18 August 2010, Wednesday

UPS: We will never give up

MOLLY MCGRATH molly@emekdunyasi.net

It's like this: Organizing a union in Turkey requires preparation akin to that of a hostile corporate takeover.

All organizing efforts must be conducted in complete secrecy. Unions must beware of company informants. A trifecta of legal hurdles to represent workers (as individuals, in a 'branch,' and in an industry) must be overcome. Legal loopholes that allow workers to be persecuted for union sympathy must be avoided. Authorities turn a blind eye, and ultimately are egregiously complacent to violations of worker's rights.

TÜMTİS, Turkey's road transport union, had a well-planned campaign to organize UPS, as it is accustomed to organizing in this repressive environment. But the union was discovered before it reached the threshold of 50%+1 of the workforce. So, TÜMTİS has had to fight UPS tooth and nail, in a shockingly well-calculated company initiative to dismantle the TÜMTİS union.

UPS in Turkey has illegally fired more than 150 workers over the past five months. It may seem like a small number, but it represents the nature of the UPS' anti-union campaign. Over the past five months, managers have held closed room; one-on-one interrogations with workers, as they methodically work their way down the hierarchical workline. UPS managers tell workers to resign from TÜMTİS, or be fired. Thus, small groups of workers are fired every couple days or weeks. Larger groups are fired when workers take public action in support of TÜMTİS.

When workers refuse to resign from the union, managers discharge firearms to make their message more clear, which happened in Izmir for example. When picketing workers try to stop UPS from bringing in new subcontracted employees to take their jobs, riot police attack workers.

Yet Scott Davis, CEO of UPS, says Turkish management has followed the law, that subcontractors fired the workers, and UPS has no control over what its subcontractors do. Both propositions are plain lies.

By some standards and in some countries, UPS is a relatively good company regarding workers' rights. In Turkey's case, however, UPS has failed miserably. It has violated international standards and Turkish law. The Labour Ministry in Turkey even agrees: it recently ruled a UPS worker was fired unfairly and deserved severance pay. Similar rulings are likely to follow.

UPS has even violated its own Code of Conduct. Its policy protects workers' "freedom from wrongful discrimination or any form of discriminatory harassment." Over 150 workers fired for joining a union constitutes "wrongful discrimination" clear and simple. UPS's Code promises to "comply with all laws governing fair employment and labor practices, and to not discriminate against any employee in any aspect of their employment at UPS."

Again, UPS has failed miserably.

Even so, UPS business continues as usual in Turkey. With glitz and glamour, Mike Harrell, Country Manager for UPS in Turkey, set sail on an elegant Bosporus cruise for UPS' Turkish customers on August 4, to celebrate the one year anniversary of UPS' acquisition of Unsped Paket Servisi (UPS). Not 30 kilometers away, in a dusty industrial area far from the Istanbul elite, fired workers spent their 100th day on the picket line.

I have a message for UPS: we will never give up. We will continue to cover every worker rights violation and aspect of the UPS campaign. We will support the picket lines. We will write more letters, send more emails, give out more flyers, and organize more rallies. Foremost, we will demand action from UPS' Headquarters in Atlanta.

And TÜMTİS workers will never give up, and neither will the abundant groups that support them. TÜMTİS has received international solidarity from Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Russia, Spain, Belarus, Brazil, Norway and the United States, the International Transport Federation, the European Transport Federation, supportive politicians and NGOs, and more. Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has even been sent a letter about the situation.

TODAY, TAREM, TÜMTİS, and the International Transport Federation are embarking on a global organizing project to augment TÜMTİS' organizing and win a union at UPS in Turkey. I hope UPS knows what's coming. Because we will never give up.