Teamsters beat anti-union campaign

CLEVELAND – In a powerful display of unity, union salt miners have twice in three weeks beaten back an effort, led by the head of David Duke’s local white supremacist organization, to decertify the Teamsters at Cargill Corp.’s facility beneath Lake Erie.

All 65 members of Teamsters Local 436 at Cargill, the Minneapolis-based food giant, voted April 30 to keep the union, overcoming votes of 61 scabs hired last August when the union called off a three-month strike. At that time the company rehired 33 of the 165 strikers, put the others on lay-off status and told them they were being “permanently replaced.” Most of these workers later accepted buyouts, but 32 held-out.

The vote reaffirmed the result of an April 10 election that had been challenged by scab-leader Scott Berendt on spurious grounds.

Berendt had begun circulating petitions to decertify the union just shortly after being hired in August 2002, which signaled a red flag to union workers. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) filed a complaint, in February, on the union workers’ behalf with the National Labor Relations Board indicating that Berendt had obviously been instigated by Cargill, since he had detailed knowledge of the local’s history and procedures for decertification and began the action a month after being hired.

Berendt’s actions also caused union members to investigate him and discover his identity. Just recently they found Berendt listed on Duke’s web site as president of the Ohio group – NOFEAR – National Organization for European American Rights.

In response to this information, the Cleveland City Council, which had previously urged Cargill to dismiss the scabs and return all union members “to their rightful jobs,” passed a resolution April 9 condemning Cargill’s efforts to decertify the union and calling on all employees to vote for the union.

The situation became aggravated after the first vote, when menacing flyers appeared equating union leaders with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The anonymous flyers depicted Hussein on an ace of spades playing card such as those used by the U.S. military to hunt down officials of the former Iraqi regime. Local President Gary Tiboni was depicted on an ace of diamonds card and rank and file leader Nancy Colon was on the ace of clubs. Underneath the three cards were the words: “Axis of Evil” and “Vote No.”

Cargill allowed hundreds of the flyers to lie around the mine and be posted on the company bulletin board for two days and only removed them following strong protests by Tiboni.

Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell also reacted sharply to the flyers in a letter to the company stating that the messages “could be interpreted as an incitement to violence” and that for “Cargill to allow such material to remain posted on its property was the height of irresponsibility.

“Cargill’s actions regarding this flyer, along with its union-busting efforts and continued association with a known white supremacist leader are reprehensible. Cargill is not the kind of company with which the City of Cleveland wants to continue to do business.”

Copies of the letter were sent to Kucinich, members of Council and the city’s law and public service directors. Officials said the city was actively exploring alternative sources of road salt in the event the company failed to settle with the union.

With the decertification vote out of the way, long-stalled contract talks were scheduled to resume May 8. “Our main emphasis will be getting our 32 people back to work,” Tiboni said. Cargill may be receptive. “It’s our intent to reach an agreement,” company chief negotiator Felix Ricco told the Plain Dealer April 30. In addition, a private meeting between Cargill President Greg Page and Kucinich was scheduled in Washington for later this week.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org