Teamsters Election Report
VICTORIOUS HOFFA VOWS UPS WILL PAY
By Charles Walker
In November -- for the second time in thirty-six months -- James P.
Hoffa, the son of the storied Teamster leader, Jimmy Hoffa, was elected
president of the Teamsters Union. Hoffa’s 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 union’s reform forces, principally the Teamsters for a
Democratic Union (TDU), the union’s only organized rank-and-file political
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.
HOFFA’S 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). “It’s our largest contract. It’s over 210,000 people. We feel we’re
very fortunate to deal with a company that’s 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 UPS’s 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 nation’s
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-Bush, the world’s largest brewer, to take a
concessionary contract. Hoffa told the brewery workers before the 1998
election, that he would battle for them. But that didn’t 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 couldn’t count on the union’s full backing.
The concessionary outcome for the brewery workers hasn’t stopped
Hoffa from claiming a victory over Anheuser-Bush. But as the vote starkly
shows, the brewery workers aren’t buying Hoffa’s line -- their 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.
Some UPS Workers and UPS Bosses Disagree About Hoffa
The vote results show that UPS workers have at least a healthy
skepticism about Hoffa’s leadership. The company’s mammoth air center in
Louisville voted for Leedham, 1784 - 1415; Ron Carey’s one-time local union
voted for Leedham, 1360 - 797 even though the local’s officers have made
their peace with Hoffa; a major New Jersey UPS local, voted for Leedham,
1235 - 948. 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
Hoffa’s 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
the union’s 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. It’s been
estimated that Hoffa now has the support of 95 per cent 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 officer’s (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 wouldn’t take a dime more than $150,000.
The officialdom’s near unanimous support and Hoffa’s swollen
campaign chest were absolutely necessary for Hoffa to win. But Hoffa had
more than that going for him. In a prepared statement TDU’s 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
IBT’s public relations resources to demonize the Carey administration (they
bankrupted the union, divided the union, ran a corrupt campaign, etc.).
Hoffa’s goal was to demonize the reform movement and feed ‘commonsense’
cynicism among the members that ‘they’re 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 …”
It’s 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 Hoffa’s 1998 election, but the fall-off in votes
is far greater than that loss. It’s 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. TDU’s explanation is
curious because the Teamsters ranks never heard from TDU Carey’s refutation
of the phony charges that led to his ouster.
TDU Was Urged to Fight Carey’s Ouster
Carey was and still is forbidden contact with Teamsters during his
lifetime ban from the union. The jury’s verdict could not nullify the feds
restrictions on Carey. The member’s information about Carey’s ouster came
from the corporate press, and Hoffa’s 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 Carey’s side of the charges.
Not that some TDUers didn’t 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 Hoffa’s propaganda machine would victimize the Teamster ranks, if TDU
didn’t 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 TDU’s
statement that says, “ Hoffa’s goal was to demonize the reform movement and
feed ‘commonsense’ cynicism among the members that ‘they’re 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 jury’s 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
TDU’s 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 campaign’s resources. Even worse,
some demoralized activists went over to Hoffa. At this summer’s Teamsters
convention, it was not unusual to see former TDUers (some of them one-time
members of TDU’s highest leadership body) championing Hoffa’s candidacy.
The jury’s verdict should convince all TDUers that a terrible policy
was adopted in 1997 when it was decided not to militantly oppose the
government’s ouster of Carey (and attack on the ranks right to choose their
own leaders). No one can say that that policy tipped the scales in Hoffa’s
favor in the current election; but no one can credibly deny that TDU’s
policy weakened the reform movement’s 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 it’s not clear that steps
will be taken now to get out the facts about Carey’s undemocratic ouster,
and the jury’s verdict.
One conclusion to be drawn from the New York’s jury’s verdict is that
the Teamsters ranks had an incorruptible leader in Ron Carey. All militant
and democratic unionists will benefit, if TDU did its best to ensure that
there are not Teamsters needlessly and wrongly convinced otherwise.
November 17, 2001