Port of Seattle bus driver Tambra Fontes shows off her union solidarity band.
You’ll see them on the wrists of bus drivers circling around Sea-Tac Airport – white bands bearing a message of unity and strength. The bands read: We decide how strong our union will be. When drivers pass each other on their routes, they raise their fists as a show of union pride.
Local 117 member Tambra Fontes got the idea for the wristbands, together with shop steward Monica Petty. “We were trying to unify all of us drivers and get us to become one,” Tambra said.
Tambra hails from a strong union family. Her father worked for the postal service, where he was a shop steward for his union. Her husband, Josh Hoopes, is a Local 117 member at Animal Supply. “Getting this job was everything for me,” she said. “Being Teamsters is exactly what my dad wanted for me. It felt like our future was set – you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
"It felt like our future was set – you couldn’t ask for anything more."
Tambra and Monica have been teaming up to alert their co-workers about the potential impact of the Janus court case. They’ve talked about the importance of sticking with the union.
Their call for solidarity has been effective as nearly all Port of Seattle bus drivers have signed cards committing to the union. “When we stand together, our freedom, power and unity cannot be taken from us,” Monica says.
Getting people signed up on commitment cards was essential, but the two women also wanted a symbol that matched the message. “Being a driver, it’s kind of hard for all of us to connect,” Tambra said. “The wristbands are something that we can wear to let everybody know we’re all one.”
With contract negotiations coming up next year sustaining that unity will be key. The drivers have already shown that no court case or external group can weaken their voice on the job. Tambra and Monica have decided that they want to keep their union strong. And because of members like them, it is.
Cheryl Miller, her husband Mark, and AHCC member Rob Rinard setting up for the BBQ event on July 31.
Hot dogs sizzled on the grill as DOC members grabbed a bite to eat and discussed an upcoming contract vote and the need to stay strong given a recent Supreme Court ruling that threatens our union.
The BBQ was organized by Cheryl Miller, a shop steward at the Airway Heights Corrections Center in Spokane. Cheryl is a participant in our Teamsters Leadership Academy and drew inspiration to hold the event from the 9-month course.
“Putting on an event like this was strictly by a member for a member,” she said. “The only way that we can stay strong is to stick together and stand our ground otherwise we’re going to end up working for a lot less wages than we’re getting now.”
"The only way that we can stay strong is to stick together..."
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in Janus v AFSCME to create an “open shop” environment in the public sector, allowing members to abandon their unions. The danger of open shop is that wages, benefits, and working conditions can erode over time. Cheryl wanted to spread the word that the antidote to open shop is member unity and engagement.
Over the course of the day, hundreds of members stopped by to chat and grab a hot dog. Many expressed their appreciation and said they would make sure to vote on their contract.
An event of this scale cannot be put on without help. Cheryl recruited her husband, Mark, a retired Teamster food service manager and fellow member Rob Rinard to pass out materials and work the grill. Teamster staff were on hand, including Michelle Woodrow, our union’s President and Director of Corrections and Law Enforcement, to talk about negotiations and answer questions.
“What an excellent way to build union solidarity,” Woodrow said. “Thank you to Cheryl Miller for organizing this event and to all of our DOC members who work so hard to keep our communities safe. They deserve a contract that recognizes their sacrifice and honors their commitment to public safety.”
The Supreme Court ruling in Janus case may attempt to divide the working people, but the last word is with us. Read amazing stories of unity and power in face of this unjust attack in our summer edition of Teamster Talk. Read the summer edition here.
Michael Rodriguez, a utility worker at the City of Pacific, says being part of a union makes his work a lot less difficult. Despite it being a demanding, frequently hazardous occupation, his membership in Teamsters 117 alleviates the work stress that a majority of Americans deal with on daily basis.
When speaking of stress at work, managerial and executive occupations come to mind, yet one of the highest predictors of workplace stress is lack of control over working conditions coupled with high demand. Inability to have a say in work hours and conditions of employment have profound health consequences resulting in heart attack rates three times higher than a random sample. Furthermore, job insecurity increases poor health by an incredible 50%, while long work hours contribute to increased mortality by almost 20%.
Americans today work longer hours, take less vacation and receive less pay for higher productivity which is coupled with towering rates of stress-related illnesses. In return for an opportunity to earn a living, we often relinquish our ability to have a say in conditions of employment and wages earned. It is the union that brings democracy back to the workplace and gives some of the control back to the workers. This power does not accrue overnight but is built upon years of collective bargaining and building of trust and solidarity among the workers.
For Rodriguez, building unity was worth it. “People frequently regard smaller cities as a stepping stone for other jobs with more pay and better opportunities,” he says. “But over the years we have negotiated strong contracts and workers stay.”
"We will not let anyone break what we have achieved here through years of solidarity."
His co-worker, Bill Brookhart, agrees. “As an individual alone you cannot stand up to the corporation. I have worked in non-unionized places, and there is no guarantee of or ability to negotiate job security, benefits, vacation or sick leave. I’m a diabetic and am insulin dependent. Having a good, union-negotiated health insurance makes a tremendous difference for me.”
Faced with the Supreme Court ruling on Janus, there was no hesitation among City of Pacific employees – every one of them chose to stand together as Teamsters. They have considered the effect that division could have on their contract negotiations and their power at work. The conclusion they came to was unanimous.
“You are either with us or you’re out,” said Rodriguez. “We will not let anyone break what we have achieved here through years of solidarity.”
As the U.S. Supreme Court announces its ruling in the Janus case, corporate powerbrokers are hoping to use the decision to divide workers who dare belong to a union. They are expecting union members will act against their own self-interest because nothing benefits the employer more than when workers abandon their collective power to stand up for fairness in the workplace.
Those efforts have failed with Teamsters at Tacoma Public Library where every member has pledged commitment to their coworkers and to remain a union member. It is a futile exercise to misinform a librarian. Shannon Rich is a supervisor at the main Tacoma branch and a fourth generation Teamster. She finds the narrative absurd that abandoning her union is beneficial to her in any way.
“That’s the whole nature of the union – the constant giving back and forth among its members,” she says. “Together we build the working class, and we cannot do it without standing all as one. People like the Koch brothers and other corporations know that. This is the only way they figured out to put a wedge in people’s unity. Yet it will only be effective if we let them.”
It took an extensive fight to bring the union to her workplace and most people who work there remember. The library strongly opposed their workers efforts to unionize, yet they prevailed. Maria Shackles, a manager at the Wheelock branch, refers to the grueling history of unions fighting for human rights at work as her reason to distance herself from the Supreme Court ruling and remain a Teamster.
"Together we build the working class, and we cannot do it without standing all as one."
“I want to honor the work of people who came before us who have made huge sacrifices over the history of our country for progress of workers’ rights. Now we are reaping the benefits of the union, and I feel really lucky. The underlying organizers who pushed for the Janus case are corporations that don’t want to acknowledge the positive changes unions bring to the economy.”
It is these benefits that Shannon credits for being the first in her family to attend college and passing this privilege on to her daughter. She says she is one of the few lucky people who take pleasure in their work. Yet her individual dedication and skill is not enough to make the Tacoma Library a safe place to work at. In the wake of mass shootings, it took collective action to convince the management to institute safety procedures and training at the library.
In the new era of open shop, Shannon knows the way to protect her union and their hard-earned wins is countering misinformation.
“Our job is to get as much information to as many people as we can reach, which is vital to our society. We, the workers at the library, are the backbone of that. The union helps workers understand that they are valuable as individuals and provides the means for a democratic workplace.”
Learn more at www.familystrengthcommunity.org.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case, Janus v AFSCME, which threatens our ability as union members to stand together for strong contracts and strong communities.
As expected, the Court overturned a 40-year precedent that protected our freedom to have a united voice at work and ensured that all of us contribute our fair share for the improvements we win together.
Despite the Court’s ruling, our union is resilient and remains strong. We have been preparing for this outcome for over a year with our Family – Strength – Community program. By sticking together, we can continue to improve our wages and protect our rights at work.
The Court may have ruled against us in the Janus case, but as Teamsters we decide how strong our union will be. We will not let the Court or anyone else break our commitment to each other.
WHO’S ATTACKING OUR UNION?
It’s important to remember who is behind this attack on our freedom. For years, wealthy special interests like the so-called “Freedom” Foundation have been trying to destroy our union.
The "Freedom" Foundation lobbied against wage increases for state employees. They oppose our right to paid sick leave and our right to a secure retirement through defined benefit pension plans. We fought their attempts to obtain your personal information through public disclosure.
In the coming weeks, the "Freedom" Foundation may try to convince you to abandon your union membership by saying you can "opt out". They may send mail to your home, contact you on the phone, or even knock on your door.
They'll say you have nothing to lose. The truth is you have everything to lose – your contract, your health benefits, and your rights at work.
But if we stay united, we can continue to win improvements in our workplaces and for our families.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO STAY STRONG!
- Wear your "We Decide" solidarity stickers this week at work - you can get them from your shop steward;
- Sign a card committing to your co-workers;
- Attend a Janus Decision Day Solidarity Rally in Tacoma or Seattle;
- Share a post on Facebook or Twitter about why you support our union using the hashtag #UnionStrong;
- Talk to your co-workers about the “Freedom” Foundation's anti-union agenda;
- Visit our union’s website at FamilyStrengthCommunity.org for more information.
Thank you for your service to our communities and for your membership in Teamsters 117.
Check out this video of Shannon Rich talking about the need for union members to stay united. Shanoon is a Local 117 member at the Tacoma Public Library:
We are expecting a ruling any day in the Janus v AFSCME court case. The case is an attempt to undermine the freedom of working people to have a meaningful voice at work.
It is the culmination of hundreds of millions of dollars spent by anti-worker corporate billionaires to weaken unions. But their efforts will fail.
Over the last few months, Teamsters across our union have learned about this attack by talking to each other. Thousands have signed cards committing to stay strong and stick together. You can join them by signing the online commitment card here.
As Teamsters, we know the value of strong unions to stand up to wealthy special interest groups who are using Janus to rig the economy against workers.
No court can take away our ability to stand together for fair pay, better benefits, and safe working conditions. The court may decide against us in the Janus case, but as Teamsters, we decide how strong our union will be.
If you ask a credential specialist at SeaTac Airport whether the Janus v. AFSCME case will threaten their union’s strength, they would chuckle and shake their head. Not on their watch.
This U.S. Supreme Court decision is expected to drop anytime between now and the end of June and set restrictions on the freedom and unity of working people. Yet this intrepid group that works on the mezzanine level of SeaTac Airport and handles the task of ensuring trustworthiness of airport employees has already made their decision.
"We will remain union members. We refuse to be divided."
“We will remain union members. We refuse to be divided,” said Maryanne Davis who has worked at the airport for over 18 years.
The credential specialists have fought hard for their current wages and benefits. Many of them remember when their entire group was fired several years ago and stayed out of work for months. They persevered until everyone was reinstated. This diverse group knows how important every person is to the security of the team, so every member has committed to remain a Teamster regardless of the Supreme Court ruling.
Now they are the middle of contract negotiations and Marilee Fisher, who is a shop steward and part of the negotiations committee, shared her opinion. “I believe in my union. I will always be a union supporter. As unions fight for better wages and better conditions, workers’ lives and pay improve even in non-union workplaces. If it weren’t for the unions, we would have no middle class.”
Negotiations between our union team and the State continued this week over our 2019-2021 DOC contract. The meetings took place at our Teamsters Union hall in Tukwila on Wednesday, May 23 and Thursday, May 24.
In our last sessions earlier this month, we established ground rules for negotiations and presented our union’s initial proposals.
In this week’s sessions, the State presented a few initial proposals on Wednesday morning, then requested a break to continue developing additional proposals. Much of Thursday’s discussion revolved around overtime and shared leave.
In our union caucus, we continued to refine our language proposals. We also focused on alerting members to attempts by the “Freedom” Foundation to divide our union at this critical time.
You can read the committee's joint statement here. DOC members will be receiving the statement in the mail in the coming days.
“The Freedom Foundation is trying to split our union,” said Teresa Bennett, a pharmacy tech and shop steward on the negotiations committee. “Don’t fall for their mailings – they are confusing and false. We need to stand together and not be divided."
"We need to stand together and not be divided."
Our next negotiations session will take place on June 5 and 6 at the Union Hall in Tukwila. If you have questions, please contact your bargaining committee member or union representative.
Thank you for your service to our communities. Please stay safe.
During contract negotiations, we are most effective when we are united. Our unity allows us to achieve higher wages, better working conditions, and a safer workplace for all Teamsters.
The last thing we need when we’re bargaining with the State or any other employer is for an outside group to try to divide us. But that’s exactly what the so-called “Freedom” Foundation is trying to do.
The “Freedom” Foundation is an anti-worker think tank that has used lax public disclosure laws to get ahold of the personal information of our members at the Department of Corrections. Now they’re using that information to send DOC members mailers trying to trick them into abandoning their union.
In a mailer sent this week, they claim members lose nothing by abandoning their membership. The truth is you have everything to lose – your wages, your benefits, and your power to negotiate a strong contract.
The Freedom Foundation fought AGAINST wage increases for DOC Teamsters. They want to privatize public services and outsource public sector jobs.
The best way we can protect ourselves is by standing together. Talk to your co-workers and make sure they don’t fall for the misleading information.
Show the Freedom Foundation that we are united and won’t be manipulated. If you haven't done so already, sign a commitment card to protect your freedom to have a strong contract and a strong union.
If you have questions, please talk to your Shop Steward or Union Representative or visit www.FamilyStrengthCommunity.org.