Teamsters Notebook


In December, the James P. Hoffa forces swept the last of the union’s reformers from the Teamsters Washington headquarters, popularly called the “Marble Palace.” In a three-way race, Hoffa beat the reformers’ slate headed by Tom Leedham by nearly 55,00 votes, or 55 percent to 39 percent.

Hoffa’s vote easily surpassed Ron Carey’s 1996 defeat of Hoffa by 16,000 votes, or 52 percent to 48 percent. Because Hoffa will be serving the balance of Carey’s five-year term, the union’s next election is just three years away.

Clearly the Teamster bureaucracy scored a big comeback, after losing the first two unionwide elections since the members first gained the right to vote for their top international officers in 1989.

However, a preliminary analysis of the vote by the Leedham campaign indicates that Leedham beat Hoffa in many local unions having heavy to medium concentrations of UPS and freight workers. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Leedham beat Hoffa in six of seven freight and/or UPS local unions.

Workers in these two primary sectors of the union, freight and small package delivery, have the most contact with the international union’s officers, staff, and policies. Under Ron Carey, these workers were mobilized several times in national strikes and job actions.

Hoffa dominated Leedham in the so-called white-paper-contract locals-those local unions that do not come under the major national master contracts. Therefore, the international union ordinarily has little or no influence on their contract negotiations or contract enforcement. While some of these locals are large, most are small, and even the largest have many bargaining units of under 100 members.

Reaching all these small units-scattered across the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada-was virtually impossible in the shortened campaign period of less than six months. According to the Leedham campaigners, they continued to gain momentum right up to the last day of balloting, despite being outspent four to one. As Leedham says, they simply “ran out of time.”

Probably the Northwest flight attendants’ Local 2000 gave Leedham his best showing: 3222 to 300 for Hoffa, or 87 percent of their vote.

Large fall-off in voting

It’s hard to say for sure, but Leedham may have been hurt far more than Hoffa by the 60,000 fewer votes cast than just two years ago. For example, Ron Carey’s former New York local gave both Leedham and Carey (1996) all but a handful of their votes, but there were 1500 fewer votes this time.

The vote drop-off was across the board. Few local unions matched their 1996 vote levels.

No one knows for sure why there was such a drastic fall-off in the mail-in vote that went out to 1.4 million members. There’s some anecdotal evidence that some members who would never vote for Hoffa also wouldn’t vote for someone they didn’t know; that is, Leedham, or the third candidate, John Metz, who led a stillborn campaign and ended up with 6 percent of the vote.

The New York Times reported: “Teamster officials attributed the decline to two factors: cynicism arising from the Carey scandal and the fact that the current campaign did not have the same heat and fire as the battle between Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Carey.”

Cynicism may well have reduced the vote, and Leedham may have been hurt the most. Hoffa campaigners repeated the government’s bogus charges that Carey had a hand in the money-laundering scandal that was actually perpetrated behind Carey’s back by campaign staffers out to line their own pockets.

In fact, the government has yet to bring criminal charges against Carey. It’s thought that the Feds know they can’t get a conviction, because even a group of government overseers, including the former head of both the FBI and the CIA, dismissed charges alleging Carey’s complicity.

For two years Hoffa campaigners claimed that Carey was guilty of robbing the members and said that both Leedham and the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) were dirty too. Leedham and his key supporters in TDU never really attempted to refute Hoffa’s charges of Carey’s corruption. Instead they focused on getting out their primary message of more rank-and-file power over the union.

Still, without knowing the truth about Carey’s innocence, some Teamsters may have decided that no one in the race deserved their trust and vote.

A week after the election, Hoffa told the press that his union critics were “linked to the most corrupt Ron Carey administration we’ve ever seen. That really tells you where they are coming from.”

Still TDU and Leedham show no signs of rebutting Hoffa’s lies about Carey and the reform movement.

Bureaucrats hid their real record

The bureaucracy won the election, but not because they ran under their true colors. They never bragged about sabotaging the 1994 UPS safety strike. They didn’t boast that they had given public aid and comfort to the freight bosses during the first national freight strike in 18 years.

They didn’t plead for an opportunity to get back the extra pensions and millions of dollars in multiple salaries that Carey took from them. They didn’t reveal how they had whined that Carey returned over $120 million dollars to the members by way of strike benefits.

Instead, they campaigned as “militants” promising to unite the union’s “1.4 million brothers and sisters into an effective force fighting for economic and social justice.”

“Remember,” the Hoffa campaign flyers read, “when the bosses used to be afraid of us? When the word ‘Teamster’ sent them shaking? When politicians knew who spoke for working families throughout America? We were a great union then. And we can be again with your vote for Jim Hoffa….”

No wonder that The New York Times found a red-hot rank-and-file Hoffa campaigner who said, “We feel like Jimmy’s the messiah of the labor movement. He’s for the working-class people, and he’s the guy who’s going to rebuild this.”

Obviously, the bureaucracy has demagogically decided to adapt to the members’ militancy, as demonstrated most forcefully by the 1997 strike against United Parcel Service.

For the UPS strike showed the extent that UPS workers-and likely all Teamsters-are fed up with the bureaucracy’s decades of caving in to the bosses’ assault on their standard of living and job protections.

Hoffa has continued his militant posing since the vote results were announced. He has told the press that “we’re going to see a new militancy of the Teamsters in our negotiations.” But Carey set high standards for union militancy, and that is likely to lead to Hoffa’s downfall.

When campaigning, Hoffa often said that he will take action to get the union out from under the government’s control. (But last year on the Larry King program he also said, “I’m calling for a [federal] trusteeship of the union.”)

Days after his election, he said that “we should start talking [to the Feds] about a diminished role for the government.” The New York Times said, “Mr. Hoffa’s suggestion that it is now time to end nine years of federal supervision of the Teamsters deserves no serious consideration.”

The Wall Street Journal held out hope to Hoffa for a “looser federal supervision of his union,” provided, in part, that Hoffa “pledge cooperation with Rep. Pete Hoestra’s oversight hearings into union involvement in elections.”

Given that Hoffa worked hand in hand with Hoestra to destroy Carey’s reputation, some deal may be in the cards. But it seems more likely that the government will not withdraw from the union until forced to get out by the Teamster ranks, if not by the entire labor movement.

Actually, there will be a reduction in the government’s supervision of the union, but it has nothing to do with Hoffa’s election.

Under the Consent Decree, the government got the authority to run and supervise the union’s delegate and international officer elections for two elections. The Feds used that authority to oust Carey from the rerun election, virtually insuring Hoffa’s victory.

In any event, the next election will be run by the Hoffa forces. They will set the rules, judge who violated them, determine the penalties, and count the votes!

The members are between a rock and a hard place: From the government they may get an accurate vote count, but can’t vote for Carey, their clear choice-in the wake of the 1997 UPS strike-to lead them. And from Hoffa they may get a rigged vote count, given the history of fraud and force in local union elections by the union’s bureaucracy.

Hoffa is slated to put Thomas Pazzi, his campaign manager, on the Teamsters payroll as his chief of staff. Pazzi is president of Professional Management Inc., a political consulting outfit in Washington D.C.

From 1985-1989, Pazzi was vice president of Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C. For 10 years, Pazzi held the titles of Corporate Planner, and then Commercial Loan Officer, with the Bank of the Commonwealth in Detroit.

Along with giving business unionism a boost by making a former banker a top-level union insider, Hoffa is sure to anger rank and filers who remember Hoffa’s attacks on Carey’s hiring of a handful of coal miners, two of whom, Eddie Burke and Rick Blaylock, led the famous 1989 sit-in strike against Pittston Coal Company.

Pazzi will be joined at the union’s offices by Richard Leebove, a one-time protegé of the fascist felon Lyndon LaRouche. Leebove was identified by Carey’s lawyer in 1990 as “a longtime dirty trickster, propagandist, and smear artist who has frequently been hired to attack union reform efforts, including in Detroit-area Teamster locals.”

Teamsters won’t have to wait long before they see other differences between Hoffa and Carey:

UPS is welching on the new contract provisions that call for the company to open 10,000 new full-time jobs. In December, it provoked a strike by the union’s largest UPS local because supervisors were working while UPS workers were laid-off. The local, by the way, is headed by Leedham supporters, including a Leedham slate member.

Anheuser-Busch has implemented its harsh “last, best, and final” contract offer. The 8000 brewery workers desperately need a UPS-style campaign and mobilization to just get back what they had only a few months ago.

After more than 40 years in which old-guard officials failed to organize Overnight Transportation, the nation’s biggest nonunion trucking firm, Carey organized 3650 workers. The remaining workforce needs to be organized, and brought under the national freight contract.

A national carhaul contract expires May 31, 1999. In 1995, Carey led a successful three-week carhaul strike. Carhaul Teamsters say that the carhaul bosses are once again looking for concessions to meet their growing nonunion competition.

How will Hoffa respond to these challenges? I probably got the answer in a phone call not long ago from a Teamster who witnessed a Diamond Walnut striker, a Latina, approach Hoffa, seeking his support for their then five-year-old strike. Hoffa told her: “Get a job!”

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