Sptember 29, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
On Thursday, September 24th, after delivering lumber or concrete or servicing oil burners all day, dozens of Teamster Local 456 Shop Stewards assembled at their union hall in Elmsford, NY to attend a training seminar. Their only visible compensation for the evening would be a slice of a six foot hero and a cup of coffee or bottle of water.
But it was obvious from the good natured bantering around the sandwich table that these committed union members knew the value of the training they would receive that evening.
Ms. Bernadette Kelly, IBT representative, opened the session. She included in her opening remarks a request that all present, regardless of their personal religious beliefs, offer a moment of silence in acknowledgement of the Papal visit to NewYork. The connection, she explained, was that this man’s mission was to promote social justice, and that is what is at the core of the union movement. Her request was willingly granted, and the moment respectfully observed.
She went on to introduce her visiting speakers, who were Marion (Bubba) Davis and David La Borde who serve respectively as International Director and International Representative of the Teamsters Construction Trades Division. This segment of the organization accounts for some 80,000 active members.
Mr. Davis began by giving a report from the field on the extensive natural gas pipeline work being done nationwide. He went on to compliment the Westchester local for being a model of peace in their intra-union jurisdictional affairs. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the building trades model knows that nothing makes for sounder labor management relations than the absence of just such disputes. The best way to avoid conflicts is to be knowledgable about contractual agreements and take a preventative stance. That is, make sure things get done right from the beginning and so eliminate the cause of arguments at a later date. He went on to explain some of the finer points of public sector PLAs and the need for adherence to their provisions.
He was followed by Mr. LaBorde who openly encouraged an interactive approach to the topics being covered. Discussions followed about representing members and yet being educated enough in various agreements to counsel members on the validity of their grievances. Audience members jotted down notes on contract terms and nuanced concepts, such as what is required to effectively demonstrate “past practice.”
One of the more startling facts that emerged during the evening, was that the average age of a construction worker in the United States is 56. That means without active recruitment, within a few years there will be a real shortage of skilled drivers within the organization, a shortage that is already beginning to become obvious in some parts of the country. With a ratio of 7 teamsters needed for every 2.6 miles of pipeline, and thousands of miles left to complete, the need for highly skilled, safety oriented, and dependable vehicle operators can only increase. The Teamsters fully intend to meet that need.
They are also acutely aware that it is not just a numbers game. Accepting the challenges of the 21st century entails training the membership in what to do (and what not to do), having them become active participants in what is clearly a democratic process, and becoming a “billboard”for the industry in general, and the Teamsters in particular by taking pride in their work. That pride, coupled with a non-confrontational and respectful approach to those drivers currently outside the fold, often results in a swelling of the ranks and maybe just a little more social justice.