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Teamster 743 Sellouts Hit

Workers in Chicago Factory Defend 40-Hour Week

by staff |
September 1, 2004
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Chicago, IL - At 6:30 in the morning on Thursday, Aug. 5, over one hundred workers went to work at the Frederick Cooper lamp factory. For 80 of them, it was the end of their week, because the company had cut out work on Friday. This reduced the workers’ income by 20% - one dollar out of five.

By the end of that day, the workers had won back the 40-hour week. The company was forced to put them back to work because the workers fought back.

Tony Caldera and Esmeralda Cuevas started the day by passing out copies of Fight Back!, the Summer 2004 issue, before work. The workers read the story about how the company had attacked them in May, taking away a day of pay every week.

Caldera explained, “The story exposed that the officers in our union, Teamsters Local 743, had sold us out. Our representative, ‘Shorty’ Burnes, had refused to file a grievance over the cutback in hours. The president of the local, Robert Walston, was not interested in our problem. He must have already agreed to this with the company.”

As a union steward, Caldera had wanted to fight for the workers, but was faced with the sellout response from the officials. Caldera is also a candidate for union officer with the 743 New Leadership Slate.

Showdown at High Noon

A stooge for the company had given a copy of Fight Back! to a manager. Workers came up to Tony and Esmeralda to warn them that they had seen bosses reading the paper.

At lunchtime, Caldera was approached and told there was a call for him in the office. It was the union representative.

“Why did you say I wouldn’t file a grievance?” demanded Burnes. Caldera responded, “Because you told me you wouldn’t do it,” as managers stood around. “I said I would file individual grievances for each worker,” said Burnes. Caldera came back, “And I told you that the workers were afraid to do that and wanted to file a group grievance. You have to file the grievance the way we want.” With that, Burnes hung up on him.

When the workers went home that evening, some of those who had lost their Friday work schedule were told to come in the next morning. By the next week, the entire shift was back at work.

Cuevas said, “The article in Fight Back! had an impact.” Caldera had been quoted threatening to file the grievance on his own, or to go to the Labor Board. Fifty workers had already taken action, confronting Walston at the union offices. Four other workers stepped forward and were quoted in the newspaper. The company and the union sellouts could see that the workers were joining together and fighting back, under the leadership of the 743 New Leadership Slate. They had to do something to give in to that power.

Only Way to Win is the 743 New Leadership Slate

In campaigning for office, Tony had visited General Products, another factory on the North Side where workers are represented by Local 743. There he learned that the union had agreed to the same deal as Frederick Cooper - a four-day workweek, rather than layoffs. One worker at General Products, an Assyrian woman, had said, “Lay us off. That way we can collect unemployment or look for another job. With four days a week of work, all we can do is starve.” The workers there knew as well that the union was in bed with management. “Walston accepts the cut in our hours because if we are laid off, he won’t collect union dues. He doesn’t care about our lives,” said Caldera. “In order to win, we need to vote Walston out, to vote for the 743 New Leadership Slate.”

Now that everyone is back at work, the next problem is the lost wages. “We were two months without working on Fridays,” said Cuevas. The NLS is continuing the fight for this through their legal team headed by National Lawyer’s Guild president Jim Fennerty.

For Cuevas, the struggle left her in high spirits. “We must continue to struggle until total victory.”

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