Local\’s Union Hall becomes vaccine clinic for a day

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Local 853’s Oakland union hall was turned into a vaccine clinic on Saturday, March 27. The Alameda County Central Labor Council, a co-tenant in our building, brought together their affiliated unions to do outreach to their members. In all, 430 union members were excited to get the Johnson & Johnson “one and done” vaccine.

“This event was about union solidarity at its best,” said Local 853 Secretary-Treasurer Rome Aloise. “Even though we could only serve a handful of Local 853 members, we were part of a much bigger event that helped union members in Alameda County and throughout the Bay Area.”

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President makes forceful statement in support of union representation; Teamsters respond with pride and hope

In a remarkable video statement supporting the right of workers to join unions, recorded on February 28, President Biden has completely upended not only his predecessor but almost every president over the last century. The statement was released as nearly 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are voting in a union representation election.

“I have long said that America wasn’t built by Wall Street; it was built by the middle class…and unions built the middle class. Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field,” Biden said in the opening to his two-minute statement. “They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protection from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union and especially black and brown workers.”

The statement asserted that the National Labor Relations Act is about encouraging unions, not just tolerating them. “Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. And it’s your right, not that of an employer, it’s your right. No employer can take that right away.”

In response, Local 853 Principal Officer Rome Aloise stated in a letter to Biden, “For the last 46 years I have been organizing and negotiating for workers and union members, and your video—the frankness, the honesty, the total commitment and sincerity of your words, actually brought tears to my eyes. I never thought I would see a President of the United States make such a bold and honest statement to workers about the value of union representation.”

He continued: “Hopefully, with the help of changes in the antiquated labor laws that now govern union organizing and negotiations, and with leadership like yours, we can begin to bring back the middle class, assist the underprivileged and forgotten in our society, and end the cycle of poverty that can only be solved by good-paying, decently-benefited jobs, with pensions that allow workers to retire in dignity.”

Closing out, Aloise said, “I want to thank you on behalf of my members and especially from an old organizer that has been given hope for the future!”


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After push by union, paratransit drivers are deemed \”first responders\” – eligible for COVID vaccine

Since the pandemic began, paratransit drivers who transport the sick, the elderly, and the disabled in small buses have been at great risk for COVID. After a plea from Teamsters Union and the San Francisco paratransit company TransDev, the City and County of San Francisco agreed that these workers should be considered “first responders” and are now eligible to get the vaccine.

On January 19, Transdev announced that the plea was heard and its 72 Teamster drivers, bus aides, and road supervisors will now be prioritized to receive COVID vaccinations.

“Many paratransit riders are from high-risk communities, such as the elderly and the disabled…who require close physical interaction with their drivers,” said Teamsters Western Region Vice President and principal officer of Teamsters Local 853 Rome Aloise in a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom when seeking a similar designation for paratransit drivers statewide.

“The vast majority of our members have been working in the field since the pandemic started; they work in warehouses and manufacturing, they drive trucks and make deliveries, they work in construction. However, the transportation bus drivers are the hardest hit, as they do all of their work with numerous passengers in the confined space of a bus,” Aloise added. “We are currently working to ensure that school bus drivers be eligible for the vaccine when this opportunity opens to teachers and other school employees.”

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Using PLAs to get work at SFO

The concrete work at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is covered under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA). “Unions work hard to get PLAs on big projects because they create a level playing field for wage rates,” says Business Rep Stu Helfer. “It means that non-local companies can’t come to the expensive Bay Area and underbid the local wages and conditions.”

Helfer adds that he’s been able to make language improvements in the PLAs, leveraging that language for improved coverage.

As part of the union’s routine monitoring of construction work in the area, Helfer noticed that Elite, a Sacramento-based company, had set up a portable batch plant for the SFO project and had started doing work there. “We’ve dealt with them before,” he says, “each time, discovering that they were underpaying their workers based on California state’s prevailing wage rates.”

Helfer says that the union started monitoring this job and collecting data on it. He adds that the union has had to utilize some creative methods for monitoring when the work is going on, because it’s all behind security fences that the union can’t get through.

As a result of Local 853’s labor compliance monitoring and research, the 15 drivers working on that project are now being represented by Local 853 while that project is ongoing.

Helfer wanted to give credit to Secretary-Treasurer Rome Aloise for his long-term vision of creating a labor-compliance program at Local 853.

Helfer adds that the Labor Compliance program and the language that we’ve gained under PLAs has resulted in about 400 drivers working as Teamsters in any given month.

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Hoffa Scholarships available now for high school seniors

Deadline: Extended to March 8, 2021

The deadline for this year\’s James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Fund (JRHMSF) Academic and Vocational/Training Program scholarship applications is now March 8. The fund looks forward to a record number of applications from high school seniors who are the sons, daughters, or financial dependents of Teamster members.

The scholarship awards range from $1,000 to $10,000 for Academic scholarships and $500 to $2,000 for Vocational/Training Program scholarships.

The application process is online and can be reached here.

Additionally, the JRH Scholarship Fund, through its administration firm, ISTS, offers tuition discounts to various colleges and universities. The information on the tuition discount program can be found here. (The tuition discount program is independent of the JRHMSF and does not require that a student be a recipient of a JRHMSF award.)

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Essential workers keep working through pandemic, but nearly 20% of membership is not

When the pandemic struck in March, the entire economy came to a screeching halt. Travel, hospitality, sports and the arts were the first to shutter. But it was clear that not everything could stop. People needed food, health care, and a variety of services and somebody needed to do that work. Often, those somebodies were Teamsters.

Our members working in package and non-restaurant food delivery were working overtime. Retail, like Costco, was booming. Construction was deemed essential as well. And of course, if our members are working, the Local’s Business Reps have to be working, too.

On the downside, we predict that as many as 20% of our members have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Our members working in the concession and sporting industry for the Warriors, A’s, and Giants have been out of work for the entire year. School bus drivers aren’t driving, and only a few of the tech bus drivers have regular work. Those who service the travel and hospitality industry, like laundry workers and those in parking lots and car rental agencies are mostly not working either.   

Hopefully, the vaccines that have been produced in record time will start getting distributed—first to health care workers and those in nursing homes who have been the hardest hit, and soon after, they’ll be available to essential workers. Unfortunately, it may be a long winter before that distribution happens.

Whether you’re working or not, we hope that all members will continue to be safe and follow the guidelines to stay that way: wear masks or face coverings; stay six feet apart from others where possible, and don’t gather indoors with people NOT from your own household.

If you think you have symptoms, get tested immediately. If you learn that you were in contact with someone who has symptoms or a positive test, get your own test, and isolate yourself immediately until you find out the results.

Currently, California and federal law ensures that your employer must cover your salary for up to two weeks if you have had a positive test, if you’ve been ordered by a doctor to isolate or quarantine, or if you are waiting at home for a test result. If you have questions about whether you should expect to get COVID-related pay, contact your business rep.

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Concrete drivers step up for a co-worker in need

When Jorge Vasquez got cancer, he didn’t want it to stop his daily work routine, because he’s the sole supporter for his wife and son. Business Rep Eddie Venancio reports that Jorge continued to work at Westside Building Supply in San Jose while he was getting chemo treatments.

But when Shop Steward Jonathan Pinney, who works at Cemex, saw how sick Jorge was at the worksite, he not only helped Jorge to complete the paperwork to get disability insurance which would enable him to take off work while he was getting treated, but he also started a fundraising drive for Jorge and his family. So far, Pinney and Westside Steward Adolfo Espinosa raised $1,915 from the drivers at Westside, Cemex, Central Concrete, and from and the office staff at Teamsters Local 853.

“Jorge is so well-liked that even some of the non-union Bulk drivers donated,” says Venancio. “His only request was that we keep him and his family in our prayers.”

Thanks to the support of his brothers and sisters at Local 853, Jorge will be able to go through chemo and recuperate at home for the next three months with his wife—where he should be.

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Membership appreciation event continues—pandemic style!

For the past 25 years, Local 853 has held an annual Membership Appreciation event that included breakfast, door prizes, a huge raffle, convenient flu shots, and the opportunity to hear about the State of the Union. Back when it started, the event attracted a few hundred members. Over the years it has grown to bring together more than 800 members at increasingly larger venues.

This year, despite so many pandemic-caused cancellations, Secretary-Treasurer Rome Aloise was determined to find a way to make the event happen safely. While we had to ditch the breakfast and flu shots, all the other aspects of the event took place over the course of two days.

Day One, Saturday, October 31:

Staff gathered at 6:30 a.m. to prepare for the onslaught of cars attending the Drive-Thru gift event at the DoubleTree Hilton parking lot in Newark. Scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., cars started lining up at 8:00, and the staff was ready. As each car approached the parking lot, staff and volunteers passed out a registration card for the member(s) to complete as they made their way into the parking lot. Once submitted, each member in the car collected the 2020 gift—a beautiful Local 853 backpack stuffed with union-made bakery goods from Bimbo Baking. On their way out of the parking lot, they received more info from the Teamster Horsemen, the charity motorcycle group, and were quickly on their way.

At a few points, the line to get to the parking lot was backed up to the freeway. But, mostly, everything moved swiftly and easily for the 1,000 people who collected backpacks that day.

Day Two, Sunday, November 1:

About 250 members attended the State of the Union meeting and raffle, held over Zoom.

President Dennis Hart opened the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and the premiere viewing of the new 4-minute video “Welcome to Local 853.” And then he introduced Rome Aloise.

Rome opened his annual “State of Our Union” speech by recognizing the members: “Many of our members stepped up and are essential workers, delivering food, wine and liquor, working at Costco, at construction sites, and at many other places. You’ve kept our world running. You are real heroes!”

Rome then talked about how the Local’s staff has had to adjust to using Zoom to handle grievances, hold membership meetings, and “whatever’s needed to make sure the members are taken care of during these turbulent times.” He noted that business reps used Zoom to settle historically good contracts in Ready Mix and Construction and achieved excellent extensions in the liquor and beer industries.

The big news of the year included:

• The merger of Local 287 brought new industries and companies to the local, including freight companies, UPS and DHL, bringing our combined membership up to nearly 15,000 members. “I welcome the sisters and brothers and San Jose staff to our family, and thank you for making us all bigger and stronger.”

• The Berkeley Farms bankruptcy—“We’ve lost a cornerstone company in our Local and an iconic name in the Bay Area, and our members are still waiting to get the severance package we negotiated.”

• Another year of devastating fires forced members to be evacuated, and many lost their homes. The Local was able to provide some financial help to let members know that “their sisters and brothers have their backs.”

• Responding to the rash of murders of black men and women by police, Local  853 took a stand to support Black Lives Matter, and proudly displays a banner saying so on our Oakland headquarters. “Diversity, and treating everyone as an equal is why unions matter and, more importantly, why our union is strong.”

“All in all,” he closed, “our Local has the strength and the wherewithal to survive attacks from viruses, employers, the government and anything else that attacks us. Why? Because we believe in unity and loyalty. As long as we stick together and stay loyal to each other, we can beat anything and anybody.”

The Raffle completed the event. Prizes included Galaxy tablets, Chromebooks, HP laptops, and nine televisions ranging in size from 40” to 65”. Shop Steward Rosie Silva, who works for Hallcon and drives a bus for Facebook employees, was on hand to pick the winners. Grand prizes went to members from nearly 20 different companies.

Congratulations one and all!

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SF Street Sweepers win big grievances

Business Rep Dan Harrington reports that he won two separate grievances for some San Francisco street sweepers.

In the first case, he was able to overturn a 5-day suspension through expedited arbitration, and the member, Annie Romero, got a back pay check covering all five days. In this case, Romero was suspended for participating in an altercation with another employee. However, Harrington contends, the city denied the union the right to represent her and wouldn’t allow her steward into the hearing. The arbitrator found that, because representation was not allowed, the discipline had to be overturned. “It was a good case,” says Harrington. “We stuck to our guns about the representation and we prevailed.”

In the second case, a street sweeper, Frank Perez, was assaulted by a citizen. Instead of listening to the members’ side or letting the union represent him, the city immediately put Perez on 30-day suspension.

“Just as the case was supposed to go to full arbitration, the City realized that the citizen was lying and that Perez was innocent,” says Harrington. “They backed down and agreed to pay him nearly $10,000 for the wages and benefits he had been wrongfully denied.”

Harrington particularly wanted to thank Shop Steward James Long for being persistent in challenging the city when they deny union representation. He also thanks Susan Garea, attorney at the Beeson Tayer & Bodine law firm, for her diligence in seeing the cases through.

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