John Kaszynski is a worker at UPS and a member of the Teamsters Local 705. This profile is part of an interview series with unionized workers who support the so-called “rank and file strategy” of encouraging committed socialists to personally join the labor movement. The Labor Branch of Chicago DSA has voted to create a Rank and File Jobs Pipeline to help comrades who want to dedicate their working lives to building power for the working class by connecting them with strategic jobs. Our greatest power as the working class is through our role as workers and it is vital to make more socialists into rank and file workplace militants — and more workplace militants into socialists.
What’s your definition of the “rank and file” strategy?
Johnathan Kaszynski: I see the rank and file strategy as a conscious effort to become a part of the labor movement in order to improve it from the bottom up with the entire working class in mind.
What particular factors motivated you to commit to the rank and file strategy at UPS?
JK: I was motivated by my own material interest. I was working at a hotel when the coronavirus hit, and it destroyed my job. I got demoted, I had my pay cut, and had no union representation to fight any of it. I was working doubles for less money over time, and the hotel conditions deteriorated. As I leaned more and more towards getting out of the job, I had already become interested in the rank and file strategy. I have a couple mutual friends who pursued the strategy directly, and got word on what a job at UPS entailed and what the political terrain looked like. I got more and more excited for a new opportunity to improve my job prospects in general—I spent five years at the front desk at the hotel, and eventually performed administrative work in the sales office. My options came to be either getting laid off or returning to the front desk. I returned to the front desk, did that for six months, then got the offer from UPS and quit. Simply put, I was pursuing a material improvement to my working life. I have a regular schedule and union representation. It’s nothing I’ve ever had in any job before.
What are the expectations as it relates to your job schedule?
JK: You work the first few years on a Tuesday through Saturday schedule. As time goes on and you gain more seniority, you can start picking up those Monday through Friday shifts.
Could you elaborate on the day-to-day work? What’s there to like and not like?
JK: People who have enough seniority to “own” their routes do the same thing every day, but the rest of us are “swing drivers,” meaning we either cover the routes of drivers who are on vacation or do what are called “base routes,” which are mostly straight-forward residential deliveries. The open routes are assigned by seniority, and there’s a weekly posting where drivers can bid to cover the same open route for the whole week. While you sometimes get put on an unfamiliar route, you can usually find another driver who’s done it before to explain any parts of it that might be confusing, like the locations of loading docks, or which streets are too narrow to drive down for instance. Jeff Street, our hub, is split into five centers that cover various sections of the city. Mine covers only five or six ZIP codes, so with time, it becomes pretty easy to see an address and be able to picture where it is and how to get there. There are weeks where I do five different routes in five neighborhoods in five days, and there are weeks when I do the same route every day. It all depends.
A little after 9:00 am, or whenever there’s enough space for us to pull out, we hit the streets and start delivering. You start by delivering your Next Day Air packages that need to be delivered by 10:30am, and then you just do the rest of your deliveries. There’s really no reason not to just work at a comfortable pace and take a nice long lunch break. The boss can’t breathe down your neck and tell you to work faster. You’re done when the truck is empty, and if you don’t have a scheduled pickup, you drive back to the hub and do it all over again tomorrow.
When your union sister was unjustly fired in December and your local staged a walk-in in her defense, what was your communication strategy and did you encounter any challenging conversations related to it?
JK: Everyone was on board. I didn’t have a single difficult conversation in getting support for her. The older guys who have been there for 25 years were out there. It was inspiring to see that. Older folks did a great job of building the solidarity we needed to fight management on that and get her job back.
How are people feeling about the contract expiration coming up, and when exactly is it?
JK: There’s definitely a lot of anticipation around the contract, which expires at the end of July next year. The new Teamsters leadership won in a landslide and they have a mandate to repair some of the things that were given away in the last contract. With rank and file representation now guaranteed on bargaining committees, it will be really interesting to see what happens during the contract fight.
What does a Teamsters 705 meeting typically look like? How many members attend? Any particularly contentious subjects at meetings since you’ve been there?
JK: Attendance could be better, but there’s not too much contention. We have produced opportunities to canvass other members of our union for the company to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth as paid holidays. It’s always a good opportunity to talk to coworkers and a good way to get people to think and talk about other concerns and issues, like our contract. Canvassing just involves hitting the gates and talking to coworkers—no particular plan. Sometimes we initiate texting campaigns.
How often are you able to talk with coworkers about your politics, and have any of those interactions surprised you?
JK: A few weeks ago we met at a coworker’s apartment to read and discuss excerpts from The Package King: A Rank and File History of UPS by Joe Allen. We took lessons from some of their tactics, but obviously, a lot of the tactics in that book couldn’t possibly be employed today. But a lot of people at UPS are super class conscious.
Any hopes in getting coworkers to discuss the book that don’t identify as socialists?
JK: Yes, we’re very hopeful to get non-socialists on board with the next reading.
Do you do any particular work with TDU if you are a member, and if so, what’s the main focus right now?
[Editor’s note: TDU is Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a rank and file reform organization in the Teamsters.]
JK: I am definitely a member. We have a very TDU-friendly local. I’ve heard horror stories of what it’s like to be a member of TDU in other parts of the country, but that as always depends on the political landscape of where you live.
How did last year’s election impact your local and how do people you’ve talked with feel about O’Brien as president?
JK: Our local voted overwhelmingly for Teamsters United and Juan Campos, the leader of 705, was part of the winning slate. Sean O’Brien did a lot to raise everyone’s expectations about what we can expect from leadership, and Juan being part of it certainly helps us trust that he means business.
What advice would you give to new Teamsters at UPS?
JK: Do it now! Do it now. If you want to join a militant union that will stand up for you and you want to see what the rank and file strategy involves firsthand and what it’s like to be a part of this movement, the time is now.
If you’re interested in getting a strategic union job, want to get involved in the pipeline, or just want to learn more about socialists’ role in the labor movement, come to UE Hall, 37 S. Ashland, on Sunday, April 24th from 1-3pm to meet Johnathan and other rank and file workers to hear why they think more socialists should also become activists in their unions. Snacks provided!
RSVP for the most up-to-date info about the event.