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UPS terminates Jacksonville, FL Teamster union steward

Coworkers allege retaliation
By Dave Schneider |
June 20, 2018
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Jacksonville Teamsters demand UPS reinstate Dustin Ponder.
Jacksonville Teamsters demand UPS reinstate Dustin Ponder. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Jacksonville, FL – As the expiration date for the Teamsters-UPS national master agreement rapidly approaches, UPS management has moved to crack down on union activists fighting for a better contract. On June 8, the company terminated Dustin Ponder, a union steward at UPS in Jacksonville, Florida, elected earlier this year. His activity and involvement in the 2018 contract battle and last month’s strike authorization vote have many Teamsters believing this is a case of management retaliation.

UPS terminated Ponder for alleged “dishonesty” - a cardinal offense, according to the UPS contract - though management has yet to substantiate any instance of dishonesty by the Jacksonville union steward. Terrence Thomas, the UPS division manager for the Jacksonville River City day sort, terminated Ponder, providing no further clarification for the discipline in a certified letter sent to his home several days later.

The termination came just days after Ponder filed six grievances over instances of management harassment and rampant safety violations. Ponder had just assumed his duties as the newly elected chief union steward of his shift days earlier.

In the days that followed, UPS Teamster leaders in Jacksonville gathered at Ponder’s workplace, UPS’s new ‘River City hub’, to collect petitions from coworkers. About 70 UPS workers on the River City day sort – Ponder’s shift – signed the petition, and no worker who was asked to sign refused.

“Dustin is the most recognizable face and voice at the River City hub,” said David Jones, another union steward and coworker with Ponder in Jacksonville. “He fights for us all every single day, filing grievances on safety violations and harassment. He’s out at the gates, before and after the sort, flyering about the recent strike authorization vote and about the contract. And now UPS has retaliated against him. The company is targeting him to try and send a message – to make an example of him, and to intimidate workers from standing up and exercising our union rights.”

Jones added, “But our coworkers understand that this attack on Dustin is an attack on all of us. And we’re ready to fight back.”

Dustin Ponder, age 30, has worked at UPS and actively organized in his union, the Teamsters, for nearly eight years. Back in March, he was elected by his coworkers as chief steward for the UPS River City day sort operation. He’s the co-host of a popular labor podcast, the Worker Power Hour, which has picked up a following amongst fighting Teamsters and union members across the country.

Coworkers on the River City day sort say Ponder is known for filing grievances – more than 50 in 2018 alone, many addressing safety and harassment concerns – and educating members on their rights. Across the state of Florida, he is known by Teamsters as one of the most active leaders of the Teamsters United movement, playing a key role in the reform movement’s victory in the 2016 International Brotherhood of Teamsters elections in the Southern Region.

“It’s no coincidence that UPS has fired Dustin just prior to the expiration of the 2018 contract,” said Richard Blake, a UPS Teamster steward with Ponder out of Teamsters Local 512 in Jacksonville. “He traveled across Florida to educate members on the ongoing contract battle, flyering hubs and turning out a strong vote in favor of strike authorization. Dustin wants us to win a better contract for ourselves and our families at UPS, and that’s put him square in management’s crosshairs.”

Earlier in June, 93.18% of the UPS Teamsters voted to give the union’s national negotiating committee authorization to call a strike in their contract negotiations with UPS, which are ongoing. The Teamsters-UPS contract is the largest collective bargaining agreement in the U.S. private sector, encompassing more than 230,000 workers. The agreement is set for expiration on July 31, 2018.

Ponder’s case has attracted the outrage of Teamsters across the country familiar with UPS’s attacks on militant workplace leaders.

“What UPS has done to Dustin is exactly the type of morally bankrupt, intellectually dishonest attack that they constantly engage in against union stewards and activists all around the country,” said Rob Atkinson of Teamsters Local 341 out of Carnegie, Pennsylvania. “I wonder how many anonymous workers have been crushed and broken by these unscrupulous and merciless attacks over the years.”

Atkinson fought a high-profile, national retaliation case against UPS several years ago when he was terminated for union activity.

Controversial language in both the Teamsters-UPS national master agreement, as well as the Southern Region supplement that governs Florida, allows management to terminate an employee immediately for alleged instances of dishonesty. Earlier this year, the Teamsters made contract proposals to eliminate the “dishonesty loophole” for package car and feeder drivers. Similarly, in the Southern Region, many UPS Teamsters are demanding that “dishonesty” as an offense be subject to the same progressive levels of discipline as other non-cardinal offenses.

UPS Teamsters and other supporters have launched a nationwide petition to UPS demanding the company reinstate Ponder, operated through Change.org. Supporters can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/ups-reinstate-dustin-ponder-immediately

Dave Schneider is a UPS Teamster and a union steward for Teamsters Local 512 in Jacksonville, Florida.

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