April 12, 2012
A group of Toll’s US-based truck drivers propelled by union and community support has won its fight to have the International Brotherhood of Teamsters bargain on its behalf.
Wharf cartage drivers at Toll’s Los Angeles facility today voted 46 to 15 in favour of union representation. The vote caps off a long and arduous campaign that has garnered international coverage and sparked outrage against Toll over its alleged mistreatment of its workers.
The drivers, who accuse Toll of imposing third-world working conditions and targeting employees with union sympathies, plan to celebrate the victory this week outside the company’s truck yard near the Port of Los Angeles.
“A voice on the job means management can no longer humiliate us or force us to suffer in poverty while they profit,” truck driver Orlando Ayala says.
He says the vote is a sign that other port truck drivers across the US can achieve union representation. The port trucking sector is notoriously anti-union, with companies misclassifying drivers as contractors to avoid paying employee benefits. The average wage for a driver is around $12 an hour.
“If we can win, I know other port truck drivers across the US can unite just like we did,” Ayala says.
The Teamsters, which flew to Australia last year to front senior Toll management and then waged protests outside Australia’s consulate in Los Angeles to protest Toll’s actions, has vowed to help others wanting to unionise.
“These first-rate truck drivers decided to form their union after being treated as second-class citizens under third-world working conditions for too long,” Teamsters Vice President Fred Potter says.
“Now these courageous employees have inspired other port drivers to fight for good, middle-class jobs at America’s port’s nationwide, and the Teamsters and our coalition are going to be here to help them do it.”
The campaign against Toll also involved politicians and the clergy, with protests staged outside the company’s yard and the stores of its customers.
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) took up the Teamsters cause in Australia and today welcomed the vote.
“This is an issue that has strongly motivated our members across Australia, several of whom travelled to LA to witness the substandard conditions which drivers toil under,” National Secretary Tony Sheldon says.
“We welcome this historic vote to organise at Toll.”
Toll has repeatedly denied accusations made against it, which include banning drivers from accessing clean indoor bathrooms and kitchens and employing union-busting tactics to prevent the Teamsters from representing workers.
A host of unfair labour practices have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), including allegations of harassment and surveillance.
Former TWU official and now Labor Senator Glenn Sterle has also weighed in, accusing the company of forcing staff to attend meetings to warn them against voting for union representation.
“I have had many dealings with Toll over the years and they would not get away with these shenanigans if they tried that in Australia, and I honestly and sincerely in my heart would think that they would never try it,” Sterle says.
The recent NLRB decision granting drivers the right to vote also highlighted the meagre wages they took home. According to the ruling, drivers earn as little as $12.72 per hour, while the likes of forklift drivers and labourers receive barely more than the minimum wage.