Hoffa Reelected Teamster President
by Charles Walker
In Novemberfor the second time in thirty-six monthsJames P. Hoffa, the son of the storied Teamster leader, Jimmy Hoffa, was elected president of the Teamsters Union. Hoffas new term is for five years. Winning by just under a two-to-one margin (Hoffa, 200,168; Leedham, 108,389), Hoffa scored a landside victory over Tom Leedham, the candidate backed by the unions reform forces, principally the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), the unions only organized rank-and-file political caucus.
Hoffa won easily, but not cheaply. Incomplete financial reports filed with the election administrator indicate that Hoffa spent more than $3,000,000. Leedham reported spending $300,000. Just like the rest of organized labor, the Teamster ranks are, at present, profoundly demobilized. Almost 1.1 million of the claimed 1.4 million Teamsters did not return their mail ballots. Balloting at the union halls would have meant an even lower vote total.
Hoffas pledge to UPS Teamsters
Before the vote counting was over, an ebullient Hoffa told the press that he wanted to get a good settlement in 2002 from United Parcel Service (UPS). Its our largest contract. Its over 210,000 people. We feel were very fortunate to deal with a company thats financially sound and can reward our members for their hard work, he told the New York Times (Nov. 16).
In 1997, under the leadership of Ron Carey, the union called its first national strike against UPS. The UPS strike set a new standard for union militancy in the period after president Ronald Reagan crushed the air-controllers union. The 1997 strike was provoked by UPSs tight-fisted intransigence, despite an expanding economy.
Can Hoffa fulfill his promises to the UPS ranks despite the emerging recession? Will he, too, call a national strike, if UPS, the nations largest trucking firm, cries poor-mouth at the bargaining table? Of course the UPS ranks want Hoffa to get tough with UPS, but his record speaks against that happening.
For example, brewery workers who voted heavily for Hoffa in 1998, voted heavily for Leedham this time. Why the dramatic turnaround in a short time? The most obvious answer is that Hoffa failed to meet the brewery workers expectations. In 1998, the brewery ranks were under intense pressure from Anheuser-Busch, the worlds largest brewer, to take a concessionary contract. Hoffa told the brewery workers before the 1998 election, that he would battle for them. But that didnt happen. Instead, after his election Hoffa sent in his representatives to squeeze the brewery workers to accept terms that they had rejected before. Hoffa told them that if they voted to strike, they might lose their jobs. In other words, the brewery workers couldnt count on the unions full backing.
The concessionary outcome for the brewery workers hasnt stopped Hoffa from claiming a victory over Anheuser-Busch. But as the vote starkly shows, the brewery workers arent buying Hoffas linetheir vote swung to Leedham. Hoffa also got settlements with Northwest Airlines (Leedham 2,874, Hoffa, 359) and two major Detroit newspapers, but maneuvered those workers into a no-win choice. Still, he claims to have done the workers proud. During the campaign, Leedham time and time again accused Hoffa of talking tough, settling short, and declaring victory.
The vote results show that UPS workers have at least a healthy skepticism about Hoffas leadership. The companys mammoth air center in Louisville voted for Leedham, 17841415; Ron Careys one-time local union voted for Leedham, 1360797 even though the locals officers have made their peace with Hoffa; a major New Jersey UPS local voted for Leedham, 1235948. In some mixed locals UPS workers gave Leedham a near majority. Though UPS workers may be leery of Hoffa, UPS management said last year that, Jim Hoffa understands business . We are in a period of mutual understanding and cooperation.
A Reunited Officialdom and Members Cynicism
Hoffas single, most notable accomplishment to date is re-uniting the officialdom. During the Carey years, the officialdom was divided over strikes, officers multiple salaries, pensions and benefits, members rights and officers responsibilities and much more. Carey called a one-day safety strike against UPS and most officers ordered their members to work; Carey struck the freight bosses and Teamster officials, some arriving in black limousines, paraded their opposition to Carey in front of the unions Washington, D.C. offices; Carey disbanded regional union bodies that provided Tammany Hall-like patronage of extra pay, expense-paid entertainment and travel; many officers were enraged with Carey. Its been estimated that Hoffa now has the support of 95 percent of the officialdom. The number of officers with multiple salaries is once again on the rise. Nearly 200 officers draw down at least $100,000 a year, not counting perks. One officers (not Hoffa) recent yearly pay was $329,045, as reported to the Labor Department. Hoffa draws down $228,713; even though he once swore he wouldnt take a dime more than $150,000.
The officialdoms near unanimous support and Hoffas swollen campaign chest were absolutely necessary for Hoffa to win. But Hoffa had more than that going for him. In a prepared statement TDUs most influential leaders indicated that Hoffa benefited by the cynicism that came out of the 1996 campaign scandal and subsequent charges. While the long-overdue Carey verdict helps, the Hoffa administration has used the IBTs public relations resources to demonize the Carey administration (they bankrupted the union, divided the union, ran a corrupt campaign, etc.). Hoffas goal was to demonize the reform movement and feed commonsense cynicism among the members that theyre all the same, politicians, crooks, after my dues, etc. Membership cynicism is part of why the turnout in this election is running around 24 percent and it will be more of a challenge after the election .
Its true the 2001 vote fell to 311,718 from 399,390 in 1998, which in turn was lower than the 1996 vote of 486,300. The Teamsters Union has lost 11,000 members since Hoffas 1998 election, but the fall-off in votes is far greater than that loss. Its curious that TDU would now explain the election results as partly due to members cynicism that expanded after court-appointed union overseers ousted Carey on charges that a New York jury found groundless. The jury declared Carey innocent of all criminal charges just days before the votes were counted. TDUs explanation is curious because the Teamsters ranks never heard from TDU of Careys refutation of the phony charges that led to his ouster.
TDU was urged to fight Careys ouster
Carey was and still is forbidden contact with Teamsters during his lifetime ban from the union. The jurys verdict could not nullify the feds restrictions on Carey. The members information about Careys ouster came from the corporate press, and Hoffas public relations effort demonizing Carey. As noted, TDU, the only organized rank-and-file opposition to the long-entrenched bureaucracy, never made the slightest effort to inform the ranks of Careys side of the charges.
Not that some TDUers didnt urge the TDU leadership to go to the Teamster membership with the truth and mobilize the membership to fight to keep their elected leadership. From the first the TDU leaders were told that Hoffas propaganda machine would victimize the Teamster ranks, if TDU didnt organize to counter it. No one was more insistent than Bill Slater, a prominent TDU leader who tried without success to convince a majority of the other leaders to go to the ranks. From 1997 to the present Slater insisted that Carey was being framed up. Ironically, the part of TDUs statement that says, Hoffas goal was to demonize the reform movement and feed commonsense cynicism among the members that theyre all the same, politicians, crooks, after my dues, etc. has been repeatedly stated in various ways by Slater.
Up to now, the official TDU position has been that the members were interested in their contracts and their grievances, not in what was happening to Carey. Cynics may say that it took a New York jurys verdict, not a clear look at the evidence, to force TDU to rehabilitate Carey. But that appears to be the case.
Go To the Ranks?
The cynicism that the TDU statement cites has been on the rise since TDUs 1997 convention. There it was made clear that TDU was not going to back Carey in his fight to stay in the union. Since then good activists have dropped away, reducing the Leedham campaigns resources. Even worse, some demoralized activists went over to Hoffa. At this summers Teamsters convention, it was not unusual to see former TDUers (some of them one-time members of TDUs highest leadership body) championing Hoffas candidacy.
The jurys verdict should convince all TDUers that a terrible policy was adopted in 1997 when it was decided not to militantly oppose the governments ouster of Carey (an attack on the ranks right to choose their own leaders). No one can say that that policy tipped the scales in Hoffas favor in the current election; but no one can credibly deny that TDUs policy weakened the reform movements resources, and permitted cynicism to flourish unchecked.
TDU is absolutely right, at last, to single out cynicism as an enemy of the Teamsters ranks. But it should not be enough for TDU to merely identify the problem. For after all, TDU prides itself as an organization of activists, not a talkshop. Still its not clear that steps will be taken now to get out the facts about Careys undemocratic ouster, and the jurys verdict.
One conclusion drawn from the New York jurys verdict is that the Teamsters ranks had an incorruptible leader in Ron Carey. All militant and democratic unionists will benefit if TDU does its best to convince the Teamsters ranks of this and to re-instate Ron Carey.