The workers--a collection of office staff, bike messengers, and truck delivery drivers--work for Transerv, a delivery service that specializes in process servings for lawsuits. Last week, through the local IWW Industrial Union 540, those workers took the first step toward validating their union: They filed papers with the National Labor Relations Board. The next several weeks will be critical in the formation of the union. The organizers must now host an election and ratify the desire for a union by a majority of the company's workers; they believe that they have that number.
"The bikes are solid as a rock," claimed Nate, one of the bike messengers at the center of the union effort, referring to the 15 or so bike messengers who are part of the union effort. He was confident that about 10 office staff and 15 truck drivers would stand with their effort.
Like most unions, the organizers are hoping for better wages and work conditions, but messengers emphasized that it is simple intangibles that are most important--like respect.
"We are hoping to peg down job security," explained Nate. Several messengers complained about feeling vulnerable to the owners of Transerv; according to workers, their bosses have fined and fired bikers for innocuous offenses like jumping curbs and riding on sidewalks; accusations that bikers claim they are not given an opportunity to defend themselves against.
The most barbed issue on the table is the form of payment that workers receive. Delivery workers are paid on a commission basis, yet their pay stubs fail to reflect the exact breakdown on their income. In the past, workers have complained to the two owners of Transerv but, according to union organizers, they have been told that the company's payroll program is unable to print out such detailed reports.
"There is a strong sense that we not getting paid for everything we're earning," lamented Nate. (In a peculiar coincidence, the first pay check following the group's announcement of unionizing reflected a near $2 per hour increase in wages.)
Owners for Transerv refused to comment and would not answer even simple questions, such as how long the company has been in business.
The desire for a union at Transerv has been agitating for nearly a year. Messengers choose to channel their efforts through the local, so-called Wobblies--the IWW--because the union allows a certain degree of autonomy and control by the workers, an acute concern for workers.
Donations to help the messengers finalize their plans for a union and pay registration dues may be sent to: The Industrial Union 540 Fund, c/o Red & Black Collective/ 2138 SE Division/ Portland, OR, 97202. For more information, call: (503) 231-5488.