DHL workers in Pawtucket striking for livable wages and healthcare
“I can’t afford healthcare. I’m single, on my own,” said DHL Worker Amber Fortier. “They offered 60% coverage, but we found out it was only 60% for an individual. When people have families that 60% isn’t covering their spouse and children.”
Rhode Island Workers at Northeast Transportation Services LCC in Pawtucket are striking to protect and expand their worker’s rights and benefits. Northeast Transportation maintains a DHL ServicePoint and does package deliveries throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Northeast Transportation Services is owned and operated by Ron Lydick, who allowed the contract with his workers to expire in March. The workers, unionized under the Teamsters Local 251, have been on strike since June 22. At issue are livable wages, affordable healthcare and retirement benefits.
Uprise RI spoke to workers outside the facility, which has hired scabs to run deliveries while workers try to bargain with management. Union workers have detailed unsafe behavior on the part of scab workers, including driving a truck under a too low bridge and getting it stuck and scab workers allegedly exiting the delivery vehicles to smoke cannabis while working. At one point a scab was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill unionized workers, and Uprise RI saw a video of a man allegedly threatening DHL workers while driving erratically and throwing objects at their automobile.
DHL Worker Toby Leblanc: We don’t have healthcare. What the healthcare they do offer is unaffordable. And I’ll put real numbers on that. The family plan they offered up in the negotiations costs about $2200 a month. They are willing to cover $498 a month of that. So we’re talking $1,800 a month, just for healthcare. When we bring up the fact that it’s unaffordable, they ask, “Where are they getting it now?” And we’re like, “A lot of them aren’t getting it at all. They can’t afford it. “
DHL Worker Amber Fortier: I think there’s only four people who can afford the health insurance.
Leblanc: Well, they can’t really afford it, but they have to pay for it. They have to.
Fortier: I can’t afford healthcare. I’m single, on my own. They offered 60% coverage, but we found out it was only 60% for an individual. When people have families that 60% isn’t covering their spouse and children.
Leblanc: I’ve been on the Health Connector in Massachusetts for years. It’s ridiculous. I, on average, work a 50 to 60 hour week, every week. And I can’t afford healthcare and I’ve been doing this job since ’96. This isn’t a job for me. I’m 51 years old. I’ve been doing this my entire adult life. I’ve been doing this half of my actual life. and I make two and a half dollars more than my son – my 20 year old son who works at a gas station. So yeah. This is not this.
Fortier: I can’t afford health insurance. And then I get charged on my taxes for not having it. $700. They charged me for not having it when I couldn’t afford to get it.
Leblanc: They are paying us $18 an hour. We went in asking for $23. The owner’s response was “Wow.”
Fortier: In Boston they make $28 an hour.
Leblanc: Yeah. All of the union stations make a lot under the national contract.
Uprise RI: Lydick must be cleaning up in Rhode Island. They’re paying in Boston, but they’re not paying you guys here in Rhode Island. All that extra money is going directly to the owners.
Leblanc: They said they can’t afford it. They said, “We have a bucket of money. We can’t do anything more than what’s in that bucket. We asked to see the books to see what’s in the bucket. They won’t show it to us. Then they turned around and said, “Let’s be clear. We’re not saying we can’t afford to give you what you’re asking for. We are unwilling to.” That’s a direct quote from their lawyer.
Uprise RI: Aside from healthcare and wages, what else is on the list?
Leblanc: We’ve put forth a proposal on retirement that they’ve barely acknowledged. To be honest, they barely acknowledged the money issue and we can’t get past the healthcare.
Uprise RI: This is a tough physical job, right?
Fortier: Yeah. We lift up to 75 pounds of packages.
Leblanc: Not including the straight drive. I’m the P-town driver. I do 300 miles a day.
Uprise RI: You go to Provincetown and back to Rhode Island every day?
Leblanc: Every day. Yeah. And I’m usually averaging around 30 to 50 stops day. I’ve been running around, going from one business to another passing out pamphlets, letting them know to not ship with DHL. Support the strike. And everyone I’ve talked to have been super supportive. Some were ex-union. Others just want to be supportive. We treat our customers well.
Leblanc: One of the scabs got fired for [allegedly] threatening to shoot everybody. Then this dude pulled up on me yesterday. I had two other guys in the car, and he was like, “Pull over. So I can kick all three of your asses.” He was stuff throwing at my car. We got a video.
Uprise RI: I think this might of show how desperate management is if they’re hiring any person who walks in…
DHL Worker and Shop Steward Tiffany Lynn Braley: Basically the outside career people that are replacing us are not, obviously, of the caliber they need to be as employees. They drove one of the trucks into a bridge on Blackstone the other day and got stuck. Opened the top of it like a tuna can. We were a couple cars back and I was in the car and I just looked at the girls and I was like, is he going to do this? I’s like, you see the sign. He’s going. He’s going. He’s going. Boom! Right into the bridge. And he didn’t do anything. He didn’t even put his hazards on.