A Union Buster Strikes Out

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April 19, 2012 in Labor & Economy

Teamster president James Hoffa (c) with Toll drivers in March. (Change to Win)

On April 11, port truck drivers working for Australian transportation conglomerate Toll voted by a 3-1 margin to join the Teamsters. They were the first port truck drivers in a generation to vote to unionize, giving hope to the 11,000 other drivers in the region trying to improve their generally miserable working conditions. (See video below.)

The victory came despite the efforts of Joseph Brock, a former Teamster turned anti-union consultant parachuted in by Toll to discourage workers from organizing. Union busters have become a standard feature of contemporary union organizing, trading on intimidation, false promises and even illegal firings.

Brock’s message was a well-worn one – unions are like businesses, they are only looking for dues, they ignore or misrepresent their members and so on. But he wasn’t a slick attorney in a suit or a browbeating manager. The fact that he’d been a union official for over a decade and came from a die-hard union family was supposed to carry weight with Toll drivers.

It didn’t. Maybe some of the drivers were turned off by the fact that Brock was using his    past to help employers break organizing campaigns and bust unions. Or perhaps he lost   credibility when the drivers found out that his work as an anti-union crusader was not stopping him from receiving a pension from his time as a union member and another     from his tenure as a union official. During one captive-audience meeting in which Toll  employees learned of Brock’s multiple union pensions, a driver told Brock that Toll drivers would rather have the chance to be anti-union with a pension than anti-union without one.

In the end, Toll employees saw through Brock’s pitch because they understood that the decision they made to form a union and join a powerful organization of millions of other workers like them was a democratic one. They ultimately had more faith in themselves and the potential that union membership has to change their lives than they did in the warnings of a high-priced consultant.

Brock, meanwhile, has probably moved on, not thinking a second more about Toll drivers and looking for suckers willing to pay big money for stock stump speeches and corny videos.

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