Teamsters Notebook: Hoffa’s Election Win Challenged by Leedham


Many rank-and-file Teamsters think that James Hoffa has been running the union ever since he won the presidential election on Dec. 5. Actually, Hoffa has not been allowed to take office.

At present, the international union is under the control of lame-duck officers who daily consult with Hoffa and his aides. The officers are holdovers from the Ron Carey administration.

Most of Carey’s loyalists quit the headquarters staff during the last six months of 1998. The few Carey loyalists that remain are under the thumb of Tom Sever, the union’s acting president. Sever is a run-of-the-mill business unionist who was careful not to clash with Carey.

According to one Hoffa slate source, Hoffa expected to take office Jan. 4. Now, the source says, the Hoffa faction guesses it may not take office until late February, or early March-or even later. That’s because the court-appointed Election Officer must formally “certify” the election, before the election results are official.

Michael Cherkasky, the Election Officer, has not explained to the union’s ranks his delay in certifying Hoffa’s election, but most observers agree that the delay is largely a result of post-election protests filed by Tom Leedham, the reformer who finished second, behind Hoffa.

The protests allege “a pattern of misuse of local union and joint council resources by union officials supportive of Mr. Hoffa … and various schemes to classify retirees as members, intimidation of members, and the consequences of an employer denying campaigners access (to work sites).”

The Leedham protests also criticize Cherkasky for responding to Leedham’s protests with “remedial action which was ineffective and often ordered well after its remedial impact might serve some purpose.”

Leedham’s many protests signify that the government’s attack on rank-and-file democracy didn’t end with the government’s ouster of Ron Carey. Indeed, Leedham’s protests show that the court’s control of the election procedures is itself an obstacle to the ranks’ retaking control of the union from the long-entrenched authoritarian bureaucracy.

The Leedham objections note that Cherkasky denied Ron Carey’s 1997 protest, asking that Hoffa be disqualified from the rerun election. But at the same time, Cherkasky found that Hoffa committed fraud in filing false campaign finance reports and that Hoffa lied to cover up nearly $200,000 in unlawful employer contributions.

Leedham argues that Cherkasky should not certify Hoffa until the court-appointed administrative board that ousted Carey has cleared Hoffa of pending corruption charges based on Hoffa’s fraudulent election activities.

“If Mr. Hoffa is implicated and his eligibility to hold office is at issue,” Leedham says, then “the ballot tabulation for the entire Hoffa Slate must be called into question.”

Leedham warns that “to allow Hoffa to become president … will only guarantee the indefinite perpetuation of government oversight, with all the implications for continuing intrusions into self-rule that necessarily follow, instead of encouraging the dismantling of government oversight.”

Leedham has got to be burned up over Cherkasky’s decision to reduce oversight over election activities in the local unions, Cherkasky’s untimely remedies to offset some critical Hoffa campaign violations, and Cherkasky’s appalling screw-up of mailing out late a special edition of the union’s magazine containing the candidates’ campaign materials.

Leedham holds that Cherkasky’s failure to get the union’s magazine out in time may have affected the votes of 11,000 Canadians and the votes from Hawaii.

Leedham states that he relied on the magazine to get his campaign message out to the entire 1.4 million Teamsters so to “assist in some slight leveling of the playing field,” since a unionwide mailing was financially prohibitive for Leedham’s rank-and-file campaign.

Leedham also cites an instance where a company denied the Leedham campaign-but not pro-Hoffa union officials-access to 400 workers. Leedham protested, but apparently Cherkasky stalled for three months.

According to Leedham, the lack of access may have cost his slate the election in the tight Southern vice-presidential races.

Leedham also says that Cherkasky didn’t respond to all of Leedham’ s formal protests. For example, Cherkasky ignored Leedham’s request to know whether Hoffa paid the $167,000 fine levied against Hoffa for accepting an illegal employer contribution in the same amount.

Obviously, if Hoffa hadn’t paid the fine, then Hoffa could use the money to hurt Leedham. As it was, Leedham reportedly was outspent by six to one, if not much, much more. Though he doesn’t say so outright, Leedham must think that on balance Cherkasky’s actions and inactions helped Hoffa at Leedham’s and the members’ expense.

Hoffa’s troubles also include charges filed against three of his newly elected vice presidents by the court-appointed Independent Review Board (IRB), which has the power to oust them from the union, as it did Ron Carey in 1998.

The IRB has charged Vice President J.D. Potter with lying about an illegal $5,000 cash donation to Hoffa. Jim Santangelo, a West Coast vice president, is charged with several instances of lining his pockets with members’ dues money, as well as making illegal loans from the union’s till that have never been repaid.

A third vice president, Tom O’Connell, is charged with lying to cover-up his hiring of a felon to run Hoffa’s New York campaign. Hiring the felon is not a violation of the election rules, but lying about it is.

Hoffa was found by the Cherkasky to have been part of the cover-up and was fined $7500 and O’Connell was fined $12,685. If O’Connell also is disciplined by the IRB for the election violations, then, says the Leedham camp, Hoffa should expect to get no less a penalty than O’Connell. In other words, if O’Connell is ousted, Hoffa should be gone too!

Meanwhile, Hoffa continues his attacks on Leedham; Leedham’ s allies, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU); and Ron Carey.

Leedham’s heavy vote, despite Hoffa’s widespread support in the officialdom, has got to have Hoffa worried, if not scared about facing Leedham in 2001. If so, then Hoffa is not going to let up on the reform camp.

Hoffa and the officaldom at large can be expected to try and keep their control over the ranks by continuing to slander Leedham, TDU, and, of course, Ron Carey. Right after Hoffa’s election was announced, The New York Times reported that Hoffa said his union critics were “linked to the most corrupt Ron Carey administration we’ve ever seen.”

More recently, Hoffa’s publicists told the press and the members that TDU and Leedham “remain silent in the face of the massive criminal conspiracy centered on their former leader, Ron Carey.”

Undoubtedly, Hoffa and the officialdom have convinced some otherwise straight-thinking union members that Carey robbed the members blind to further his own ambitions, and that Leedham and TDU are no better. Since many Teamsters probably know nothing more about the government’ s expulsion of Carey than what’s appeared in the daily press, or what their officials have told them, they can’t be blamed if they believe that Carey, Leedham, and TDU can’t be trusted.

The wonder is that so many members saw through Hoffa’s Big Lie campaign and continue to view the reformers as their leaders. Certainly that could not have been predicted if it had been known in advance that Carey would limit himself to a courtroom defense, separated from his rank-and-file base; and that TDU and Leedham would fail to refute vigorously Hoffa’s systematic slanders.

At this late date, there are probably even TDU members who do not know that the IRB, despite many months of digging into the money-laundering scheme, failed to find that Carey had a hand in the crime.

They probably don’t know that the wimpy appeals court that rejected Carey’ s appeal admitted that a different judge looking at the same facts might have reached a different conclusion than did Kenneth Conboy, the corporation lawyer who barred Carey from the election and his certain victory over Hoffa and the old guard.

Hoffa is using the government’s frame-up of Carey to support his lies about Leedham and TDU. As long as Hoffa’s lies seem to work at all, he’ll work overtime to mislead and confuse the members by persistently repeating that there was a “massive criminal element around Ron Carey and his corrupt administration,” that included Leedham and TDU.

That’s to be expected. What shouldn’t be expected is that Hoffa will not face an organized counter-campaign by the central TDU leadership and Leedham that tells the members how the rank-and-file got a raw deal from the government when Carey was barred from the election and then expelled from the union.

Up to now, TDU leaders have argued that Carey was out of the picture and to take up the miscarriage of justice handed the members was a side road leading to irrelevancy.

If they are wrong, then it’s time for other TDUers to say that aggressively refuting Hoffa’s lies that TDUers, Leedham, and Ron Carey are all crooks is part of the main highway to enhancing the members’ trust in the reform movement and once again retaking the international union from the bureaucracy.

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