picket line the Wobblies had formed, decided to postpone clocking in and instead to talk to each other about what to do. Soon another worker joined the wobblies and then another. The United States's MayDay wildcat strike had begun.

By midday the wildcat picket lines were packed and standing strong. Workers inside the shipyard could not get out because the gates were locked and many shook the chain link fence that held them back from their fellow workers on the line. At lunch, when the gates were opened, these trapped workers joined the picket lines and a total walkout occurred at JeffBoat.

Monday afternoon angry workers on the wildcat picket lines jumped in their cars and filled the backs of pickup trucks in a caravan to their union hall, Teamsters Local 89. They were going to demand to speak to Local 89 President, Fred Zuckerman. They had a bone to pick with him.

To understand what lead to this wildcat strike, you'd have to look at the history of organized labor at JeffBoat. Several decades ago, JeffBoat workers fought against their corrupt business union, Teamsters Local 65. After much work, they were able to get a new local and a new hope by switching to Teamsters Local 89. But the problems with business union corruption continued, and even worsened. Local 89 has threatened to ratify contracts against union members' demands. Local 89 business agents have literally tossed coins over workers' jobs and fallen asleep during grievance hearings. There is no pressure from the local to enforce serious safety precautions or to insure workers' health. The local does nothing as the company postpones medical treatment to workers until they can be drug tested. The local has repeatedly denied strike benefits to workers.

Two years ago Wobblies in the shipyard began trying to organize to help workers change some of these things. An IWW shipbuilders branch was formed to talk about working conditions. There were walk offs and area-specific slowdowns and gradually a few important changes began to occur. For instance, workers were no longer required to work if lightening was flashing overhead. This is very important since JeffBoat workers are standing on or crawling through sheet steel and using high voltage electrical equipment. In fact, many workers used direct action and simply began walking away from their job if rain fell it all. These victories the Wobblies assisted with and the attitude these wins produced set the foundation for the events of the first week of May, 2001.

On April 29, workers gathered in the meeting hall of Local 89 to vote on JeffBoat management's contract proposal. Up until this time, workers were not allowed by the Teamsters to see the contract proposal and what they did see came as a shock. There was a minuscule rise in wages but a greater rise in insurance payments, a change of the contract date from late April in the busy season to late September in the slow season (these seasonal differences mean workers are at an advantage or disadvantage in collective bargaining with the company) and, worst of all, a section of the contract that stated that the business agent and the company were free to change the contract at will if only they put the change in writing.

Teamster officials demanded the workers sign the contract as it was "the best you're gonna get." There were shouts and cussing and nearly a riot as Teamster officials tried to strong arm workers, but a vote was taken and the result was over 4-to-1 opposition to the new contract. Teamster officials told workers that a picket schedule would soon be in place and they would be receiving their strike benefits after the following Friday.

When all but twenty workers had left the union hall, Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman declared that he would not sanction the strike. That evening, workers received phone calls from the union hall telling them that the strike was not sanctioned and demanding that they report to work in the morning or face disciplinary action.

When wildcatting workers piled into the union hall Monday afternoon President Zuckerman told them that a "clerical error" had resulted in their old contract being extended for another year. He told workers that they must return to work or there was "nothing the union could do to help them."

The wildcat held strong throughout the week. Some workers brought out guitars, harmonicas and amplifiers and serenaded the picket lines. A barbecue was set up. Louisville Food Not Bombs and Louisville IWW worked long hours each day gathering enormous amounts of food, preparing it, and serving it to the strikers. Pizza parlors and other local businesses sent food to the striking workers. The half mile of sidewalk running parallel to JeffBoat shipyard became a leaderless, street festival where workers of a number of races and ethnicities, men and women, young and old, stood beside one another. There was not one incidence of violence the entire week.

Workers for other businesses refused to betray their brothers and sisters on the picket lines. A Teamster driver from California would not enter the shipyard to deliver his cargo of welding rods. UPS drivers refused to make any deliveries to JeffBoat during the strike. Interestingly, Jeffersonville police and sheriff's department refrained from taking action against the illegal strikers. Police in Jeffersonville have been working without a contract for two years and they suffer from low wages and terrible working conditions including long hours. They are also used by JeffBoat management to enforce company policies. As one high-ranking officer said, "Half of our calls come from JeffBoat, and we're sick of their bullshit." JeffBoat management is reported to have called the mayor's office to complain about officers flashing their lights and sounding their sirens in support of strikers. After Tuesday, there was no law enforcement presence at the scene of the wildcat.

President Zuckerman called for a meeting on Sunday morning, May 6. Approximately 450 workers filled the union hall while outside a couple of dozen wobblies distributed flyers and held a huge banner reading, "An Injury to One is An Injury to All." Inside the union hall, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Senior Vice President Walt Lytle tried to strong arm JeffBoat workers into revoting and accepting the contract they rejected a week earlier. Walt was clearly not in control of the meeting as workers took to the microphone demanding the Teamsters be thrown out and telling how sick they were to have to listen to new lies. A vote was taken and the contract was once again rejected, this time by 18-to-one with one person voting, "Fuck you."

After talking among themselves, JeffBoat strikers decided that their interests would be best served by returning to work Monday May 7 under the old contract. Returning to work under, they claimed, would put both the Teamsters--or "Schemesters," as many workers are calling them--and the company over a barrel. Workers claim that the Teamsters have already been paid to deliver them to JeffBoat management under a new contract. JeffBoat itself needs the new contract in particular because of the new contract date which is included in the agreement. JeffBoat has just signed a multimillion dollar deal which extends through the early autumn of 2002. The old contract would expire on April 29, 2002, which would place a major labor dispute right in the middle of work on the new 30 million dollar deal.

Some JeffBoat workers met Sunday after the meeting at the Teamster union hall to discuss how to take the wildcat back into the shipyard. Members of the IWW's General Executive Board spoke and the strikers formed a Workers' Defense Committee which is now active within the gates.

What the future holds for these workers is uncertain, though it is clear the fight is far from over. JeffBoat workers have learned a serious lesson about their strength and what working people can do if they do not rely on leaders, or the crippling practices of business unionism. Almost all workers at JeffBoat agree that the Teamsters must go and over 400 signed a decertification petition on the picket lines. Many of the workers are talking about looking into a union that is not affiliated with the corruption of the AFL-CIO. Quite a few are talking about the IWW.

What is certain is that JeffBoat workers, on their own, became a union and acted like one.


May 19 - Joshua DeVries and Tim Russ, Labor Notes

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Joshua DeVries and Tim Russ, Labor Notes, May 19, 2001

A weeklong wildcat at the largest inland shipyard in the world ended May 7. Strikers returned to work at the massive Jeffboat facility in Jeffersonville, Indiana with a guarantee of no recriminations.

This brave action was the result of unsafe working conditions reaching the boiling point. One example: management expects electrical workers to work in the rain. Rank and file workers had organized for months for a better contract, demanding $5 over three years. They were aiming high, and willing to back up their demands with action.

The Jeffboat workers, members of Teamsters Local 89, build and repair huge river barges across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky.

An impressive 99 percent of the 800 workers honored the picket line, set up by Jeffboat workers who are also members of the Industrial Workers of the World. To avoid any confusion over whether the strike was officially authorized, picket signs read "Don't Drink Milk!" Neither Teamster officials nor Jeffboat management were able to force workers to accept their final offer.


On April 30, over 500 members packed their union hall to hear local president Fred Zuckerman recommend management's substandard last and final offer. They rejected it 4 to 1. Under Teamster rules, a strike is automatically authorized when a final offer is rejected.

That's when Zuckerman informed the workers that the union could not call a strike because of a "clerical error" made two months earlier. The contract's duration clause required that the union or the employer notify the other party if they wanted the contract to expire. The union claimed that they had done so on the 59th day and the employer had refused. For two months the union had bargained knowing they had no credible strike threat, while the rank and file were kept in the dark. The company had been seeking a long agreement, to guarantee stability because of a contract for new work it had received recently.

The workers were left with the option of obeying or taking matters into their own hands. Monday morning, May 1, a handful of IWW members who work in the yard put up a picket at one of the five entrances. No one crossed the line at that gate, and when the workers inside found out there was a strike line, they left and Jeffboat was completely shut down. During the week, fewer than ten workers scabbed.

At a meeting on May 7, again with over 500 members present, the IBT leadership put the rejected offer to the membership once more. This time it was voted down 16-to-1. It didn't look as though a continued strike could make gains at that point, so the workers ended it, but with a commitment to carry the struggle into the shop. They will continue to work under the one-year extension of the old contract.


Workers' demands are twofold, those directed at the union and those at the company.

To the union, the demands center around democracy. Workers want to elect their business agent and the negotiating committee, by areas in the yard. They want to democratically decide on demands and to get regular reports from the committee. They also want strike pay for the week they were out.

It is unlikely that the union will provide strike pay for an unsanctioned strike. The other issues may also be difficult to resolve in the short term, since the local, the largest in Kentucky, covers a large geographic area and contains roughly 18,000 members.

To the company, the workers demand that negotiations be reopened. They want full coverage of health care premiums, an end to arbitrary discipline, and a decent raise. They also want a worker-controlled health and safety committee that can shut down unsafe work. In the last year, workers have refused dangerous work in some areas, and they want this problem addressed formally.

At a meeting called by Jeffboat IWW members on the afternoon of May 7, a committee was established to build a movement inside. They discussed a variety of workplace actions and committed to expand the committee. The IWW's national General Defense Committee established a fund to assist them in emergencies.


Relationships with the union have been put to the test by officers' stonewalling. Any union presence at Jeffboat was a result of rank and file organizing, not any effort by the Teamsters union. Many workers (primarily not IWW members) are calling for decertification and want out of the AFL-CIO. Because of the contract extension, they do not have that option at this time due to National Labor Relations Board rules.

As for gaining control of Local 89, Teamsters for a Democratic Union has a strong presence in the local, especially among UPS workers who make up the largest chunk of it, some 7,000 members. A TDU-backed reform group, the United Rank and File caucus, came within 117 votes of winning the last officers election in 1999. But there is little or no TDU presence at Jeffboat itself.

The workers have nine months until the window for decertification opens, and a year till the contract expires, in which to plan their strategy. According to Terry Tapp, an IWW member in the shop, at this point the workers are so disgusted that they simply want out of the Teamsters and out of the AFL-CIO.

Because of AFL-CIO no-raiding rules, if they left the Teamsters, they would not be permitted to join another union in the Federation for another year. They could create an independent union or join an existing union outside the AFL-CIO. However, in decertifications, workers often end up with no union at all.

It is too early to say what workers' strategy will be. They have one strong card: their clearly demonstrated unanimity in favor of democracy. Their complete success in shutting down the yard can only give them a strong sense of power.

Joshua DeVries, who visited Jeffboat during the wildcat, is executive board chair of the IWW and a member of the Association of Flight Attendants. Tim Russ is an organizer for TDU.


Appendix 1 - Letter to the union

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Letter #1 - Flying Squadron for Truth and Justice

Dear Fred Suckerman:

We no longer give a damn what you did or did not explain to us.

The company may notify you about any contract it wants, but we workers have no contract. And so we have no "no-strike" clause.

We find it pretty damn disturbing that you--our representative--and the company are so friendly with one another. Maybe you don't see why that bothers us so let me tell you why: You see, we work hard. We weld. We drive cranes. We rig and fit steel and put in piping and paint and try and figure out the crappy blueprints the company gives us. With our brains and our hands we create the wealth that makes the world run--and that makes scum like you rich.

But even though it is we--the workers--who make the world come alive through our labor, the wealth we create is pinched out of our hands and put into the pockets of stockholders and company management. Isn't that a shame? The working person--the person that makes the wealth--is poor and the parasite who sits on their head is rich.

When you think about that, you realize that we working people have to stick together so that we can slowly make the world a good and fair place by putting the wealth back into the hands of the people who made it, who deserve to reap the full fruit of their labor. We call that sort of sticking together, a "union."

Now Fred, when you betray working people and plot behind their backs, that's not a union. That's treachery and betrayal. You're a coward, Fred, and a scab. We urge you to take a flying fuck.


Appendix 2 - Letter to the boss

Submitted by Steven. on August 30, 2006

Letter #2 - Metro United Up Yours Committee

Dear Bob:

The purpose of this letter is to fill you in on what's happening on the street in front of JeffBoat.

I hope you understand the situation with the picketing. You pay us half of the industry standard wage. You try to force us to work in the rain. You try to make us work when there's lightening overhead. You waste our time with your petty little jackshit "safety requirements" to make sure your ass is covered for the insurance reps but you won't do a damn thing to really insure our safety. You drag us to your drug tests like we're puppies that pissed on the carpet. You work us like slaves and, after we've cut your stinking manhours and filled a great order for another customer, you hand us a $10 bonus.

We're sick and tired of your bullshit, Bob. And we not going to take it. Not one second longer.

We haven't taken any disciplinary action against you, Bob, we've just stopped working. You may fear you're not going to keep getting rich by bleeding us and our lives dry, but that's not true. Your customers are waiting for you and their orders are still on the table.

But they're going to stay on the damned table until we get back a little of the wealth we create for you, Bob.

We're asking that you get a conscience, Bob. We are requiring that you take a long look in the mirror and realize what a drag it is for the rest of us to have to see you. We've had to see you and put up with what you represent so damned long that we're willing to risk our jobs to fix it, to make it good. Discipline us all you want. Bring it on.

We all want JeffBoat to be a good place to work where working people can make enough money to support our families, to be sure we are safe and can return to them in health, and to be treated with some dignity and respect.