By Ken A. Epstein
A high profile lawsuit has reignited a long simmering dispute between Oakland Army Base small businessman Bill Aboudi and the Teamsters union.When you hear what the sides are saying, it sounds like you are talking about two different people. The union accuses Aboudi of criminally mistreating his workers and says he should be shut down.
But many of his employees and West Oakland community leaders repeatedly turn out to defend the businessman as a “stand up guy” who goes out of his way to improve the health and wellbeing of the community and gives jobs to the formerly incarcerated.
Aboudi is owner of AB Trucking, a company with 12 employees and six trucks that does business with the Port of Oakland.
He also owns Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS), which has earned national recognition for providing a place where air-contaminating trucks can park on port land away from the West Oakland community, which had been suffering from off the charts asthma rates.
OMSS is also the home of 18 small businesses: a mini-mart, doctor, sign painter, truck repair, tire replacement and scales where big rig truckers can find the services they need without driving into West Oakland.
The Teamster’s opposition to Aboudi seemed to be vindicated on May 21 when an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a court order in a wages and hours lawsuit, ordering him to pay 73 workers about $965,000 in back wages and interest, dating back to 2004.
“We know that for the past several years that the word inside (City Hall) has been that the big bad Teamsters have been trying to take out the small local businessman who has done good for West Oakland,” said Doug Bloch, political director for Teamsters Joint Council 7, speaking at last week’s meeting of the City Council’s Community and Economic Development committee.
The real issue, said Bloch, is that the” Alameda County Superior Court has just handed down a … verdict against AB Trucking. Good people were hired… and not paid at all for the work that they did.”
Defending Aboudi at the CED meeting was Margaret Gordon, former port commissioner and co-director of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, who has been a leader in the fight for breathable air in West Oakland.
“I’ve known Bill since 1996,” she said. “When we started the maritime air quality improvement plan, the Teamsters weren’t there. Bill was there.
“OMSS has been a life saver for West Oakland. (Bill) has always participated in every event that we have had. He’s been there when the union was not there.”
According to Aboudi, the legal dispute is not settled. He said he is appealing the ruling, arguing that the judge based his decision in part on state regulations, not federal Department of Transportation rules for the trucking industry.
He also emphasized that the lawsuit and judgment was against AB Trucking, which is a separate entity from the OMSS. He accuses the Teamsters of promoting the suit against AB Trucking as a reason why the city should cancel its rental agreement with OMSS.
The issues for the Teamsters have their roots in the federal deregulation of the trucking industry in the 1980s, which resulted in the creation of many low-paid, non-union owner-operators with only one truck, as well as small operations like Aboudi’s.
The Teamsters want to organize owner-operators into the union. In their Oakland campaign, the union has focused on Aboudi, portraying him as an enemy of labor. A Teamsters website describes him as “a greedy California hustler who doesn’t care about the port truckers.”
Outspoken in his position, Aboudi says the choice should be up to the owner-operators. He argues they have the right to choose to become employees and join a union or continue to own their businesses.
As for the owner-operators, many of whom are people of color, there is widespread concern that should the industry become unionized, they would not be the ones to be hired in those jobs,
Somewhere along the line Aboudi also ran into conflicts with Master Developer and Army Base landlord Phil Tagami. Aboudi claims that the city’s agreement with Tagami allows him to benefit financially if OMSS loses its rental agreement with the city.
Dexter Vizinau, a consultant who represents some of the businesses at the Army Base, also spoke in favor of Aboudi.
“I am pro union,” he said. ”I have a client that has come under attack, and in the past I have tried to mediate.
“I don’t agree to the way they (the Teamsters) go about trying to fill their ranks by attacking (him). The way you get people is to educate them, embrace them and show them what the benefits are,” he said.
Erick Gaines, who identified himself as a former addict and an ex felon, told the audience at the CED meeting that Aboudi had saved his life when he hired him nine years ago and gave him the opportunity to give back to the community by training others to drive trucks.
“When I crossed over, I got a second chance at a first class life – it all feels good now,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d do or where I’d go” if Aboudi’s trucking company closed, he said.
“I don’t think there’s any more people like Mr. Aboudi,” who would give him a job and allow him to use the company’s equipment for free to train new drivers, said Gaines.
“He’s been a pillar to the community, and it would be a travesty to lose him.”
The Teamsters website is http://teamsternation.blogspot.com/2013/03/big- ftrouble-for-teamster-hating-union.html. Bill Aboud’s website is www.helpabtrucking.com