Richard Tatge worked as a truck driver for Universal Intermodal Services in Los Angeles, California for two years before he was laid off along with all of his coworkers just days before Christmas in December 2019 after they voted to form a union with the Teamsters.
Tatge explained he became interested in forming a union in his workplace after experiencing several issues in trying to get a hold of management in regards to problems he was experiencing with his medical insurance and concerns with compensation. Once the union drive was announced, Tatge said Universal Intermodal Services hired union avoidance consultants to hold captive audience meetings with workers, and prohibited workers from wearing labor union vests while working.
“We voted the union in. It was a strong vote in favor. We were very excited and anticipated getting a contract, but that’s when the company started retaliating. Company fuel cards stopped working, the tablets to sign in to work shifts started disappearing, and the trucks were getting to where the maintenance got even worse and they still wanted us to drive them,” said Tatge. “Then they fired us without any notification, they didn't talk about it to us at all. We all received Fedex letters in the mail with our last check and our termination notice.”
The sudden termination of employment left Tatge and many of his coworkers struggling to find new work right before the holidays, and he cited several had to rely on SNAP assistance, unemployment benefits, and struggled to cover their bills as a result.
Tatge and dozens of other truck drivers are currently on strike and holding picket line actions at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, California in response to the union busting by Universal Intermodal Services, the company’s refusal to bargaining with the union, retaliatory firings of workers and transfer of work in response to unionization, misclassification of drivers as independent contractors, and complaints from workers over the lack of COVID-19 protections for workers during the pandemic. Workers are calling for reinstatement, backpay, and for the company to negotiate a contract with the drivers.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint last month finding over 20 violations of federal labor law by companies affiliated with Universal Intermodal Services. The complaint found the firing of 70 drivers in December 2019 was in retaliation for union organizing activity.
The board is seeking an order to reinstate all terminated employees and require the company to bargain with the union in good faith, with the next hearing scheduled for June 14, 2021.
Ahead of the hearing, the drivers have enlisted the support of Teamsters organizers, volunteers, and other union workers at the ports. Dock workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 joined the strike on April 14, refusing to service vehicles with Universal Logistics Holdings, disrupting work at one of the seven terminals at the Port of Los Angeles.