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Workers Organize to Win Racial Equality and Justice at U-Haul
December 03, 2004

uhaul-crew2cleansm.jpg On March 7, 2003, hours after auto maintenance service workers employed by U-Haul in Nevada filed a petition to hold a union representation election, U-Haul fired four workers—Jorge Garcia, Salvador Campos, Johnny DeGuzman, and Jesus Jacobo.  Of the thousands of U-Haul employees nationwide, only a handful of them are represented by unions.  And it appears that U-Haul intends to stay essentially union-free:  In little over a year since the auto maintenance service employees began their union organizing drive to gain better wages and fair treatment on the job, U-Haul fired 39 workers and closed down one facility in Nevada.

In February 2003, employees at two U-Haul facilities in the Las Vegas area approached the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ("the Machinists") with complaints of racial discrimination and inequitable wages and benefits.  Many of the Filipino and Latino workers claimed they were compensated by U-Haul at dramatically different levels than their white counterparts, yet they were all similarly responsible for repairing and maintaining U-Haul vehicles.  They contacted the Machinists in the hope that by forming a union, their treatment and working conditions could improve.

Alberto Banico was among those who contacted the union and then was fired last December after working for U-Haul for seven years.  U-Haul pays auto maintenance service employees in the area as little as $8.00 an hour, but Alberto says that minorities are especially exploited by U-Haul's pay practice.  He claims that many experienced minority workers make at least $1.50-an-hour less than similarly-experienced white employees.  Alberto, a Filipino American, recalled his frustration: "When we find out…what's going on—white guys come on and get more pay than the minorities—we decided to form a union to change that."

Jorge Garcia, a Mexican American, discovered the same pattern of discriminatory practices. After three years repairing vehicles and training new mechanics at U-Haul, he says he learned that a white worker who he had trained earned more than he did.  Jorge also observed that managers were more apt to criticize the work of the minority workers, "telling us sometimes 'You aren't doing this right.' And we see the white guys do the same thing and [they] don't tell those guys.

salvador100px_text.gifSalvador Campos, whose father is Mexican and mother is Puerto Rican, often heard a manager insult the minority workers waiting in line for parts to fix the vehicles: "You dumb Puerto Ricans...This is the Mexican line, this is the Puerto Rican line." Recalled Salvador, "There was many times where I thought about quitting…and when I heard that we were gonna organize and start the union thing, I held up because I said this isn't right…we have to say something about this, we have to take a stand."  Soon after the organizing campaign began, Salvador joined with Jorge, Alberto, and ten other mechanics to file discrimination charges against U-Haul with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC is investigating the charges.

Though the Latino and Filipino workers struggled with discrimination by U-Haul management, they worked together with their white and African American co-workers to form a union.  Salvador believed the organizing effort "gave us common ground. Even though in a certain way we're all different…what brought us together was that we had a common struggle." Despite the firings of their co-workers and the other intimidation tactics (see sidebar) employed by U-Haul, the employees remained united.  On May 7, 2003, they voted by a nearly two-to-one margin for representation by the Machinists union. 

Although the workers were unified, they were up against the nation's largest rental company.  When they overwhelmingly voted for union representation, U-Haul had a legal duty to respect the workers' vote and to bargain with the union over terms and conditions of employment.  Predictably, U-Haul did not honor its legal duty to bargain with its workers.

While serious legal charges against U-Haul's anti-union conduct before, during, and after the election are pending at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) the mechanics are still no closer to equitable treatment, improved wages, or a first contract than they were over a year ago when they voted to form a union.  

Today, due to U-Haul's intransigence, Alberto is still not able to sit across the table from management and demand that U-Haul judge workers by their qualifications or skills, not their race or ethnicity.  Nor can Jorge negotiate the health benefits he needs to protect his family.  And Salvador does not experience the workplace democracy he so desires, where all the workers at U-Haul—Latino, Filipino, African American and white—could "make our word—as a group and as individuals—count."  Will the U-Haul mechanics ever get that opportunity?

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Background Information 

In response to multiple Unfair Labor Practice charges filed against U-Haul, the NLRB is prosecuting multiple charges before an Administrative Law Judge.  The charges are set forth in a sharply-worded compliant from the NLRB dated February 5, 2004, that refers to U-Haul's conduct as "so serious and substantial in character." The NLRB complaint, among other relief, seeks an order directing U-Haul to "restore the status quo of its operation."1  A hearing is ongoing.

The NLRB complaint charges U-Haul with the following violations of federal labor law:

  • Terminating 39 employees based on their union activities
  • Threatening its employees with termination
  • Terminating a supervisor for refusing to commit Unfair Labor Practices
  • Closing a facility because of its employees' union organizing activity
  • Interrogating its employees about their union membership, activities and sympathies
  • Creating an impression among its employees that their union activities were under surveillance
  • Informing its employees that it was futile for them to have selected the union as their bargaining representative in the election
  • Informing employees that a foreman threatened to shoot a union representative if the representative did not leave the property 
  • Failing and refusing to recognize and bargain with the union as the exclusive collective-bargaining representative of the employees
  • Distributing a flyer denigrating and humiliating its employees who supported the union and who had engaged in union activities.

The Faces of the Fired 

U-Haul fired 39 workers since the organizing campaign began.  While they could eventually be reinstated and awarded backpay if U-Haul is found to have violated labor laws, the fired workers have already suffered enormously.  As charges against U-Haul drag on, the mechanics have struggled to repair their lives. 

Jorge Garcia:  A father of four, went six months without working, barely supporting his family with unemployment insurance. 

Salvador Campos:  He was fired just a month after his second child was born, and couldn't find work for six months. 

Alberto Banico:  He was fired last December shortly after buying a new house, and is still struggling to find work.

 

» Download as a fact sheet (PDF)
» Download as a fact sheet in Spanish (PDF) 

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Endnotes 

1: NLRB February 5, 2004, Region 28, Order Further Consolidating Cases, Fifth Consolidated Complaint, and Notice of Hearing.