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Jeffboat Strikers Back On The Job

Daphne d'Angelo (posted to Indymedia), May 8, 2001

Jeffersonville, IN/Louisville, KY - On Sunday night, at ten o'clock, I drive across the river to the Jeffboat shipyard. I.m not sure what I will find. I have never seen the shipyard while it is in operation. Based on earlier accounts, workers should be reporting back to work for the ten thirty shift. As I arrive at Gate 1, I don.t notice anything particularly different. Aside from one or two cars driving in the yard, there isn't a flurry of activity. I don.t even see anyone inside except a lone security guard. There are not, however, any picketers across the street. The signs on the fence have been torn down, leaving tattered corners. I notice a cop parked in the lot, where last week the workers would have been carrying their signs. As I drive past, I notice there is at least one cop car, if not two, some not marked, facing the yard at each gate.

I get out of my truck in the lot across from Gate 8, where I spent so much time last week. Someone has cleaned up. There are neatly stacked chairs, a bag of garbage. A deck of cards has been scattered by the wind across the parking lot. A jacket I loaned a cold worker last week is hanging on the back of one of the chairs. The only lonely evidence something monumental ever happened.

Last week, seven hundred and fifty union teamsters walked out on their jobs and held the longest wildcat strike in the company's history, paralyzing Jeffboat. Less than one percent of union scabs dared cross the line. Because of a Teamster Union "clerical error", their contract rolled over for another year. The strike was also not sanctioned. Jeffboat placed calls to their workers informing them if they did not return to work, they would be fired. Then the backpedaling began.

Sunday morning, April 6th, there was a meeting held at the Local 89. It was reported that Teamster Union President James P. Hoffa would attend. He didn't bother to come, and sent Central Region Vice President, Walt Lytle, instead. The teamster big wigs arrived with a "special security" team. Five hundred and twenty four union workers showed up, and also brought along their own special security. As one worker put it, "fat, white men with bulges in their pockets". There were policemen there, as well. There were also around twenty to twenty-five picketers from all over the country, standing outside in the humidity.

Mr. Lytle started the meeting by saying, "You are not going to like what I have to say...", and tried to make the workers place a new vote on the recently proposed contract. The same contract the workers voted down last week. He informed the workers if they accepted the new proposal, then everything would be over, and they could go back to work. If they didn't, then they would have to work under the old contract for another year, and there would be a "sweet deal" worked out a month from now.

Yeah, I really don't understand what that means, either.

Before casting their votes, which should have been secret ballot, several workers marched to the front of the room and upended the ballot box, to make sure it was empty. Each worker voted, and before placing their ticket in the box, turned and showed the rest of the workers their vote. Five hundred teamsters voted nay, twenty three voted yay, and one voted "Fuck You".

After voting, a motion was made from the workers to oust Local 89 Teamster President Fred Zuckerman and Business Manager Jeff Cooper. The motion was seconded, and thirded. Mr. Lytle tried to ignore the motion on the floor, but could not. It is yet to be seen whether or not Zuckerman and Cooper will indeed be dislodged.

The meeting wrapped up with workers agreeing to go back to work under the old contract, for another year, providing, of course, that negotiations continue.

So, under a full moon, Sunday night, I find myself in a convenient store across from Jeffboat. There were several Jeffboat employees grabbing a last cup of coffee, or a snack, before reporting for work. I asked them how they felt about the strike, and the aftermath. Two men said they feel like they were cheated out of a year's worth of raises that they have worked hard for. They feel as though they have no union representation, and they hold the union responsible. They didn't understand why the union didn't sanction the strike, and took that as proof that the Teamster Union and Jeffboat are working together, that "the Company has the Union by the balls". They were very despondent. The other workers who did not want to talk to me, listened nonetheless, and nodded their heads in agreement.

I left Jeffboat feeling very sad for them. However, Monday afternoon I spoke with two people who work the day shift. They reported a different mood among the employees. One worker I spoke with said she was glad no one was going to be fired and feels there is more solidarity in the yard. She was really proud they all stuck together. She did feel as if "the company raped us". She also thought the "clerical error" was a deliberate move by the Teamster officials. She wondered how they could miss a very obvious deadline. She also did not understand why they did not go ahead and sanction the strike, and feels Hoffa has received very bad PR because of all this.

Another worker agreed and said he felt great about how strong everyone was, and there was still a feeling of solidarity. He was happy to go back to work, but not happy with Jeffboat. He feels the workers will continue to hold out for the next year and maintain control. A Worker's Defense Committee has been formed to deal with problems at the worksite. He also pointed out that Vane Brothers has just signed a new contract with Jeffboat for two new ocean going tankers. And since it typically takes sixteen months to complete a tanker, he didn't think Jeffboat would want a huge labor dispute in a year, before they could be finished.

There is now talk among the workers of voting out the all powerful Teamster Union. It is reported that of the six or seven union scabs who dared cross the picket line, one had his windows broken out of his truck, and one had to be moved to another area because of harassment.

I am very interested to see where this goes. I, too, am happy the workers are back at work. I also feel that this is long from over.

DISCLAIMER - Daphne d'Angelo is not representing the IWW and this report is neither endorsed nor condemned by the organization. Furthermore, this post was appropriated from Indymedia by the IWW.ORG website administration and its inclusion here is not meant as an endorsement of the IWW by Daphne d'Angelo.