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Infographic showing gains for Toll Group port truck drivers under first union contract.

(Click graphic to enlarge)

Last spring, California-based truck drivers for the Australian company Toll Group voted to unionize despite an intimidation campaign by the company, which is unionized in Australia. Now, the drivers have won their first contract, and it's a big improvement. For starters:

Fair wages –The day shift hourly rate increased from $12.72 to $19, and the night shift hourly rate from $13.22 to $19.75. In addition to the over $6/hour increase in hourly pay rates, drivers won $0.50/hour per year raises over the life of the contract, giving Toll port drivers over a 60% hourly wage boost over the life of the 3-year contract. Overtime pay of time-and-half kicks in after a typical full time 40-hour week, which is extremely rare in an industry where truckers are exempt from federal overtime laws and an average week hovers around 60 hours.

Secure retirement – Prior to the contract, less than a dozen Toll drivers could spare any extra dollars, even pre-tax, to participate in the corporate 401(k) plan. As Teamster Local 848 members, they have been automatically enrolled in the union’s Western Conference Pension Trust. Such a retirement plan at the port has rarely been seen since trucking was deregulated in 1980. Toll will make a pension contribution of $1/hour per driver until 2014, and a $1.50/hour per driver by 2015.

Affordable health care – The Toll Group health care plan was financially out of reach for most of its truck drivers. The few who managed to meet the premium, deductibles and copayments will now keep significant more money in their pocket without sacrificing coverage, and the rest of their co-workers finally have access to quality, affordable health insurance coverage, including dental and vision care.  The company will pay 95% of the premium for individuals and 90% for family coverage. Drivers who previously had to shell out $125/month for individual or $400/month per family will drop to roughly $30 or $150, respectively.

That's not all the drivers won, and, according to driver Jose Ortega, Jr., "Justice ... it’s sort of an indescribable feeling, but it is overwhelming and incredible to finally have the American Dream at our reach."

This is a relatively small group of drivers who have the advantage of working for a company that came under pressure from its unionized workers in its home country. And many port truck drivers are considered (often wrongly, but that's another story) independent contractors who will have to first fight for the right to even try to unionize. But the mostly Latino drivers at Toll Group have a huge win to celebrate, and hopefully they're just the beginning.

Click "there's more" to continue reading about Hilda Solis, life as a line cook, carwasheros, rights for exotic dancers, and more.

  • With news that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is stepping down, many union leaders have released statements on her service.

    AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, the UAW, Ironworkers, CWA and others also have statements honoring Solis.

  • Tales of a line cook:
    A physical therapist once told me I moved like I was seventy. My knees hurt from standing. My lower back hurts for the same reason. The ropiness in my neck and shoulders culminates under my left shoulder blade in a bundle of pain. From standing so much I have developed thick varicose veins on my left leg that snake around the inside of my knee and down my calf like a river; they end in a floodplain of bruising below my ankle, where there is a perennial scab. After being on my feet for twelve hours my legs and veins become extra swollen and begin to ache. I should mention that I’m only twenty-six. [...]

    To give some perspective, my brother made more money collecting unemployment as an intern architect after he was laid off than I did working full time in a restaurant. I make this comparison because we are both skilled professionals in our respective fields, but because he has a degree and uses his mind as opposed to his body to make a living our society values him more, and he makes more money. I make a subsistence wage, which is supposed to be, but is not really, a living wage. On a subsistence wage I just get by, when I should earn enough to get by and also have something left over to pay for healthcare, to save, and to indulge in something like eating out at a place like the one I work at.

    It's a great piece, but note that there's good reason to believe the author overstates how much restaurant prices would have to rise to improve pay.
  • Now that the election is over, the real battles in the states begin.
  • More than 26,000 postal workers are taking a buyout and early retirement.
  • Ten reasons all workers benefit from fixing the immigration system.
  • From the AFL-CIO:
    After years of organizing, Los Angeles carwash workers successfully negotiated contracts with three carwashes and gained workplace rights most workers should be able to take for granted: sick leave, access to health care, workplace safety, lunch breaks, living wages and respect. The carwash workers were successful, in large part, through the strength of community-labor partnerships: the United Steelworkers teamed up with the Community Labor Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), faith-based groups such as Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice and low-income immigrant rights organizations such as the Wage Justice Center and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance.
  • This is genius:
    Imagine for a minute that there’s an organization called “Nutrition First,” and their mission statement describes them as a watchdog for whether restaurants are serving healthy food and handling it safely. Imagine that “Nutrition First” releases a set of restaurant reviews, in which they give different restaurants letter grades based on how healthy it is to eat there.

    Now imagine that Nutrition First is actually run by people who are fanatics about pizza, and they get most of their funding from Domino’s and Pizza Hut. When you look at the letter grades they give restaurants, you realize that they’re actually grading every restaurant not on how healthy it is to eat there, but by how much pizza they sell. Chinese restaurants, Indian restaurants, salad bars, steakhouses: every letter grade turns out to depend on criteria like “total pizza sales,” “amount of cheese on pizza,” “pizza topping variety.”

  • So what exactly does Michelle Rhee's state report card measure?
  • We Are Dancers NYC is "a group of New York City-based current and former exotic dancers and allies" who are trying to "empower dancers by providing information, support, and resources." Those resources include information on the legal rights of dancers, like what rights they have as employees versus as independent contractors, where to get legal advice for labor violations at their clubs, and what danger they face from arrest for things like lap dances or carrying condoms. It also offers advice on things like paying taxes and affordable salons.

    Never forget it's important to understand all kinds of workers as workers. (Via Jezebel)

  • We're waiting on final word, and it's probably a given that Walmart would appeal, but a tentative ruling would allow Walmart to be named as a defendant in a wage theft class action suit at its California distribution centers, even though Walmart claims that contractors run the warehouses.
  • How many potholes were repaired in New York City yesterday? The Daily Pothole has your answer. Damn lazy public workers.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 10:55 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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