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DELEGATE’S REPORT ON THE TEAMSTERS 29th INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION

Brothers and Sisters,


The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ 29th Convention was not my first convention, but it was my first as a Delegate for Local 464.  It is my observation that some things are the same each time around and also that sometimes you’ll get a surprise.


Some of the familiar: a small group of disruptors tries to hijack the process, only to be shut down by the great majority; great and influential speakers waxing eloquently on the plight of Labour and the decline of the middle class in North America; greetings from many celebrity well-wishers who are extremely supportive of the work the Teamsters do; performances by big name musical guests, like Tom Morello, the Rage Against the Machine guitarist and constant friend of the Teamsters Union.


The Convention opened with an inspirational performance by an all-female violin quartet playing Led Zeppelin’s hit Kashmir… it definitely worked far better than it looks on paper.  That performance, along with fireworks and a fiery drum solo brought the Delegates and their guests to their feet. 


To the work though, General President James P. Hoffa delivered the IBT’s 5-year report, listing off a checklist of several accomplishments of the IBT since the last convention.  “Teamsters organized more than 300,000 new workers in the past 10 years” he proclaimed.  Other accomplishments include: the end of the Consent Decree, finances in better shape than they have ever been, and organizing.


Among the many organizing successes:  13,500 San Bernardino County employees; 1,700 nurses in San Diego; over 40,000 new school bus drivers; and most importantly, the Teamsters now have FedEx at the bargaining table.  The last one is something the detractors have said could never happen.


Among the challenges facing our great Union and working class people:  Unfair trade deals; unfair legislation like Right to Work; the transfer of our jobs overseas.  The Teamsters are already in the thick of the fight, lobbying politicians and their political parties; organizing; running “get-the-vote-out” campaigns like DRIVE; fighting to defend workers, both organized and unorganized; raising awareness about shameful employer practices, corporate greed and the war on workers.


General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall reported on the finances of the IBT.  Suffice to say that we are doing extremely well.  Brother Hall reported that, on the day that Brother Hoffa first took office in 1999, the Teamsters were nearly bankrupt due to the excesses of prior administrations.  The IBT had net assets of only $8.6 million and the Strike and Defense Fund actually owed $17 million to the General Fund.  During the 1997 UPS strike, the International had to borrow money from the AFL-CIO to pay for one week of strike benefits.


The times have indeed changed.  Brother Hall was happy to report that the Strike Fund today has over $153 million.  Total net assets has grown to nearly $255 million, which is more than double the $126 million reported at the last Convention five years ago.


Delegates dug deep to help the workers affected by the strikes in Baltimore with some of their personal financial struggles.  These workers have been out on strike for over two months and they’re staying strong, but their families are struggling.  Over $17,000 was raised from the floor of the Convention by passing the hat.


Even more inspiring was the tale of one families struggle to come to grips with the death of a loved one.  Brother Travis Bornstein, President of Local 24, told a heart-wrenching story about how his young, successful, well-liked middle class son had fallen into a struggle with addiction.  Tyler was a very successful athlete and excelled in many sports, but a broken arm led to several surgeries which ultimately led to an addiction to prescription pain killers.  He later transitioned to heroin and overdosed in the presence of a friend who did not call 911, but instead dumped him in an empty lot, where he was left to die.


Brother Bornstein, a former marine, brought this tale to the Delegates to raise awareness about the dangers of opioid addiction and to talk about a charity created by him and his family, called Breaking Barriers – Hope is Alive, to try and create some good from their heartbreak.  One of the goals of the charity is to build a drug treatment facility on the lot where Tyler was left to die.
In an inspirational show of Solidarity, Delegates lined up at the microphones for over an hour pledging support and funds for the charity.  Some shared their own tales of loss and the emotion in the room was palpable.  Brother Bornstein and his family wept throughout as $1.4 million dollars was raised from the floor towards their charity and the fulfillment of their vision in honour of their son.  Powerful, powerful stuff.


Speaking of powerful, Tom Morello, a longtime friend of the Teamsters, received the Teamsters President’s Medal, an honour given to individuals who have throughout their lifetime exhibited courage, character, leadership and commitment to the dedication of working families.  Morello grew up the son of a single mother, Mary, who was only able to put food on the table and clothes on their backs because of her Union job.


Morello dedicated his award to “the grassroots rank-and-file fighters for social and economic justice, who struggle.”  He said “I merely amplify with my songs.  People like the Teamsters Union, people would work, toil and sacrifice on a daily basis, sometimes at great risk, and with little hope of reward.  It is your courage that will help forge a more humane and just planet.  I accept this award with love and appreciation and solidarity with you.” 


Morello said “my message is a simple one.  The world ain’t gonna change itself, that’s up to you.  And if that pisses some people off, too bad!”  Saying that sometimes people tell him to shut up, he responded “I’m never going to shut up about workers’ rights, because the music is the message.  Solidarity.  Work together, sing together, fight together… let’s rock and roll!”


Tom Morello went on to play several songs off his The Nightwatchman album, Union Town, as well as Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad and concluded with Solidarity Forever while surrounded by dozens of Teamster Delegates that he had called up to join him onstage.
Also performing was folk singer Joel Rafael and a brother band called Swon, contestants from The Voice and the sons of Kelly Swon, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 516 in Oklahoma.  The boys are currently touring with Carrie Underwood.   


Expressions of Solidarity were heard globally.  Guest speakers at the convention included: UAW President Dennis Williams; UNITE General President Len McCluskey; Tony Sheldon, the National Secretary of the Australian Transport Workers Union; Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International, a global union federation representing 20 million workers in 154 countries; Ariel Jacobi, General Secretary of IUGE; and Hassan Yussef, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.


McCluskey, the head of Britain’s largest trade union, said of the Teamsters: “You are the most iconic trade union on our planet and you should be proud of your history.”  And history was honored, with an emotional presentation regarding the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike.  Two surviving Union Brothers from that struggle waxed eloquently about fighting oppression and racism to win respect and dignity and a collective agreement.


Several lawmakers and media personalities spoke to the Delegates and UFC Heavyweight Champion, and proud Teamster, Stipe Miocic.  As well, Teamsters Canada President Francois Laporte offered a message of hope, as Teamsters Canada played a large part in overturning an anti-union government and is now at the table in consultation with the Trudeau government on many files, including CPP reform.  Brother Laporte said “We now have a government that listens to us.  A government that invests in future generations, a government that takes care of the middle class by adapting our social safety net to the needs of the workers rather than corporate greed.”


He said “Donald Trump wants to build walls, but walls don’t unite workers, walls keep us divided, walls keep us isolated and this is exactly what the corporations want.  So… let’s not give them what they want.  Let’s work together, today is more important than ever before.”  On the TPP, Brother Laporte said Canadian Teamsters “are not against trade, but like you in the United States, what we want is fair trade and it is the responsibility of our government to negotiate trades that take into consideration the interests of workers, not just corporations.”


There were also resolutions passed and one significant resolution was to increase Strike Relief pay by 50% to a minimum of $150/week.  The elimination of the Consent Decree was the source for many resolutions and were in and of themselves a milestone in the history of the Teamsters.


The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is today 113 years old, having been formed in 1903 by the merger of two large transportation unions.  Teamsters Canada celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Convention and it was great to participate and to represent our Local at the 29th International Convention.  Local 464 is the oldest existing Local in Canada and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Charter in 2019.


The Convention was an energizing display of what can be accomplished through unity and solidarity.  When you know someone’s got your back, it makes your life a whole lot easier.  There are those who choose to try and elicit change by dividing us and this ultimately harms us.  We can learn from our history that when we unite under a single cause to the benefit of all, we cannot fail, we will not fail.  We have never won anything by driving a wedge between our members.  Remember those who drive wedges, like Trump with his campaign of fear and divisiveness and ask yourself if any good will come, or has ever come, from that.


The Teamsters Union has a long and proud tradition of eradicating injustices, fighting for the underdog, winning the battles.  We don’t see colour, we don’t see race, we don’t see sexual orientation, man or woman, young or old.  We see a member and we fight for and support our members and each member has the same rights under their collective agreement as every other member.  You don’t get that by building walls!


Solidarity, it’s a beautiful thing to behold and through it, we are unstoppable!

Fraternally,
Paul Barton

Secretary-Treasurer

Teamsters Local Union No. 464

News Archive

Testimonial

“I look after a lot of members in a very big plant. For years I had to fight for them by myself with no help at all from any of the Union’s representatives or Officers. This changed completely once Bobby, Bob and Paul were in office. Now I have access to my reps 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!  They’re always there to back me up.” 

- Darrell Lawres – Chief Shop Steward. Saputo, Sperling

"I was employed for many years at a Teamster company that was shut down due to the economy. Because of my age, I was worried about starting over. Bobby, Bob and Paul not only negotiated a much better severance package than was in the contract, but they also went the extra mile and got me on at one of their other companies with an even better contract.They continued to help me even though it wasn't their job to."

- Armando Borean

“They have demonstrated the dedication and leadership that
our Local requires. They have always provided sound counsel, support, and frank
discussion on matters involving the members, contract negotiations and our
Local.“ 

- Bruce Tillapaugh –Shop Steward. Island Farms, Victoria