Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

After Four Months on the Picket Line, Striking Oil Workers Are Still Going Strong

While United Metro Energy Corp. workers were picketing in front of the company gates, the union representatives undercut the strike by allowing trucks to continue to come and go.

Ioan Georg

August 11, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
Photo by @luigimorris

On Aug 10, Teamster Joint Council 16 called a rally outside the gates of United Metro Energy Corp, in support of workers who have been on strike for nearly four months. The essential workers are responsible for the movement of petroleum and other fuels that power the “City That Never Sleeps; they walked out on April 19, in an escalation of their fight for a first union contract. Ever since they voted to join Teamsters Local 553 in early 2019, billionaire owner John Catsimatidis has done everything he can to stall the first contract. Left Voice has been following the struggle since it’s early days: read more about it here

The rally — a few dozen strong — began with speeches from Teamster Local 553 Secretary-Treasurer Demos Demopoulos and a handful of local DSA and DSA-backed Democrat politicians: NYC Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, City Council candidate Tiffany Cabán, and NY State Senators Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport. Also speaking were three rank-and-filer workers, Andre Soleyn, Ivan Areizaga, and Asaaf John, who spoke about why they struck and their experience on the picket line. Following the speeches, photos were taken, and so ended the official rally. 

In his speech, Andre Soleyn said: “I’m here as part of a group of essential workers. We’ve been here throughout the pandemic and we’ve been working hard for this company. We can’t stay home and load the trucks. We can’t stay home and fix the boiler…And in addition to that, we make sure that the city is run, we are the lifeblood of the city. But we’re not being compensated enough.”

Ivan Areizaga spoke about his son’s Type 1 Diabetes and his family’s struggle to ensure he has access to the proper medication. He added that “what we’re fighting for is better benefits, pay as the rest of the industry is getting, protection for ourselves, for our family, better working conditions.” Lastly, Asaaf John explained that “here you are treated like you’re not a human being. Four months [on strike] and still we can’t get what we’re asking for ourselves and our family”.

Immediately afterwards, the striking workers led a short procession towards the depot gates to block fuel trucks coming in to load, followed by a string of supporters who walked the line with them. Meanwhile, the Teamster bureaucracy and staff continued to hobnob with the politicians. Workers stopped a handful of fuel trucks and service vans outside the gate for a short time, or, having crossed the line, were blocked from leaving the depot. Shamefully, one such truck was driven by a fellow Teamster, (worse yet, an actual shop steward even) who respected the picket early in the strike but who has since decided to scab. 

The militant activity of the rank-and-file initially forced Teamster leadership to slow down trucks a few hundred feet up the road from the gates, but soon afterwards, the union bureaucracy began to make a path through the picket line to allow trucks to cross. They claimed that some of the drivers were not scabs; they were “good guys at a good company,” and that the union was doing everything they could to win legally. This caused an uproar between many of the workers and the union bureaucrats, who were becoming increasingly isolated on the line. Members of Left Voice and other groups stayed with the workers to hold the line. 

As the picket was winding down, strike leader Andre called an impromptu meeting of the workers and supporters to discuss how to continue blocking trucks. It was decided that picket lines will be established on Tuesdays and Thursdays — the busiest days of the week — between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. This is a perfect illustration of how, as workers gain confidence in fighting, union democracy is always sure to follow. All the decisions can, and should, be made by the workers, not imposed as top-down decisions by compromised labor bureaucrats.

Though small in numbers, this was one of the first attempts during this strike to establish a real picket line; that is, one that actually tries to shut down the workplace. The confidence to stop the trucks comes partially from workers’ frustrations with the union leadership after over 100 days of striking, but also because workers believe the company is moving to settle soon; there has been movement on pay rates and the company has asked for back-to-back negotiation sessions. More drivers are respecting the strike every day, and Ivan tells Left Voice that he believes UMEC is feeling the strike’s effects: ten costly pipeline shutdowns have been caused by incompetent scabs and uncertified managers; a faulty calibration led to the company giving away one percent of its fuel for free and the company simply needs all hands on deck to prepare for the winter rush season. To force the company’s hand, though, the workers must continue to escalate this pressure. Indeed, they are the only ones who know how to do the work safely.

To really stick it to Catsimatidis, what’s needed are more and larger picket lines, to shut down the depot entirely. In his speech, Secretary-Treasurer Demos referred to New York as a union town; buta real union town could mobilize more workers on a picket line. There are more than a hundred thousand Teamsters just in Joint Council 16, and many thousands more in the New York City labor movement. Union leadership could do more to mobilize those masses if they wanted to. Left Voice urges supporters to fight alongside UMEC workers, and especially to join the picket line on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. 

Facebook Twitter Share

Ioan Georg

Ioan is a factory worker at an optical lens plant in Queens, NY and a shop steward in IUE-CWA Local 463.

Labor Movement

CUNY workers at a demonstration hold a banner that reads "STRIKE TO SAVE CUNY."

CUNY Workers Launch New Strike Campaign

As Governor Hochul proposes another $528 million in cuts, workers at the City University of New York are fighting back.

Olivia Wood

February 12, 2024
With the U.S Capitol in the background, demonstrators rally during the March on Washington for Gaza at Freedom Plaza in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

AFL-CIO’s Ceasefire Call Shows Power of the Movement for Palestine

The AFL-CIO has called for a ceasefire in Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza. The labor movement must go further for Palestinian liberation and break with the bipartisan regime.

Otto Fors

February 11, 2024

After Historic Strike, UAW Bureaucrats Sit By as Stellantis Lays Off Hundreds of Workers

Only a few months after a historic contract struggle and strike, Stellantis announced job cuts in early December that have begun and will continue to take effect this month. A reminder that under capitalism the only way for workers to get what they need is self-organization, independent of the union bureaucracy, Democrats and Republicans.

Emma Boyhtari

February 2, 2024
Joe Biden and Shawn Fain, UAW president, standing on a stage together. UAW has endorsed Biden for president.

The UAW’s Endorsement of “Genocide Joe” Is a Betrayal of Palestinians and Workers

The UAW has endorsed “Genocide Joe” for president, betraying Palestinians and workers. It’s time for labor to break with the Democrats.

Otto Fors

January 29, 2024


The United States Is Trapped in the Middle East

As a result of Israel’s offensive on Gaza, the United States is again becoming deeply entrenched in the Middle East. This is a humiliating blow to President Biden, who promised to reassert U.S. imperialism by moving away from direct involvement in the region.

Samuel Karlin

February 22, 2024

With Rafah in the Crosshairs, the Working Class Can Stop the Genocide in Gaza

As Israel prepares an invasion of Rafah, workers’ organizations around the world must take action before it's too late.

James Dennis Hoff

February 21, 2024

“Antideutsche”: The Aberration of Germany’s Pro-Zionist Left

As Germany persists in its unwavering support of Israel and the total denial of its genocide, the German Left is conflicted over the issue. While leftists all over the world are showing solidarity with Palestine, a segment of the German Left is historically pro-Zionist. How did this movement, the so-called Antideutsche (Anti-Germans) come to be?

Seb Zürcher

February 21, 2024

Why German Media are Lying About the Palestine Solidarity Movement at the Free University of Berlin

A rally in front of the Free University of Berlin had as many journalists as demonstrators. This is yet another example of the international campaign to defame all protests against Israel's genocidal military campaign.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 16, 2024