Wawa, a growing operation with more than 500 stores in five states, forced the drivers, and dairy and warehouse workers, to strike by demanding they give up time-and-a-half pay for Sunday work. This is a contract provision they have had for some 30 years, strikers explain.
"Get the news media to explain that this is not something we're asking for — it's something we have that they're trying to take away," interjected New Jersey striker Ron Williams from the floor at the October 10 rally and news conference. "We drivers work up to 60 hours a week away from our families. We want time and a half for Sunday!"
The strikers are members of Teamsters locals 463 and 473. Injunctions limiting pickets were issued in Pennsylvania counties and Delaware, even including a three-minute time limit on pickets talking to truckers at the main dairy and warehouse center in Wawa, Pennsylvania.
At the spirited Sunday rally, which was addressed by union officials and four Philadelphia city council members, speakers who addressed the "overactive judiciary and police department," as Teamsters Joint Council 53 president John Morris put it, received an enthusiastic response. A striker in a wheel chair and another with a broken hand were pointed out to the unionists as victims of police abuse on the picket lines. Five strikers were also arrested the day before the rally and charged with criminal trespass for handing out strike support leaflets at a Delaware County mall.
The limited number of strikers, many of whom are picketing 12-hour shifts, and the number of stores, sharply poses the question of union solidarity. The strikers' goal is to shut down deliveries to the stores, as well as to convince the public not to shop at Wawa. The company has hired scabs to drive some of their trucks and to work at the main plant. Teamster members are even making deliveries to the struck stores if there are no pickets in front for them to honor. After the rally, Teamsters who work at other companies signed up for picket duty.
At the main plant's picket line in Wawa during the third day of the strike, driver Steve Hunter said, "If we could get every working man and woman to observe our lines for a week, we could win." As he talked, a school bus drove by with a boy hanging out a window, cheering and holding a handmade sign that said, "Boycott Wawa."
Matt Hansell, a worker in the general warehouse, had picketed the day before at the store by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He praised the maintenance workers at the school, who are members of Teamsters Local 115.
"They were great,"he said. "They came before their shifts, after their shifts, and during their lunch break. They relieved us for breaks, they made copies of flyers for us — they kept our morale up all day."
At a school board meeting the day after the strike began, parents demanded that negotiations resume. Two days into the strike, high school seniors joined the picket line to show support. Teachers on the picket line said they believed the board to be stalling, awaiting enforcement of a state law that orders teachers back to work if their strike would mean ending the school year after June 15. The members of the Haverford Township Education Association and the school board will vote on the tentative agreement within two weeks.
The strike has affected around 1.7 million deliveries to 400,000 homes and businesses, including Edinburg, the Scottish capital.
The strike has turned into a struggle to fend off company attempts to weaken the union. It has attracted major media attention in Scotland. A recent agreement between national Communication Workers Union (CWU) officials with the Royal Mail, called "The Way Forward," had been rejected 60-40 in a union ballot last month. The agreement provided for an 18 percent rise in basic wages in exchange for the introduction of new working practices.
At Kircaldy in Fife and at a sorting office west of Edinburgh, the strikers had gone home confident that there'd be no strike-breaking. At the Livingston delivery office, the strikers have organized a 24-hour picket. There were 20 pickets when Militant reporters visited the line on October 8.
Sacked union representative Willie Colquhoun explained that the dispute started with the introduction of new working practices at the Livingston office. The company was trying to increase the workload of the delivery staff by speeding up the delivery of heavy cable and satellite TV magazines. An agreement hammered out over years providing for a delivery time of about a week would be replaced by the three-day deadline, Colquhoun explained.
They refused to agree to this, he went on, but in breach of agreement the company said it would implement the proposal anyway. Colquhoun was sacked for delaying the mail. "This was a clear attempt to break the union," he added. A picket said, "it was no coincidence that the person they sacked was the union representative."
Picket lines are being organized 24 hours a day. This had been initially a localized strike in Livingston after the union representative's firing. Workers returned to work pending an appeal against the sacking. They went out after the appeal was turned down.
Long-term attacks by the Royal Mail bosses on wages and working conditions of postal workers throughout the United Kingdom has been met by a militant response by the CWU members in the Lothian region and at Livingston in particular.
Over the past years, new area managers came to try to roll back the union. Three years ago the new area manager prompted a walkout 35 minutes after he arrived on the job with his statement that there would be no negotiation with the CWU. The strike has spread to other sorting offices in Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Cowdenbeath, and Lochgelly.
Company spokesman Durkin said, "We will be making contingency arrangements to make sure that special deliveries are made as soon as possible". The bosses are the only ones making deliveries now in an attempt to break the strike. "Look, he is using my van," said one picket, who did not want his name used, pointing to a manager. "He would not do that job before the strike."
Nancy Cole and Connie Allen in Philadelphia; Paul Galloway, a member of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union in Manchester, England, and Jim Spaul, a member of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers in London; contributed to this column.
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