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New York Local 804 Teamsters fight back, force UPS to rehire drivers

By Dustin Ponder

New York, NY – Since the Feb. 26 walkout at the UPS facility in Maspeth, Queens, Teamsters Local 804 and UPS traded blows in a critical struggle over the fate of 250 workers and their families. Workers walked out to defend a union activist and 24-year worker, Jairo Reyes, after UPS walked him off the job. The company authorized Reyes to start early in the weeks leading up to Feb. 26, but when he filed a grievance over UPS abusing seniority provisions in the contract, the manager went back and claimed he was never authorized to start early, and ironically tried to fire Reyes for “dishonesty.”

The struggle that exploded over UPS’ abuse of their workforce and the unjust firing of union activists ended with the company giving in to the demands of Local 804 and the legion of supporters that they assembled nationwide. Today, April 9, UPS settled with the Executive Board of Local 804, and agreed to rehire all the fired workers, including Jairo Reyes, and committed to treating workers with dignity and respect.

Richard Pawlikowski, a veteran driver who participated in the walkout, spoke about the conditions in Queens, “In our contract, UPS agreed to treat us with dignity and respect at all times. They don’t even do it for five minutes. They treat us like criminals. It finally reached a boiling point.”

Pawilkowski was one of the 36 out of the 250 Queens drivers who actually walked off the job, and who UPS claimed would be replaced. When asked about how he felt after being fired by the company he gave so much for, he said, “I walked out with my pride. I didn’t do anything wrong. I had a clean conscience. I’ve grieved hundreds of abuses by the company, and I have no discipline in my file.”

After the walkout, UPS issued working terminations to the 250 participants. In response, Local 804 launched a national campaign of support that included gathering over 120,000 names on petitions, solidarity from hundreds of local unions and aggressive support from a wide range of politicians. The union held several rallies, and many of the fired drivers even went and discussed the situation with their customers, who demanded UPS rehire their delivery drivers. As support and solidarity continued to spread, UPS caved.

Driver Tom Oliver, who participated in the walkout, spoke about the union power that ultimately brought UPS to the table. “It’s a sweet victory that only happened because we stuck together and we got tremendous support. Even with all the stress that came with the walkout and the aftermath, it brought attention to a lot of problems with our facility that I hope can be corrected.”

Oliver, a committed union fighter, and family man with a wife and two children, joined the walkout and stood up for justice despite the threats of retaliation from UPS. “I think the excessive overtime, the unfair discipline, the micromanaging and the outright bully tactics took a toll on all of us. The unjust firings and, specifically, the firing of Jairo Reyes was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

After a battle that inspired thousands of union members across the country, Local 804 members look forward to resting easy for a night after several weeks of uncertainty. The message from the Local 804 website read: “Tonight is first and foremost about the 250 drivers and their families. We congratulate them on standing together through this ordeal and winning their return to work with respect and dignity.”

Dustin Ponder is a union activist and member of Teamsters 804.

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