October 10, 2023 • The Communicator Oct -Nov – Dec 2023 • By Fred Bruning, The Communicator
Celebrating Courage and Solidarity
Las Vegas – Delegates to the first convention of the Printing Packaging & Production Workers Union of North America swiftly remade the organization in three work-filled days, transforming it from the former GCC/IBT into what leaders said was a nimble and resilient union that would safeguard its independence and confidently meet any challenge in the years ahead.
“This is a momentous occasion,” said PPPWU President Kurt Freeman. “The future is as bright as we can imagine.”
For more than a year, Freeman said, union officials had prevailed against an abrupt decision by Teamster leaders to scuttle a 2004 GCIU-IBT merger agreement and oust the GCC/IBT unless it surrendered autonomy.
The union showed courage and fortitude during a period of “heavy” struggles, Freeman said, and not only kept the organization intact as an autonomous body but prepared it for continued success as the most effective labor organization in the printing, packaging and production sectors.
Delegates applauded leaders who guided the union through a difficult period and showed resolve in dealing with a powerful rival. “They punched the bully in the nose,” said Jim Longerbone, president of Local 1-M, St. Paul.
At several points, the convention turned toward national issues bearing on workers’ rights, the labor movement, and union-related politics.
Leaders urged delegates to support labor-friendly candidates and emphasized the importance of re-electing President Joe Biden, who Freeman called the “most labor-friendly president in my lifetime.”
Biden also drew the endorsement of George Tedeschi, PPPWU president emeritus.
Tedeschi acknowledged that many union members had voted for Donald Trump because the former president exploited emotional cultural issues.
He urged delegates not to be distracted by inflammatory rhetoric and warned that Trump, at this point the likely GOP candidate, had promised to support working people but did little for labor while in the White House.
On the other hand, Tedeschi said, “Joe Biden is not afraid to say ‘I’m a union guy.’ Trump may talk the talk but doesn’t deliver.”
Working sessions at the convention were devoted to essential matters intended to assure a strong foundation for the PPPWU – updating the union’s constitution, electing leaders and developing strategy in committee meetings. “Each of us plays a pivotal role,” Freeman said. “Your presence here symbolizes your dedication to the cause that has brought us together.”
The convention provided a particularly poignant setting for Freeman, who likely made his last major appearance as the union’s leader. After four years in the top position, Freeman, 65, announced he would retire on Oct. 31 to spend more time with his wife, Theresa, and family in New Jersey.
“It has been the honor of my life to serve this great labor organization,” Freeman said in his final Communicator column on Page 2 of this edition.
He will be succeeded by Secretary-Treasurer/Vice President Steve Nobles. Replacing Nobles, 64, in the new part-time role of secretary-treasurer – the title “vice president” has been eliminated – will be Clark Ritchey, 57,
secretary-treasurer of District Council 2.
Nobles and Ritchey were elected to their posts by convention delegates, according to a provision that allows delegates to vote on international officers and board members.
Nobles immediately sounded a resolute tone.
He warned of “vindictive forces” seeking to “bust our union” and hailed the strength of Freeman and general board members for resisting IBT demands for “complete surrender.”
With the Teamsters now waging a campaign to recruit from within PPPWU ranks, Nobles said, members and leaders must guard against efforts to “destroy us.”
Nobles said the 2004 merger was “skillfully” negotiated by two outstanding union leaders – George Tedeschi, then president of the GCIU and now president emeritus of the PPPWU and IBT General President James Hoffa – and that the move by new IBT officials to scrap the agreement was an attempt to “rewrite history.”
Ritchey also vowed to protect PPPWU independence consistent with “the ideas of a progressive” labor organization. “Our goal is to build a better future for a long-standing union, to provide benefits for members and their families and negotiate fair contracts for hard-working men and women across the country,” Ritchey said. “We stand together stronger in solidarity.”
‘Keep the faith, my friends.’Steve Nobles, PPPWU secretary-treasurer/vice president and incoming president
The IBT ultimatum, issued in June 2022, led to arbitration and a court challenge initiated by the GCC/IBT. Both continue under consideration but Peter Leff, PPPWU general counsel, said he was confident the union would prevail in court and in arbitration hearings.
As it reorganized, the PPPWU made certain its updated constitution – passed by convention delegates – was “properly situated” to establish an independent union with a “focus” on representing members, Leff said.
Taking note of IBT recruitment efforts, Leff said the strategy was regrettable. To counter IBT “fishing” expeditions, he said, it was essential that union leaders make clear the advantages of remaining a member of the PPPWU.
“We have to point out that our contracts are the best in the industry,” Leff said. “Also important to emphasize is that signing a petition with another union could lead to loss of representation entirely, lengthy delays in contract talks, and, accordingly, delays in gaining pay and benefits increases.”
Officials said the IBT was contacting individual PPPWU members with postcards and phone calls. “This is just the beginning of their efforts to bust our union,” Nobles said.
‘Each of us plays a pivotal role. Your presence here symbolizes your dedication to the cause that has brought us together.’Kurt Freeman, PPPWU president
Despite a tumultuous year, delegates and leaders at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel expressed confidence that the new union would prosper. “If we stay united – and this convention shows we are – we will weather the storm,” said Mike LaSpina, president, Local 406-C, Long Island. We’re going to be okay.”
Delegates said it was essential that older members give newcomers a sense of union history. “We have a lot of new blood and need to remind them of where we came from and know where we’re going,” said Jeremiah DeArcos, president, Local 568-M, Peoria, Illinois.
“We have to establish ourselves as a new union. We’re not just printing anymore but packaging and production, too. We have to expand the notion of the union.” Janice Bort, secretary-treasurer of Local 72-C, Washington, D.C. also urged more attention on the origins story of a union that dates back more than a century. “I’m excited that the oldest union in the United States is the newest,” Bort said. “We’ll keep it going because we’re proud of our history.”
While optimism prevailed, delegates and leaders warned against over-confidence as the union continues to establish itself amid legal battles, outside threats and daunting challenges for organized labor amid continued
loss of membership. In a video presentation, Alejandro Guzman, the PPPWU’s full-time organizer, urged that all elements of the union – leaders and rank-and-file members – commit themselves to reversing the years of membership declines.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Guzman said. “Executing an organizing plan creates success. Look at the power you have.” Freeman underlined Guzman’s call to action. “Nothing is more important going forward than organizing and fighting Teamster raiding,” he said. Members agreed.
‘Have pride – I know you all do.’George Tedeschi, PPPWU president emeritus
“We have to get the word out and stay together,” said Reuben Silva of Local 388-M, Los Angeles. “Organize and get bigger, stronger, in solidarity.” Added Pat LoPresti, president of Local 1-L, New York: “We must organize and
maintain our high standards.”
In a final word to delegates, Tedeschi, recalled past triumphs and urged delegates to return home committed to the hard work ahead. “Have pride,” he said. “I know you all do.”
Delegates and officers responded with a standing ovation – the second afforded Tedeschi, who had led the GCIU and GCC/IBT for nearly a quarter-century.
‘We have to establish ourselves as a new union. We’re not just printing anymore but packaging and production, too. We have to expand the notion of the union.’Jeremiah DeArcos, president, Local 568-M, Peoria, Illinois
As the PPPWU moves forward, officials said, there likely will be need for consolidation – smaller locals merging with larger – and possible affiliation with another labor organization. “One that treats us with the respect we
deserve,” Nobles said.
For an organization that had been through a difficult and eventful year, the PPPWU appeared strong and united. Nobles said he and Ritchey would work diligently to achieve progress and assure the union’s future.
“Keep the faith, my friends,” he said.