Chicago Movers Stage Groundbreaking Strike

Kari Lydersen

Employees of Golan's Moving and Storage, who are in their third week of striking, pose with 'Scabby the Rat' in their picket line. (Arise Chicago

Every morn­ing, work­ers at Golan’s Mov­ing & Stor­age in the Chica­go sub­urb of Skok­ie are ordered to arrive at work by 6 a.m. to pre­pare trucks for the day. If they are late, they can be sus­pend­ed for sev­er­al days or oth­er­wise dis­ci­plined. Yet they typ­i­cal­ly don’t even start get­ting paid until about 8 a.m. — when they board a truck bound for their assignment.

This sit­u­a­tion is among the many injus­tices that spurred Golan’s work­ers to orga­nize with the faith-based work­ers rights group Arise Chica­go last year before union­iz­ing with Team­sters Local 705. Since Decem­ber 2013, the first con­tract nego­ti­a­tions have dragged on, with man­age­ment can­cel­ing planned ses­sions 12 times in six months, accord­ing to the Teamsters.

So on July 28, about four-fifths of Golan’s work­ers walked out on strike. Nego­ti­a­tions are the­o­ret­i­cal­ly con­tin­u­ing, but Team­sters Local 705 busi­ness agent Richard De Vries says that the com­pa­ny offi­cials walked out of their most recent ses­sion, on August 14, after just 41 minutes. 

The union has filed var­i­ous Unfair Labor Prac­tices charges with the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board, and a fed­er­al medi­a­tor was brought in to over­see the nego­ti­a­tions. Still, De Vries tells In These Times that these mea­sures have so far not pre­vent­ed Golan’s from essen­tial­ly refus­ing to bar­gain. He thinks that the com­pa­ny is try­ing to delay sign­ing a con­tract until Decem­ber, at which point under labor law they can call for an elec­tion to decer­ti­fy the union — because a year will have passed with no con­tract signed.

This is our rem­e­dy: going on strike,” says De Vries. He reports that more than 80 work­ers out of a total of about 100 are on strike, includ­ing mem­bers of the company’s two sep­a­rate sec­tions, which do local and long-dis­tance moves.

On Sat­ur­day, August 16, more than 100 sup­port­ers, includ­ing Team­sters mem­bers from oth­er com­pa­nies, joined the work­ers on the pick­et line. Lead­ers of Chris­t­ian, Jew­ish and Mus­lim faiths spoke to the crowd and asked the own­ers to rec­og­nize the con­cepts of work­ers’ rights and human dig­ni­ty enshrined in all three world religions.

Ones­i­mo Peña was one of the work­ers who con­tact­ed Arise last sum­mer, frus­trat­ed with what he told In These Times was so many abus­es” suf­fered by his co-work­ers. He also notes that in more than a decade work­ing for the com­pa­ny, his wages have only risen from $12 to $12.50 an hour, even though he has often been called on in emer­gen­cies or for impor­tant jobs.

We’ve tried too many times to get the own­ers to lis­ten to us but they wouldn’t,” says Peña. So we went to Arise Chicago.”

In turn, Arise con­nect­ed the work­ers with Team­sters Local 705. And mar­shal­ing sup­port for union­iz­ing was easy, Peña remembers.

Every­one was tired of this sit­u­a­tion,” he says.

Short­ly after the work­ers vot­ed to union­ize, Peña says his wages increased to $14 an hour. The com­pa­ny also start­ed pay­ing over­time and made a few oth­er con­ces­sions, includ­ing with regard to safe­ty. De Vries says he can only spec­u­late as to why, though Golan’s may have been try­ing to dis­suade work­ers from going on strike or try­ing to weak­en the union in bargaining.

Golan’s work­ers don’t have insur­ance, paid sick days or vaca­tion days or any oth­er ben­e­fits. Accord­ing to orga­niz­ers, such as Arise Chicago’s Jorge Muji­ca, There is wage theft all over the place,” includ­ing the afore­men­tioned unpaid prepa­ra­tion work time, and logged hours that go miss­ing from pay­checks until work­ers complain.

Plus, work­ers’ wages are often fur­ther reduced by fines for a wide range of infrac­tions. Jose Reyes, a Golan’s employ­ee for 10 years, says he was once fined $700 because one of the oth­er movers in the crew he over­saw had a small tear in his pants. Reyes tells In These Times that work­ers could also be charged for for­get­ting to leave the keys to their per­son­al car with man­age­ment before they head off to a job, or for fail­ing to call the cus­tomer to say they are run­ning late.

There’s no warn­ing, you get back from the job and they are wait­ing for you with a fine,” he says.

He and Peña also say man­agers have offered them incen­tives for report­ing oth­er work­ers for violations.

They approached me and said, If you turn peo­ple in, you will have your job for­ev­er, you can have a raise,’” says Reyes, who is on the union nego­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee. They were try­ing to buy me off.”

Work­er Miguel Flo­res tells In These Times that under the terms worked by long-dis­tance dri­vers who move cus­tomers to oth­er states, he has earned only $40 for spend­ing 10 hours unload­ing box­es at a home. (Muji­ca explains that this is like­ly tech­ni­cal­ly legal under labor pro­vi­sions for inter­state commerce.) 

Movers in the long-dis­tance unit are par­tic­u­lar­ly upset that they are not com­pen­sat­ed for wait­ing time of up to a day or more if cus­tomers are not ready when they arrive. These employ­ees are paid based on fac­tors such as miles dri­ven and the vol­ume of the move. So when a cus­tomer isn’t ready, they’re forced to spend time on the road unpaid, sleep­ing and wait­ing in their truck when they oth­er­wise could be earn­ing money.

De Vries says pay­ment for such deten­tion time” is a major demand in nego­ti­a­tions. So far, though, man­age­ment has offered only token con­ces­sions dur­ing the nego­ti­a­tion ses­sions that have occurred. They have agreed to pay for show­ers at a truck stop,” which cost a few dol­lars, he says. And in response to union demands for paid days off, Golan’s offered a total of $10 a day for up to 10 vaca­tion days, De Vries continues.

Golan’s also employs work­ers under the J‑1 visa work and study-based exchange” pro­gram, draw­ing stu­dents from around the world for 90-day stays in the Unit­ed States. Sil­viu Radu joined the pro­gram while study­ing for his Mas­ters in busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion at a uni­ver­si­ty in his home coun­try of Roma­nia. After start­ing work at Golan’s in June and got to know many of his co-work­ers. He hadn’t been present for many of the com­pli­ca­tions sur­round­ing orga­niz­ing and nego­ti­at­ing, so the strike came as a bit of a sur­prise to him.

I rode my bike to work and every­one was out­side,” he tells In These Times. I was like Hey guys, what’s going on?’”

Once he learned about the walk­out, though, he prompt­ly joined it, as did sev­er­al oth­er J‑1 work­ers, accord­ing to Radu and De Vries. The visa does not allow com­pa­nies involved in walk­outs to staff J‑1 employ­ees, so Radu is look­ing for anoth­er job while spend­ing time on the pick­et lines.

You get to bond with your col­leagues,” Radu says. These are good peo­ple, hard-work­ing peo­ple who help each other.”

The J‑1 visa — which has drawn con­tro­ver­sy in the past over its report­ed abuse by employ­ers includ­ing Hershey’s—cost Radu about $2,000, he says, includ­ing oth­er fees con­nect­ed to the pro­gram. Even so, he notes, laugh­ing, that he was mak­ing $10.50 an hour on the truck.”

For its part, Golan’s has large­ly respond­ed to the actions with denial. Two large green signs out­side the com­pa­ny, dat­ed August 12 and addressed to work­ers from com­pa­ny sec­re­tary Yehu­da Bit­ton, read: The many reck­less and dis­hon­est state­ments about Golan’s and me are fab­ri­ca­tions by the union and its rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Those of you who have worked for Golan’s for many years know these state­ments are not true.”

A Golan’s offi­cial inside the com­pa­ny dur­ing the ral­ly declined to talk, and the spokesper­son he referred In These Times to did not return a call for comment.

The com­pa­ny has also attempt­ed to play on the fears on many of its work­ers regard­ing depor­ta­tion. The signs, which are writ­ten in Eng­lish and Span­ish, go on to read that the union has threat­ened to call immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. De Vries says the U.S. State Depart­ment found out about the strike through the J‑1 stu­dents, like­ly spurring the com­pa­ny to make that state­ment. The union has not con­tact­ed immi­gra­tion author­i­ties and would not do so, he argues.

Var­i­ous work­ers tell In These Times they are con­fi­dent the strike will force the com­pa­ny into mean­ing­ful nego­ti­a­tions for a con­tract with sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments. They say they’ve heard cus­tomers have can­celed jobs because of the strike, and that lit­tle or no work has been hap­pen­ing at Golan’s. Dur­ing the Sat­ur­day ral­ly a mov­ing truck entered the facil­i­ty, but because it was manned by only one employ­ee, De Vries said it was like­ly just a show.” You can’t move fur­ni­ture with one per­son,” he says.

We’ve seen trucks leav­ing and then find them parked 20 blocks away; they’re not work­ing,” Muji­ca adds.

De Vries says that very few mov­ing com­pa­nies are orga­nized, and most non-union­ized work­places do not offer their large­ly immi­grant work­force insur­ance or ben­e­fits. Hence, the Golan’s work­ers’ union­iza­tion and strike could be seen as a prece­dent-set­ting devel­op­ment for the industry.

Both Reyes and Peña says they take pride in their work and want to con­tin­ue at Golan’s, only under bet­ter con­di­tions. Still, Reyes says he tells his three kids, only half jok­ing, When you see a Golan’s truck, run and hide, so you don’t end up like me.” 

Kari Lyder­sen is a Chica­go-based reporter, author and jour­nal­ism instruc­tor, lead­ing the Social Jus­tice & Inves­tiga­tive spe­cial­iza­tion in the grad­u­ate pro­gram at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. She is the author of May­or 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.
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