July 15, 2023 • The Communicator July-Aug-Sept 2023 • By Fred Bruning
With renewed confidence and a high sense of purpose, officials and delegates of the new Printing Packaging & Production Workers Union of North America will meet Aug. 29-31 in Las Vegas for the organization’s first convention since its predecessor union, the GCC/IBT, was ousted from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters earlier this year.
PPPWU leaders said the convention demonstrates the union’s resiliency after the IBT’s abrupt decision to rescind terms of a 2004 merger agreement that brought together the Teamsters and Graphic Communications International Union (GCIU) into a partnership that formed the Graphic Communications Conference of the IBT.
“We’re here to stay,” said PPPWU President Kurt Freeman. “We are strong, united and determined to remain the top union in the printing, packaging and production fields. Our members expect good contracts and superior service and we are going to keep delivering.”
The meeting at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino is the first on-site convention of the former GCC/IBT since June, 2016, and comes after a three-year covid health crisis made in-person events risky.
Delegates will vote on an amended constitution and by-laws, nominate and elect an international leadership team – president, secretary-treasurer and regional general board members – and address a variety of matters essential to the transition of the union from GCC/IBT to PPPWU.
“There will be hefty revisions of the constitution – changes to ensure that, structurally, the PPPWU is best set up to thrive as an independent union while we investigate the possibility of whether another merger is in our interests or not,” said general counsel Peter Leff.
Not since delegates gathered for the first time under the GCC/IBT banner has there been a national meeting of such significance. “The convention represents a historic moment for our union,” Freeman said.
It also underlines the remarkable developments of the last few months and the extent to which the trajectory of a labor organization – now the PPPWU – with a history that can be traced back more than 100 years has been altered.
A headline in the Graphic Communicator’s 2016 convention coverage noted that delegates were warned to “Get Ready to Fight for Union Survival” – words that at the time pertained to right-wing efforts to undercut organized labor but now can be read as an ironic forecast of turmoil prompted this year by the IBT’s move to unilaterally terminate the GCC-IBT agreement.
In 2021, the GCC/IBT held a convention – the fourth in its history – via video conferencing as a precaution against spreading the covid virus.
The theme was “Organizing for a Better Tomorrow,” and featured remarks by then-Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the top Teamster leadership at the time, General President James P. Hoffa and General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall.
As President Joe Biden began putting together the most union-friendly administration in decades, Hoffa spoke optimistically about the “kind of change we can achieve when we have politicians who support our values” and Walsh said organized labor would be at the “center” of economic recovery as the nation began emerging from covid setbacks..
‘We made it clear to the IBT that in order to have successful negotiations, we needed to maintain our graphic communications, printing and packaging identity.’PPPWU President Kurt Freeman