July 13, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Digging in for a long struggle, locked-out members of Teamsters Local 814 rallied outside NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital July 11, demanding that the hospital drop its contract with office-furniture supplier Waldner’s Business Environments.
“We’re going to redouble our efforts until the hospital does the right thing and cuts the contract,” Local 814 political coordinator Julian Tysh said, as the about 20 people there chanted “814 Moves New York.” If major New York institutions “think they can act like this,” he added, “then we have a problem.”
Waldner’s locked out its about 40 delivery and warehouse workers July 1, the day after their union contract expired, and has replaced them with subcontractors. Shop steward Kevin Roach, who’s worked there for 33 years, said he got the news the day he returned from bereavement leave after his mother died.
The Long Island-based company has refused to negotiate a new contract, says Local 814 President Jason Ide. It’s taking the attitude that it has the right to fire all the workers after the old one expired.
“They’re willing to talk about giving the guys a few thousand in severance pay in exchange for us stopping the picketing,” Ide says. “We need jobs. We need health care. A few thousand’s not going to pay for Kevin’s son’s health care.” Roach’s youngest son has Down’s syndrome.
Local 814 filed unfair-labor-practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board in May, alleging that Waldner’s violated federal labor law by refusing to bargain and then unilaterally repudiating its contract with the union.
“It’s illegal,” labor attorney Larry Kane says flatly. A union contract’s terms and conditions continue after it expires until bargaining reaches an impasse, he explains, unless it contains language that says it doesn’t—and “I’ve never seen a contract like that.” The only exception would be if management has proof that the union no longer has the status of representing the workers, such as if they’ve voted to decertify it.
A company is free to lock workers out in order to demand changes in the contract, Kane adds, but “they’re not free to fire everybody in violation of the law.”
The Teamsters are concentrating their campaign to get customers to boycott Waldner’s on NewYork-Presbyterian because it is the company’s largest client on a list that includes Macy’s, Spotify, the Javits Center, Columbia and Stony Brook universities, the Bronx High School of Science, and A&E Networks.
A NewYork-Presbyterian spokesperson contacted by LaborPress reiterated the organization’s position that the lockout is a “labor dispute” and the “hospital is not involved.”
Several elected officials came out to support the workers. City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez noted that NewYork-Presbyterian is the largest employer in his Washington Heights-Inwood district, so the community needs them to hire contractors “that treat the workers right.” Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa said the neighborhood was privileged to have a “world-class institution” there, but it has to “see that the workers are taken care of.” City Councilmember Ben Kallos, whose Upper East Side district includes the NewYork-Presbyterian affiliate Weill Cornell Medical Center, said it was particularly wrong for Waldner’s to “bust our First Amendment right to organize.”
The national Teamsters union began giving the workers about $200 a week in strike pay July 11. “The Teamsters have a Marine-like mentality,” says Ide. “They dig in and leave no member behind. Not all unions are like that.”
The union voted at its national conference last summer to get strike benefits to members faster, says Joint Council 16 spokesperson Alex Moore. The Waldner’s workers’ strike pay from the national and local unions, combined with unemployment benefits, says Tysh, will help them pay bills while they stay out “as long as we’ve got to do it.”
“These guys think they caught us with our pants down,” said Kevin Roach, “but our pants are pulled up and we’re ready to kick their teeth in.”
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