Dear Union Sisters And Brothers,|
My name is Eric Schwartz. A little over a year ago, I was in a contract fight similar to the one you're in now. Our employer was refusing to budge, our union kept telling us to give up, and it seemed like winning a fair contract would never happen. But we continued to organize, and in the end we won. It CAN be done.
My coworkers and I worked as bus drivers for a private firm to which Tri-Met subcontracts service for Portland's disabled and elderly community. We belonged to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. After months of bargaining, our union officials presented us with a horrible contract offer and recommended that we accept it. We voted it down by a strong margin. But instead of following our lead and preparing for a strike, our union leadership left us in the dark for two weeks, then returned to offer us the exact same contract for a "reconsideration vote." Again, we voted down the contract.
Several weeks later, our union officials "renegotiated" an almost identical offer as the first one, and demanded that we accept it. At the meeting called to vote on the offer, my coworkers and I heard every kind of threat and doomsday scenario you can imagine. Our Union's vice-president told us that we would never win, that we were fools, that we would lose the union and work for minimum wage, that we would lose everything we had. He told us that we crazy to try organizing to pressure the company, and that it would only make the company angry and intransigent.
He said, "The only way contracts are negotiated is at the bargaining table. Our bargaining captain is the best there is. If this is what he got, it's because that's all the company has to give."
We didn't listen. We voted down that contract for the third time, and we began to organize on our own. We organized a small demonstration and reached out to other unions and community groups, much as DCTU members have done. We ignored our boss's petty harassment and the doomsday songs of our Union bureaucrats, and showed the company that we were confident and united enough to strike.
That's what made all the difference. When we returned to the bargaining table, the scared company forgot all about their old "best and final offer." Somehow they found a lot of extra money where there was none before. Our own organizing had finally produced what months of "expert" bargaining had failed to: a vastly improved contract. MV Transportation drivers are enjoying that contract today.
I remember how frustrating it feels to hear your own union officials tell you that you're doomed to fail, and how tempting it is to believe them. The thing is, it's not true. My coworkers and I stayed united and kept fighting, and we finally got a fair contract. And we weren't the only ones-- thousands of American Union members across the past century have stood up for their rights in the face of incredible odds, and WON. I hope that DCTU members can do the same.
Good luck to all of you.
Sunday, 4 November, 2001