By JOHN LESLIE
Striking members of Teamsters’ Local 830 in Philadelphia approved a new four-year contract on June 25 after a strike lasting just under a week. More than 400 drivers, sales personnel, and warehouse workers from large regional beer distributors—Penn Beer, Origlio Beverage, and Muller Inc.—had rejected a previous contract proposed by management on June 18 and put-up picket lines. This was the first strike in the 3100-member local’s history. Bars, package stores that sell beer, and sports venues faced a beer shortage in the run-up to the July 4 weekend.
At the outset of the strike, Local 830 Secretary-Treasurer Daniel H. Grace stated, “Compensation is always an issue, but what’s particularly problematic is the beverage companies’ proposed hours of work for our members—12-hour shifts for five or six consecutive days. That’s excessive. The beverage companies know that our members are the driving force behind their operations and success, yet they think they can treat us like second-class citizens. We won’t stand for it.”
According to a union statement: “It’s a fair and comprehensive agreement that includes significant wage and benefit increases and enhanced flexibility…” The contract includes 10.5% wage increases in the first year, and workers can only be asked to work 10-hour shifts up to five days in a row or 11-hour shifts on up to two consecutive days in contrast to the companies’ original demand of consecutive 12-hour shifts up to five or six days in a row. The pact includes increased pension contributions in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years, additional 401(K) contributions, and an additional paid holiday.
When this reporter visited the picket line at Muller, Inc. on June 23, drivers and other workers talked about the physical stresses of the job, which includes long days of lifting heavy kegs and cases of beer. Workers also spoke about the long hours they worked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brazilian unionists visit picket line
On June 23, leaders of the Brazilian trade-union federation, CSP-Conlutas, in the U.S. to attend the Labor Notes conference the previous weekend, stopped by to join the picket line in a driving rainstorm to express international solidarity with these struggling workers. CSP-Conlutas leader Herbert Claros Da Silva spoke about the struggles of Brazilian workers to these U.S. union members, who received the visitors warmly. Six members of the CSP-Conlutas joined the line and helped turn away a truck attempting to cross.
Later that day, Da Silva and Luiz Carlos Prates spoke at Calvary Church in West Philadelphia, at a forum sponsored by Workers’ Voice, about the struggles of workers in Brazil for fairness and against the reactionary Bolsonaro regime. Speakers stressed the need for militant fighting unions and revolutionary working-class organization in Brazil and internationally. Da Silva, who had accompanied an aid convoy to eastern Ukraine that delivered material aid to the independent miners union there, spoke about his experiences in Ukraine and the need for international working-class solidarity.
A local Workers’ Voice comrade spoke at the outset of the meeting to express solidarity with the local Teamster strikers. This visit to Philadelphia was part of a post-Labor Notes speaking tour of the East Coast sponsored by Workers’ Voice. In Connecticut, CSP-Conlutas comrades spoke to trade-union and community activists and toured a display of the art of political artist Mike Alewitz. On their last day in the U.S., the Brazilian unionists joined a protest in New York City in response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Unlike the top-down business unionist model of most U.S. unions, CSP-Conlutas has a democratic class-struggle orientation. Its organization includes not only shop floor militants but organizations of popular struggle that are normally outside of the traditional union movement. Environmentalists, landless people, Indigenous organizations, and struggles against oppression find a home in the CSP-Conlutas.
Workers’ Voice members salute the victory of the Teamsters at Local 830, but we think they deserve much more. These workers toil long hours and risk injury. In addition to increased wages, shortening the workweek with no loss in pay would be a real advance. Why should these workers, many of them with families, have to work six days per week when the work could be spread around? One lasting lesson for these workers will be that when we strike, we win!
Photo: From Teamsters Local 830 / Facebook