PAWTUCKET – Dozens of DHL delivery drivers based in this city are engaged in an acrimonious standoff with Northeast Transportation, the third-party contractor that employs them.
The drivers have been on strike for two weeks, seeking lower health-insurance costs and higher wages, and have been picketing outside the distribution facility 24 hours a day.
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Matthew Maini, a representative of Teamsters Local 251, said an armed security guard came after him with a baseball bat on Friday. Pawtucket police arrested the guard, and have also arrested union members picketing, Maini said.
Sgt. Teddy Georgitsis of the Pawtucket Police Department confirmed there had been three arrests at the facility on Friday but declined to comment further.
“We need to stay neutral,” he said.
Phone calls to Northeast Transportation LLC, which is headquartered in South Carolina, were not returned on Tuesday. DHL also did not respond to a request for comment.
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Employees of Northeast Transportation, a subcontractor for DHL, unionized with the Teamsters in 2017. Maini said the bargaining unit consists of about 70 people.
The drivers’ contract expired at the end of March, and workers went on strike on June 22 after failing to reach a new agreement with the company.
Why are the DHL drivers striking?
“You can’t settle for less,” said Charles Reid, a driver who recently moved to DHL after being part of a long-running strike against liquor distributor Johnston Brothers. “You have to know what you’re worth and go for it.”
Maini said the high cost of company-provided health insurance was the major driving factor behind the strike. The company’s “family plan” costs $340 a week, he said, while the average worker is making $19.80 an hour.
James Taylor, a courier and dock worker, said that the company has claimed it can’t afford better wages and benefits, but hasn’t been willing to provide proof.
“They’re not disclosing their books,” he said. “They say we’re breaking them but refuse to prove that. They say it’s for security reasons, but that leads us to think that they’re lying.”
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Drivers who were walking the picket line on Tuesday also cited broader frustrations with the way the company is run, saying that managers have unreasonable expectations of how much ground they can cover in one day, and send them on illogical and inefficient routes.
“A lot of these managers, they’re sent from other parts of the United States,” said Amber Fortier. “They don’t know the area, and they don’t try to understand how far everything is. They’ll take you from one area and send you to another to do a pickup and not realize how much they’re throwing you off.”
What the drivers have to say
Rolando Flores, a driver whose route stretches from Fall River and Westport to Jamestown, said he leaves the Pawtucket facility at around 9:30 a.m. and is expected to make as many as 60 deliveries in six towns across two states while also doing pick-ups in those communities.
If he doesn’t get back to Pawtucket by 6 p.m., he said, he’ll have to drive another hour north and return the truck to Westborough, Massachusetts, where there is a larger distribution hub.
“There’s no organization in the place at all,” agreed Theresa Duarte. “You’re basically setting me up for failure on the route.”
Duarte, at 22, is one of the youngest drivers at the company. She said she’s trying to go back to school, but working for Northeast Transportation leaves her with little spare time. Even if she finishes her route early, she said, she’s asked to go and help someone else.
“I live here,” she said. “I visit home.”
Ana Meyer, a mother of two, said that her typical route involves driving to Cape Cod and back, which makes it hard to see her children.
“Sometimes I get back at 9 o’clock,” she said. “I’ll be clocking out around 9:30.”
How have tensions during the strike escalated?
During the two weeks that they’ve been striking, drivers have been picketing the distribution facility at 101 Concord St. in Pawtucket, near Route 95 and just a short distance over the Providence line. The Teamsters say that the picket is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they encourage people to stop by and show their support.
Workers allege that Northeast Transportation has been paying $55 an hour to untrained and unqualified “scabs” who are making deliveries while drivers are out on strike. Last week, Teamsters for a Democratic Union posted photos on social media that appeared to show a DHL truck stuck underneath a bridge with low clearance.
“Why are you wasting all this money, and not listening to your employees?” Duarte asked.
On a recent Tuesday, a Pawtucket police officer was stationed outside the Concord Street facility. When a car with New York plates approached and began to turn into the facility’s parking lot, Teamsters members began blowing whistles and shouting profanities at the “scab,” while the officer stepped in to escort the car through.
Maini said that Teamsters members have been arrested for “disorderly” behavior while picketing outside the facility, only to have the charges thrown out by a judge because the activity is legally protected by national labor relations law.
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Georgitsis, of the Pawtucket police, declined to comment Tuesday. Maini said that the Teamsters are pursuing litigation against the department.
Maini said that he and Teamsters Local 251 Principal Officer Matthew Taibi were picketing outside the Pawtucket facility on Friday when they were threatened by an armed security guard.
“He just got out of the car and snapped,” Maini said. “He grabbed a baseball bat and came after myself and Mr. Taibi.”
Maini said the guard was arrested and was supposed to be arraigned on Tuesday. He said he couldn’t recall if the guard had said anything to him: “I was too busy focusing on whether I was going to have to break his jaw.”
Georgitsis directed The Providence Journal to formally request the arrest report in order to learn more about the incident, saying that he would confirm that there were three arrests at 101 Concord St. on Friday but could not provide additional information due to a desire to remain neutral.