UAW Local 259 fights for dignity and respect

NEW YORK – Auto mechanics, members of United Auto Workers Local 259 working at New York City car dealer Star Toyota, have been out on strike for nearly eight months.

The mechanics had been working without a contract for over a year, all the while the employer repeatedly violated labor laws, using tactics of threats and coercion, even going so far as to threaten the family of a UAW delegate. Finally, after two one-day work stoppages, the Star mechanics walked, beginning an unfair labor practices strike on Oct. 8, 2003.

Led by UAW Local 259 President Bill Pickering, Second Vice President Brian Schneck and Shop Steward Rocky Joshi, the Star Toyota workers have stayed strong, and are as militant and committed to victory as they were on Day One. Pickering describes them as some of the toughest workers he has ever seen.

UAW 259 has filed scores of unfair labor practice charges against Star Toyota and its owner, Mike Koufakis. The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint on 18 charges and has scheduled a hearing for June 7.

Star has a poor history in customer, as well as labor, relations. Recently the New York State Department of Consumer Affairs hit the troubled firm with a $60,000 fine for deceptive advertising.

At an April 17 solidarity rally, scores of UAW members picketed beneath a giant rat set up in front of the Star Toyota showroom in Bayside, N.Y.

Union members waved placards and chanted. Passing motorists, truck drivers, and bus operators blasted their horns and gave enthusiastic “thumbs up” in support of the strikers. Meanwhile, a billboard truck continually circled in front of the dealership, urging, “Boycott Star Toyota.” In a big boost to the workers’ morale, many potential customers turned away – refusing to cross the UAW picket line.

The Star workers have received strong support from other New York City area unions. The phrase that is often heard from solidarity picketers, members of other unions, is the traditional old slogan of workers solidarity, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.