Teamsters Local 320 officers: Which side are you on?

Workers voting in the upcoming union elections need more informa-tion about the candidates than the paid staff currently provides.

Teamsters Local 320 officers undercut University contract negotiations before they even begin. A week ago, approximately 1,000 University Teamsters members received ballots to elect their bargaining committee for the upcoming contract. I am one of 24 members who are running as candidates.

Unlike factory workers, our workplaces are various and widespread. A worker might not see more than a half dozen colleagues on the job. Therefore, for at least the 25-plus years that I have been a member, candidates have been given the opportunity to write their own statements to make the case to the other members for their candidacy. Their job is to draft the document governing their work, benefits and compensation.

We were required to write and submit a resume no longer than two paragraphs in which we were to detail, in our own words, our qualifications and ideas for the critical coming negotiations.

But Friday, as I received the ballot in the mail, I found the pages of the candidates “resumes” nearly empty except for current job description, years of service and union offices held.

Given the space limitations imposed by a two-paragraph length, many, myself included, chose to eliminate from our resumes information regarding degrees, military service and other credentials in favor of making a better case for the need for health care and sick-time compensation.

For our concern to comply, we were rewarded with wholesale censorship. No content, no ideas, nothing by which members could make an informed choice. One is left to assume none of us had anything to say on any issue. One is left to choose one’s preferred candidates on their names alone, or maybe who’s been around longest – will this get us a better contract?

Why was this information censored? Business agents offered the pretext that five candidates submitted resumes with indecorous language. But rather than simply replacing vowels with asterisks in the offending expletives – under a banner disclaimer to the views represented in any of the resumes – these officers chose to eliminate all subjective content from all resumes.

For the many members who were extremely unhappy with our last contract, the roster of candidates’ paragraphs offers nothing. For those running for this committee, it is an affront; and for all of us this censorship destroys our main forum for exchanging ideas and allowing leadership to emerge from the convictions and dissatisfactions of the dues-paying rank and file.

Officers of Teamsters Local 320 would have done better to allow the membership to determine for themselves whether candidates are worthy of support based on their own expression.

We are left to wonder why our paid professional staff fears allowing the membership to engage in a free exchange of ideas. As employees at the University, this is the only way we can organize ourselves as a coherent force and mobilize ourselves in preparation for what we must do to reverse the downward slide of our wages, benefits and life chances.

Upon inquiring, I was offered no further explanation by the agent. I do not intend to “air dirty laundry” to provide union-bashing ammunition. Simply put, I cannot afford the vacation time I’d have to take to bring fliers around to every time clock and bulletin board on campuses across the state to rectify this careless and serious decision to edit what was not theirs to edit.

Consider the injustice of the appearance that some of the most experienced organizers and articulate critics of the past contract were without words to represent themselves in this, the only union-sponsored communication open to members’ own proposals; a communication that reaches every member affected by the contract.

How are we ever to be heard? The only conscionable solution is for Local 320 union to do the ballot mailing over again, and to do it right. For the expense of a few hundred dollars we must demand to have sent out the complete resumes of all candidates, with expletives deleted and under a disclaimer, and print it on a different colored ballot, so we may proceed to the serious business of negotiation as an informed and democratically inspired union.

David R. Skeie is a University staff member. Please send comments to [email protected]