An article about an attempted Teamster raid on an IWW campaign in New York. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2005).
On Nov. 1, Local 810 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters lost an NLRB election for the roughly 300-worker transportation department of New York City internet grocer FreshDirect, LLC. The local had lost an election in 2004 for the same unit. Despite having won the support of over 100 workers who could have been organized into a powerful union presence, Local 810 abandoned the field after that election.
FreshDirect, of course, soon broke the promises it had made during the campaign. Transportation workers grew increasingly dissatisfied, and, in June of this year some of them contacted the IWW's New York City General Membership Branch. New York Wobblies mapped out an ambitious industrial campaign to line up the entire FreshDirect workforce - about 1,200 workers - along with workers in other nearby wholesale and retail foodstuffs establishments. With help from other members of New York's rank-and-file May Day Coalition, the Branch began gathering contacts and agitating for the union.
No sooner had the IWW hit the streets than Local 810 reappeared, having been tipped off by a loyal FreshDirect driver, and began circulating authorization cards. Soon they filed for an election with the local NLRB office, alerting management to the existence of their organizing drive and prompting a tepid anti-union propaganda campaign by the company. IWW organizers continued their campaign regardless, telling transportation workers that they would support whatever decision the workers made. Now that the cat was out of the bag, however, they openly confronted management, agitating publicly in front of the FreshDirect plant and refusing to be driven away by security guards.
The IWW campaign received considerable encouragement from many of the drivers, helpers and runners who make up the FreshDirect transportation department, as well as from workers in other departments. Many transportation workers were attracted by the IWW's democratic structure, low dues, and emphasis on workers' power on the job. These expressed skepticism of the Teamsters, whose organizer showed up only rarely in his black Continental, formed no organizing committee within the department, and failed to hold even a single meeting of workers.
Other transportation workers, however, had the impression that the election was "in the bag" for the Teamsters. As the election neared, workers failed to show up for several scheduled meetings with the IWW. A rumor circulated that the IWW had been paid by FreshDirect to split the ballot and hand management a victory. The IWWs therefore decided to suspend our efforts in the transportation department during the last weeks before the Teamsters election.
The election was held on a Tuesday. Ballots were impounded and were not counted until the next day. The final count was 133 for the Teamsters and 164 for no union, with three void ballots and two challenged ballots. The IWW campaign continues to gain steam in the other departments of FreshDirect, most notably in sortation which assembles grocery boxes for delivery to customers' homes.
Rank-and-file coalition grows
The New York City GMB is at the heart of a growing informal coalition dedicated to building democratic, worker-run organizations. Other coalition partners are Se Hace Camino al Andar/Make the Road By Walking, the Harlem Tenants' Council, and members of the Million Worker March Movement and the United Electrical Workers.
The coalition, dubbed the May Day Coalition, is the brainchild of IWW member Billy J. Randel. Randel conceived of the idea in connection with efforts to revive the observance of May First as the international workers' holiday here in New York. "We are building a family of workers, supporting each other in the struggle for workers' power on the job and in the community," said Randel.
Recent coalition activities include support of the 318 Restaurant Workers Union, protesting abusive conditions at the Golden Bridge restaurant on the Bowery, an informational picket at Uncle George's restaurant in Queens, where Hispanic workers complain of humiliating mistreatment by the boss, and continuing support for the IWW's campaign to organize the foodstuffs industry in the New York metropolitan area.
CORRECTION - An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Chinese Staff & Workers' Association as a member of the May Day Coalition. While the CSWA has provided valuable help and solidarity to the Coalition, it is not a member. We regret the error.
Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2005)
Originally posted: December 16, 2005 at iww.org