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UPS reinstates Florida shop steward who was fired for union activity

By staff |
August 8, 2018
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Jacksonville, FL – On July 17, Dustin Ponder, the Florida Teamster union steward fired by UPS management for union activity, returned to work. After a month and a half-long campaign waged by Teamster militants and activists to get the steward reinstated, UPS caved to the pressure and offered Ponder his job back.

“The solidarity of UPS Teamsters and workers in Jacksonville and across the country allowed us to defeat this attack on union activists and our rights,” said Ponder, speaking days after the victory. “It showed the company that we won’t stand for their anti-union activity.”

Ponder was fired in late May for alleged ‘dishonesty’ – a charge that UPS managers and supervisors regularly use to target union militants. The company claimed that Ponder lied about his use of a paid vacation ‘option day.’ Their sole evidence was two statements by UPS managers with a history of harassment and anti-union activity, both against Ponder and other employees at the UPS River City hub in Jacksonville.

On June 8, the company terminated Ponder, a union steward at UPS elected earlier this year. The two managers who wrote statements against Ponder at his local hearing - Terrence Thomas, the UPS Division Manager for the Jacksonville River City day sort, and sort manager Jeff Winterling - threatened Ponder with retaliation for his union activity just a week prior to his termination.

According to a grievance filed by Ponder days before his termination, division manager Thomas threatened to “get blood raw” with him if he continued filing grievances related to safety, staffing concerns and harassment.

“Management was afraid of members standing up. They want to run things with no respect to safety rights, the contract or labor law,” said Ponder. “They aim to elevate their profits at any cost, including trampling over their workers.”

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

Dustin Ponder, 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.

Beloved by his coworkers and known across the state of Florida as a militant Teamster leading the fight for a better UPS contract, Ponder received an outpouring of support in response to the termination. UPS Teamsters in Jacksonville collected petitions from Ponder’s coworkers, with over 100 part-timers and 100 package car drivers signing to demand his reinstatement.

Nationwide, nearly 1500 people signed an online petition demanding UPS reinstate the union steward. On July 2 – one day before his local hearing – Teamster activists organized a call-in day to the UPS harassment hotline through the popular ‘UPS Falling’ Facebook page. More than 100 supporters called in, alleging anti-union retaliation and harassment by managers Thomas and Winterling against Ponder.

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 single-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.

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.

The recently released Southern Region supplement tentative agreement makes no changes to this dishonesty language at all, nor does it offer UPS Teamsters any added protection from the retaliation that Ponder faced.

“We must continue to fight and vote no on any contract or supplement which fails to remove this outrageous ‘dishonesty language,’” said Ponder. “We need to demand stiff penalties for managers who engage in harassment and retaliation for union activity, up to and including financial penalties.”

Voting on the contract tentative agreements is scheduled for early September.

Division Manager Terrence Thomas, who fired Ponder, was moved from his position over the River City Hub building in Jacksonville under uncertain circumstances.

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