LABOR BRIEFING by Charles Walker

Why Teamster bureaucrats love Hoffa

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa trades on his father’s militant reputation to gain support from the union’s rank and file. To attract the union’s officialdom, however, Junior Hoffa has a different lure-money and lots of it.

How much money is revealed by an audit of the Teamsters yearly financial reports filed with the Labor Department. During Hoffa’s first nine months in office, 182 officers saw their collective pay jump 30 percent to $25.4 million. Since Hoffa’s inauguration, there are 28 percent more officials earning at least $100,000.

Not all that pay comes from one post. Almost all of the top paid officials have multiple posts, which means multiple salaries. And, of course, multiple pension contributions that are on top of their multiple salaries. Although Hoffa raised his own salary from $150,000 to $225,000, he’s not at the top of the big-bucks heap. That position is held by Frank Wsol of Chicago, who figures he’s worth no less than $305,286 a year plus paid expenses.

While these bloated salaries are reported to the government, the officials make no special effort to inform the ranks. For years now, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) has been painstakingly compiling and publishing the facts:

“This year’s investigation,” TDU says, “reveals an unprecedented expansion in union spending to fill the pockets of top officials, their friends, and campaign donors. More bloated salaries, more multiple salaries, more money directed to a few officials. Every single one of these categories had their biggest single year ever.”


Will ILWU’s social activism survive recent election?

From the 1934 San Francisco General Strike to the present, the West Coast dock workers union has had a leftist, militant, and democratic reputation.

In 1950, the CIO expelled the ILWU because, it claimed, the union’s founding leader, Harry Bridges, “followed the Communist Line.” For two decades the Feds fruitlessly tried to deport Bridges to his native Australia, claiming that he was a Communist.

Through it all the union retained the ranks’ loyalty. The union of 60,000 members (including retirees) was readmitted to the AFL-CIO, even though ILWU presidents since Bridges have more or less kept its militant, leftist image intact.

That image has been burnished in recent years when the union called one-day work stoppages in solidarity with fired Liverpool dock workers, and to protest the looming execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. More recently, the union called a one-day coastwide work stoppage to oppose the WTO in Seattle.

However, it’s not clear whether the union will continue to provide job-action support for off-the-job issues and causes. That’s because the union has a new president, long-time ILWU official James Spinosa. Incumbent President Brian McWilliams lost to Spinosa 4812 to 7564.

According to the Journal of Commerce (June 5-11), “Spinosa is concerned almost exclusively with dockworker issues. In that respect, he’s closer to the views of the new leaders of the ILWU locals who are gaining influence in the union. … While McWilliams expounds on the evils of multinational corporations, leaders of the ILWU locals in Los Angeles-Long Beach, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest [see a] fierce competition for West Coast cargo and ILWU jobs.”

However, since Spinosa got fewer than a third of the Northern California votes, it’s clear he’s failed to get the support of all local union leaders.

Should the union limit or eliminate the one-day stoppages that have been welcomed and praised by social justice activists, the root cause might be traced to contracts reached with the shipping bosses that date back to Bridges. Those agreements allowed the bosses to mechanize the docks, reduce the size of the work force, and, in effect, promote a craft-union specialized sector within the union’s core, the longshore workers.

Whereas longshore work is still rotated through the union’s hiring halls, there’s a trend for more and more workers to stay with a single employer. That’s because the companies need highly skilled operators to handle the huge specialized cranes that quickly move shipping containers on and off the docks, ensuring a quick turn-around for the ocean vessels.

Certainly, the bosses find it much cheaper to train only part of the available work force. The specialized jobs that have appeared during the past 30 years pay well, as compared with both blue-collar jobs in general and with other job classifications that the union represents.

Industry sources say that specialized dock workers with overtime can and do make as much as $100,000 a year. It’s well established that high wages for some workers blinds them to the urgent needs of far less privileged workers. That social blindness (craft unionism) along with intransigent bosses and their agents in government left U.S. industrial workers unorganized until the mid-1930s.

Spinosa denies that he won’t continue the union’s tradition on social issues. “Our commitment is fully there,” he told the press. “Our commitment has not changed.”

In any event, this is a bad time for the union to suffer a rupture with its social justice allies. That’s because the employers are gearing up for a new round of mechanization and work rule changes, perhaps as drastic as those that eliminated so many jobs since the 1970s.

The bosses’ “vision of West Coast ports encompasses automated dispatch systems, bar coding, paperless gate transactions, and automated cargo handling,” reported the Journal (Aug. 21-27). Until recently, the bosses indicated that the new technology would be phased in over a 10-year span. Now the bosses are saying, “We can’t wait that long. We have to move now.”

Should the union this time decide to fight for jobs, rather than higher paychecks for a smaller work force, the ILWU would certainly find the social justice movement a reliable ally, and a substantial political force.

The one-day stoppages probably cost two-term President Brian McWilliams some votes, though it’s not clear that those votes decided the ILWU’s August election. Perhaps a much larger factor was the low voter turnout (actually a mail ballot).

The last coastwide strike was in 1971. That means that there are few dock workers today who have first-hand knowledge of militant unionism and the class solidarity of dock workers’ past struggles. ILWU leaders and activists should view the small vote (28 percent of 44,000 active members) as they would the possible loss of their union-run hiring halls-a serious threat to the union’s power on the docks.

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