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GCC/Teamsters — New Look, Old Challenges

April 2007 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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IT’S SAFE to say that George Tedeschi won’t be winning any popularity contests within the commercial printing industry. Among the rank and file of unionized companies, Tedeschi is the prince of printing. In management circles, “prince” is substituted for less than endearing terms.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, a brief introduction is in order. Tedeschi is president of the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (GCC/Teamsters). The organization, formerly the Graphic Communications International Union (GCIU), merged with the Teamsters on January 1, 2005.

It has been an eventful two years since the merger. With consolidations and plant closings taking its toll on the unionized printing employee population, the infusion of Teamster blood has helped to prop flagging membership totals (the GCC/Teamsters represents about 60,000 printing employees). It also has support in the form of the newspaper print media division, which counts 15,000 Teamsters.

In the process of increasing ranks and protecting the interests of current members, GCC/Teamsters has waged public battles with heavyweight companies like Quebecor World and Cenveo (1,500 union members), and recently triumphed on the organizing question at Lehigh Press in Pennsauken, NJ.

And at a time when union membership in general could use an infusion of new blood, it might get just that in the form of legislature that would make organizing easier. The Employee Free Choice Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 241-185 count, and a similar measure was anticipated in the Senate.

The companies that are most apt to seek union representation, it stands to reason, are those employee groups who are disenchanted with their higher ups. But since unionization is the only legal mode for workers to bargain collectively with their employer, Tedeschi feels it is imperative for employees to have a voice in the workplace to tackle some of the leading labor issues of the day, namely healthcare and pensions.

“Why would you not want to have a say in your livelihood, and just leave it to someone else to make all the decisions for you?” Tedeschi poses. “What non-union plants are telling you is, ‘Leave everything to us. We know what’s best. You really don’t know anything. Let us make the decisions for you.’

“I believe that workers are intelligent and understand their jobs—in most cases, better than the employer—so they should have the legal right for input in those conditions.”

In addition to growth initiatives, the GCC/Teamsters have changed their method of organizing and have proven they are not shy about rattling corporate cages. From mid-2005 and for much of last year, the GCC and Montreal-based Quebecor World traded barbs publicly. The printer filed a complaint in U.S. federal district court, claiming GCC/Teamsters violated the neutrality and organizing agreement between the two parties by making denigrating, adversarial and negative comments.

The two sides have hammered out a cooperative agreement, and the suit has been shelved in the interest of maintaining forward-moving dialogue. Tedeschi feels the sides are negotiating contracts in a more positive atmosphere. There have been three “yes” votes at Quebecor World on the question of organizing, and an accord has already been reached with the Fernley, NV, facility.

“When there’s cooperation between employer, its employees and the union, the company can prosper,” he says. “That’s important to us, because it assures jobs. But it has to be fair and reasonable; that’s all we’re asking for. In cases where you have one side trying to exert authority over the other partner, it creates problems.”

More recently, the GCC/Teamsters mobilized in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other cities, protesting what it feels are unfair labor practices being used by Cenveo and its CEO, Bob Burton. Workers leafleted the retail outlets of Cenveo accounts, including Starbucks, Ann Taylor and Blue Tulip. The main issue at hand is weakening employee benefits, namely healthcare.

Tedeschi points out that Cenveo is seeking increases in healthcare that would cause some workers’ rates to increase by $100 per week. GCC/Teamsters is also seeking worker protections; Tedeschi notes that roughly 2,000 jobs have been lost at Cenveo since the September 2005 takeover by Burton’s leadership.

Tedeschi makes it clear that he would rather hammer out differences at the bargaining table. “We have ceased our informational campaign in the hopes that we can amicably reach an agreement. If we can’t, then we will again inform the public of the work practices that we feel are not in the best interests of the workers.

“Hopefully, Cenveo realizes we’re not out to hurt them. We understand that everyone has to be profitable.”

Talks Progress

Rob Burton, senior vice president, investor relations and corporate communications for Cenveo, notes that the company recently reached a labor agreement at one facility. Negotiations are taking place at two other union plants.

While the collective bargaining process won’t become easier any time soon, the employees’ right to organize may become more simplified should the Employee Free Choice Act ultimately become law. Actually, there’s debate over whether changing the voting process from a secret ballot to one that is card check-based really serves the interest of the employee—factions are split evenly along management and union labor lines.

Statistically, card-check elections generally have more favorable results for organizing efforts, whereas secret ballot votes tend to result in “nay” votes on the question. The political football thus becomes: Does the card-check method really expose employees to so-called strong arm tactics by either management or labor?

Tedeschi feels employees fear for the loss of their jobs and, out of fear of reprisal, end up rejecting the organizing question.

“The present system is flawed, because the employer has a captive audience,” he says. “What they’ll actually do is have one-on-one discussions with the workers, where management literally threatens them. We’ve had numerous examples where they say, ‘If the union comes in, we’re going to force you on strike, close the plant, and you won’t get anything.’ These are illegal activities, but they do it anyway.

“All we’re saying is, let them decide in a (non-threatening) atmosphere. And that talk about the union reps badgering employees is not true. About 80 percent of the cards are signed by their co-workers. Union and staff reps don’t get the cards signed. So this theory that the union bosses force people to get cards signed is totally false. People are able to do it in an atmosphere of non-intimidation.”

Tedeschi has reason to be optimistic going forward. Losses through attrition and plant closings had been eroding the membership base prior to the Teamsters merger; that trend has drastically slowed. And organizing efforts at Quebecor World, along with the Lehigh Press triumph, gives GCC hope for refortifying its ranks. PI
 
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COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
john a greco - Posted on May 08, 2007
i agree with bob wavershak
Robert Wavershak - Posted on May 02, 2007
I believe now that the merger with GCIU and the Teamsters was a good thing. Growth seems to be going in a positive direction, something I haven't seen in a while. Strength in numbers stands tall. Good job all!
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
john a greco - Posted on May 08, 2007
i agree with bob wavershak
Robert Wavershak - Posted on May 02, 2007
I believe now that the merger with GCIU and the Teamsters was a good thing. Growth seems to be going in a positive direction, something I haven't seen in a while. Strength in numbers stands tall. Good job all!