Editor’s note: John Washburn is a Charlotte County Democratic Club member. He also has served as State Committee Man.
Washburn started his 30-year career in 1969 as a Teamster Union member, driving a delivery truck in Detroit for Continental Bakery. His job was delivering Wonder Bread and other baked goods to grocery stores. This was during the heyday of unions. “All the big grocery stores were unionized. The vendors were union”.
He became a union steward in 1970. He represented the union workers to the employer and tried to resolve problems. He recalls difficult negotiations between the union and company over wages and benefits. “Drivers earned a base rate plus a commission on deliveries. The company wanted to cut the commission from 11 per cent to 10 per cent”.
“The union was having trouble with the negotiations and decided to get outside help”, Washburn said. As a leader in the union, Washburn selected Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., who was a lawyer to represent the union in the negotiations. “I hired Jimmy Hoffa, Jr”, Washburn said. The results of the negotiations were “the commission stayed at 11 per cent and they were annual increases in the base rate for three years”.
Safety was a major concern for the union and drivers. “We were safe drivers. We inspected our equipment every day before starting.” Heavy Detroit snowfalls could cause safety hazards. Washburn recalls a difficult situation when a grocery store owner refused to clear snow and ice from the loading area. “The store cleared the front of the store but not the back”. The loading area was dangerous but “the owner didn’t want to spend the money to clear the back. He was greedy and put people in peril”. The union and store negotiated so that deliveries could be made through the front door. “It was a big hassle”, Washburn said. “Drivers are on commission. More time spent on deliveries means losing income”.
Washburn strongly disagrees that labor unions caused businesses to close. The union drivers were professional and help make money for the company. “The company would take advantage of employees. They (companies) don’t care about the individual. All they want is to make money.
“Unions help to protect workers by making sure equipment is safe”, John said. “When we hit the brakes, we expect the truck to stop. That’s not asking for too much, is it?”