Teamsters Notebook

Storm Toopers

Teamsters President James Hoffa threw Philadelphia Local 115 into trusteeship, ousting John Morris, a key Ron Carey ally and one of the few top old-line Teamsters who hasn’t gone over to Hoffa.

At one point it looked like Morris would be back at the helm of the union, when a judge ruled that Hoffa had acted improperly. However, an appeals court overruled the judge.

Starting Jan. 5, a trusteeship hearing was convened by the international union to hear pro and con testimony that supposedly would be used by the IBT to determine whether or not to return autonomy to the local union. The hearing was not held in Philadelphia; instead it was convened across the state line in New Jersey, a so-called “neutral” location. Of course that meant that many of Morris’s rank-and-file supporters couldn’t witness the proceedings.

According to the Associated Press (Jan. 5), “police in riot gear ringed” the hearings. The press quoted Morris as scoffing at “all these storm troopers and people on roofs with rifles.” The press did not say who called the cops, but the police chief acknowledged that 100 cops were at the scene.

It seems more likely than not that Morris, 73, who proudly boasts of his family’s coal-mining background and militancy, will not win this fight. His fate and that of the local union are in Hoffa’s hands, while legal appeals and counter-appeals drag on for years.


Politicians on picket line


First, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore showed up at a Overnite picket line. Then his chief rival, Bill Bradley, followed suit.

According to a Teamsters press release (Dec. 1), Gore brought coffee and donuts, along with words of encouragement, to New Hampshire pickets. And in late December, Bradley made his appearance at a New Jersey strike line. The Newark Star Ledger reported (Dec. 31) that Bradley even “held a picket sign briefly for the cameras.”

If the Teamsters strike lasts until June (and the odds are that it won’t be over soon) it seems safe to guess that some of the Republican candidates (and Reform Party candidates Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump) will also make token appearances at the Teamster strike to collar some blue collar support and bolster their press coverage.

When not on picket lines, the candidates can be found (tin cups in hand?) seeking spare millions from Wall Street. “Lawyers and lobbyists, followed by finance, insurance, and real estate are Gore’s vital sectors,” Labor Party Press commented in its November issue. “Bill Bradley has impressed the powers that be with his ability to rustle up bucks … much of it from lawyers and investment firms. Lehman Brothers tops his list.”

When in October Teamsters President James P. Hoffa called the nationwide strike against Overnite, he said that he wanted to hit the large non-union firm during the busy and profitable pre-holiday season. If the strikers thought that was a strategy for a relatively short strike, they must be disappointed.

Nor will they find comfort in Hoffa’s latest assessment of the fight with Overnite. Hoffa now says that the strikers and the company are in a “war of attrition.” There’s no question but that the “war” is eating into Overnite’s profits. The firm admits spending $21 million dollars in the last quarter of 1999 on strike-related expenses, which cut net income to $1 million as compared with $11.6 million in 1998.

Still, Overnite is a subsidiary of Union Pacific Railroad, a financial giant with considerable political clout. The Chicago Tribune (Jan. 8) reported that Overnite “remains adamant that it cannot accept a contract that puts it on par with other major union carriers. The paper also quoted a Teamsters spokesman as saying, “We can hold out as long as the workers want to hold out.”

A striker who is delivering pizzas to support his family told the paper, “I’ve seen my best friend cross. Me, I’ve been out on this too long to go back. And my wife is backing me. She said, “Do what is right.'”


Hoffa’s Self-Police Plan


In September, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa hired one-time federal prosecutor Ed Stier to head up Hoffa’s effort to rid the union of corruption. Hoffa hopes such moves will cause the federal government to drop its 10-year, costly oversight ($80 million) of the union.

Some skeptics say that Stier will be under Hoffa’s thumb, so he can’t be expected to be thorough or non-partisan. Those critics may well feel their skepticism is justified when they learn that Stier has named mostly Hoffa allies to a task force charged with drawing up a “Code of Fiscal and Fiduciary Conduct.”

On the 21-person task force is a single supporter of Hoffa’s opponents, former President Ron Carey and presidential candidate Tom Leedham. Then there is one officer who was in Carey’s corner, but later opposed both Hoffa’s and Leedham’s slates; and an officer who once served under Stier, during a court-ordered local union trusteeship.

Presumably the only other highly credible Teamsters Stier could find were 17 officers and four members who are Hoffa supporters, including two IBT vice presidents, and 10 who are from locals of IBT vice presidents.

In other words, Stier has assembled a group that with few exceptions could well be a Hoffa campaign committee.

Recently, the Feds agreed to ease their five-year intervention into the laborers’ international union (LIUNA), though only after the union’s president retired under charges of personal corruption. A New York Times labor reporter speculated that as a result the Teamsters “can be expected to intensify its campaign to get the federal government to relax its far more intrusive oversight of the Teamsters” (Jan. 21, 2000).

If there’s a city that symbolizes the worst in Teamsters’ history, it might be Las Vegas. At one time, Teamster pension money bankrolled some of the gambling enterprises controlled by mobsters. You might think that if Stier had much influence with Hoffa, he would be able to block Las Vegas as the site for the Teamsters next convention, if only to avoid the media stories that remind Teamsters of where so much of the money went.

The first convention after the government’s intervention bypassed Las Vegas for Orlando, and then-President Ron Carey selected Philadelphia for the next convention. Now Hoffa has chosen Las Vegas (a “family” town) for the union’s 2001 26th international convention. -CHARLES WALKER

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