In a May 1990 Newsletter article, the Union reveals how it went to work to save the Refinery. “For most of its history Local 877 avoided becoming involved in Politics. We never had to be involved before. Now, suddenly that all changed, the 650 of us in the
Teamsters Local 877, the 100 members of the BESU, the several hundred AFL-CIO Contractors who depended on Bayway for their living, the 700 Management and Technical People who work in the yard, and literally thousands of others who worked for the vendors who supply Bayway were going to be out of work if we didn't do something."
"One of the things we had to do was convince the Environmental People that even if they didn't trust Exxon. They could depend on us.” adds Walt Blusewicz, "An Environmental Committee was set up, an Educational Program for the Community on our Safety Program took place, and Lobbying efforts ranged from the Department of Environmental Protection right up to Governor Florio."
In June of 1990, it looks like the impossible seems to happen. Bayway is saved. The cloud had lifted ever so slightly and Bayway was back. It was almost too good to be true. Money was put into Bayway. Environmental agreements were made with the State of New Jersey. For the first time since 1981 a hiring program was begun.
Along with this influx of interest in the plant came a corresponding crackdown on the wage ranks. Drug and alcohol searches, car checks, discipline over small infractions that before went unnoticed. In his June message Blusewicz continues, "We want all of you to be careful. Teamsters local 877 will back you and defend you whatever ways we can." The Local started to fight back against this new wave. Grievances were filed. Our own drug and alcohol program was begun without the companies knowledge, those who used this program never had anything entered in their Medical file. Six of the most important cases were taken to Arbitration. These were for the violations occurring around Minor Maintenance policy, the Overtime Policy, the Companies Drug and Alcohol Policy, the Waterfront Rules and Regulations, the refusal of benefits coverage after 40 hours during a mandatory 58 hour work week and the Termination of 4 members due to outside drug charges without proof of conviction.
The demonstrations and marches around the Administration Building began once again. And the Leadership started to look for allies among the truck drivers, other independent Exxon Unions and the OCA W. This campaign did not go unnoticed by Management. Blusewicz notes, "Exxon has not taken all this with a grain of salt. Several members of the Executive Board have come under attack by the company, with threats of warning letters, time off and in general being harassed in any way possible. This includes trying to discredit them with the spreading of innuendo and rumors ... They have also taken to again stalling our Grievance Procedure... As a matter of fact during the past week and one-half this Executive Board has filed 3 Major Charges with the National Labor Relations Board. These Charges include 4 counts of Failure to Bargain with the Union on contract changes, one for failing to tell the Union why some of its members were suspended, and one for interfering with our Organizing efforts at Domestic Trades."
Another way the company hurt the Union was by luring many members into management with the "watered down" Uprate agreement. People began to question if there was collusion between the ex-Board Members now in Management when they were on the Board. The leadership of the Union countered with the facts, the economic situation at the time of the back downs was responsible for the cutbacks, the Membership as a whole voted on the Agreements made with Management during that time period. The leadership also went back to the old time Board Members for advice, some was reprinted in the newsletter. "They knew that they had a special responsibility. They knew that no matter what they might once have wanted for themselves, when they became a Union Officer they took on a special obligation ... Members look to Union Officers as people they must have confidence in. The old timers knew that. That's why they didn't jump from the Union to join Management... We in Local 877 are learning from them."
Of course the company once again tried to convince the newly hired groups to be loyal to the company rather than to the union. Keeping them well isolated from the rest of the workforce, they wined and dined them like an elite crew.
In 1991, the leadership of the local again changes hands. No sooner did they get into office when rumors of a sale began. While the New Executive Board was dealing with the many questions the membership had regarding the possibility of a sale. The armed forces of the United States and other NATO allies were preparing for a conflict in the Persian Gulf. Once again the membership of Local 877 showed support for the men and women who were far away fighting, by organizing a march to the Veterans Monument in Linden.
Local 877 march to support the men and women who were fighting in the Persian Gulf
The worst period for the Union yet begins. Marty Castimore, then Secretary Treasurer says "The company announced the sale on December 10th, 1992 in the Cafeteria. The Executive Board found out at the same time as everyone else." The Board now faced having to negotiate with two companies. Tosco immediately announces that it will not be hiring everyone, and they will not be going to hire on the basis of seniority but on qualifications. Their Head Negotiator McGarvey comes into the first session with a twelve page contract and says, "We have to bargain with you but not come to an agreement. If you guys choose to go on strike, we will mail out letters of intent to hire and we will fill and run this place."
Marty Castimore and Rich Tomasso, both on the Negotiations Committee said of that time, "We knew people weren't going to strike because the new hires already knew that they had guaranteed jobs with Tosco before the vote ...There were differences of opinion on what seniority was. The International wanted to keep the Teamsters Union intact. The seniority issue was defined by the law. They wanted us to keep the seniority of the people rehired by the new company. They said outside of a major strike we weren't going to keep the old seniority ... People on the board had a hard time accepting that, we knew there was no way that everyone was going to be hired and no matter what way it was done, it wasn't going to be fair."
After a confusing series of events the negotiations came to an impasse, the International, and Teamster Joint Council 73 stepped in and managed to save another 20 jobs in return for getting the contracts to the membership for ratification.
At the ratification meeting, (the first one ever to have local police to maintain order.) the membership was visibly upset. People knew that they were going to be unemployed or were taking a cut in pay, or major job change. People’s lives were once again being destroyed by an uncaring corporation. Only one member of the Executive Board asked the membership to vote down the contract. The others felt it was the best that they could get. The meeting ended in turmoil, being adjourned by President Fonseca who then put the microphone in his brief case. No one knew what was in the contracts, Curt Greder made an attempt to inform the membership but more than half had left the hall. The next day though, both contracts were ratified by the membership, many of whom asked for a copy of the contract after voting.
Some thirty people were immediately without jobs, many others were put back on shift after many years of service, and the refinery contract gave back many items that the former Exxon Management had wanted for many years. Wages remained the same for most of the members but benefits were cut, Minor Maintenance was greatly increased for the Process People, the intent to get rid of the crafts was accomplished through creation of a refinery wide mechanic, there were no percentages for putting people on shift, work rules and overtime rules were scrapped, and the loss of Independent Safety Inspectors, Dispatchers and Shift Mechanics (For tying up ships) was accomplished by the company. Worst the seniority system had been radically changed. Now not only would there be a separation of the Chemical Plant and the Refinery (Which Exxon always wanted), but in the Refinery the list would be divided between Mechanical and Process and be based on qualifications.
The union had taken a severe beating, but the membership was yet willing to fight on. An entire new Executive Board was elected in 1994, never before had this happened. Grievances were filed over the seniority and other major issues surrounding the sale. The new Executive Boards attitude is reflected in the statement made by Walter Blusewicz in his interview, "I'm looking forward to the next set of negotiations. Hopefully we can get the Bayway Refining Company contract back to the better positions on seniority, double-time, etc. As for the Chemical Plant, I want to try to get them to treat our people like human beings rather than purely as pieces of machinery that make them profit."
Among the many things this new Executive Board did was to change several Articles in the Local Constitution, all designed to stop any abuse of power and return control of the union back to the members. Grievances were filed on every infraction of the contract, over 14 grievances were taken to Arbitration in 1994, of 6 termination's 4 were reversed by the impartial arbitrators. Stewards Schools were resumed, and each Steward was now held responsible to not only the Executive Board but to the membership as well, The degrading job of plant service was abolished and each of those members were put into either, mechanical craft training, (BRC), or into Assistant Operator jobs at the Exxon Chemical Plant.
General Membership Meetings were held together, and the meetings were more cordial and open to suggestion of the members. The first Pension Party in over 3 years was held honoring over 35 retiree's. Separate teams were formed to handle the problems in each company. The 25th Anniversary Picnic was a great success, with many members asking that it be made an annual event. Many other union functions were planned for the members to bring them closer to the union. A Strike Fund was set up, and the Executive Board and Bargaining Teams from each company began going to schools, learning new bargaining tactics and negotiating skills.