Organizing at DHL Subsidiary: Activists In It for the Long Haul

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(This article was first published in the Sept./Oct. 2005 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

APWU representatives and activist workers at ABX Air, a subsidiary of DHL, are settling in for a long campaign to organize approximately 3,000 ground workers at the global delivery company’s Wilmington, OH, plant.

The ABX site in Ohio is the main hub for the company’s network of regional sorting operations. APWU efforts to organize the workers there began in February. “This is part of our longterm plan to organize private-sector workers who are increasingly getting a share of postal jobs,” said Mark Dimondstein, the APWU’s lead field organizer. “But with the way the company has reacted, we’re convinced more than ever that these workers need a union to represent them.”

The APWU organizer said management began a harsh program of intimidation, coercion, and discrimination shortly after the union field office was set up. In late June, five ABX employees and the union filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, declaring that the company’s actions violate the Railway Labor Act, and asking for an injunction prohibiting the firm from such actions in the future.

“The company is really turning up the heat on the activists,” Dimondstein said. “People were threatened that their jobs were at stake. It’s all part of an effort to create an intimidating atmosphere, a real climate of fear.”

The suit charges that ABX has attempted to prohibit or restrict employees from passing out pro-union flyers to coworkers; has conducted surveillance of workers involved in pro-union activities; and has attempted to intimidate employees who wear pro-union buttons and bumper stickers.

ABX has distributed newsletters opposing unionization, the suit alleges, and has supported and encouraged workers who oppose the selection of the APWU as the workers’ collective bargaining representative.

Dimondstein noted that ABX was quick to hire a wellknown anti-union “consulting” firm. Shortly after the firm was on the scene, all the workers received a letter from the company’s CEO.

“The letter was sent to our homes,” said Joe Kanzius, a night-shift worker. “He said he wanted employees to be able to make ‘an informed choice.’ I couldn’t stop laughing at his ridiculous remarks.”

The company also handed out T-shirts and hats. “I was grateful for the shirt,” Kanzius said. “It works really well on the seat of my forklift.”

“One employee who wore a button to work that said ‘Workers Deserve Respect’ was called into an office and questioned by her supervisor, manager, area manager, and an Employee Relations representative,” said Rich Shelley, another APWU organizer. “They demanded to know where she got it and asked if she knew it was a union button.

“This is not just an isolated incident,” Shelley said, “It is part of an orchestrated campaign to intimidate workers.”

One of the most outspoken union supporters, Sherry Barrett, was reassigned after managers said they had received statements from her co-workers complaining that she had harassed them. Barrett was not given an opportunity to defend herself, and the company refused to provide copies of the complaints, Shelley said.

In a letter to employees, ABX President and CEO Joe Hete said the company would respond to the charges in court.

Workers at ABX perform work similar to that performed by APWU members at processing and distribution plants. At their top step, ABX workers earn approximately $6 per hour less than their Postal Service counterparts.

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