by David Bernt
Veteran Teamster reform activist Sandy Pope has announced her candidacy for the union presidency in next year’s election. Pope will face off against 12-year incumbent Jimmy Hoffa Jr. and a slate headed by Fred Gegare, a current vice president who was elected on the Hoffa slate in 2006.
A former freight driver, Sandy Pope worked for the International under former President Ron Carey, who was elected by a rank-and-file rebellion against the old-guard gangsters and who went on to lead the historic national UPS strike in 1997. Pope is the president of Local 805, a warehouse local based in Long Island. Under her leadership, Local 805 has been transformed from a gangster-run do-nothing union into one that has gained national recognition for aggressive organizing drives and negotiating strong contracts.
In contrast, the International under 12 years of Hoffa Jr. has transformed one of the largest and most powerful unions in the country into a sinking ship. Under Hoffa’s watch the membership in the union’s traditional base, freight trucking, is now one third of the size when Hoffa was first elected. Massive concessions given to major employers on pensions have put the future of Teamsters pension plans into doubt. Hoffa allowed the union’s largest (and very profitable) employer, UPS, to withdraw from the Central States Pension Fund.
Hoffa came into office promising to “restore Teamster power.” Instead, the rank and file has endured 12 years of concessionary contracts and weakened pensions.
The son of legendary Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa Sr., Hoffa Junior’s ascendency to the head of the Teamsters union has everything to do with the legacy of his last name. Hoffa Jr. spent most of his adult life as a lawyer, including stints as a company-side labor-law practitioner with no affiliation to the union he now runs.
When, in 1991, an insurgent reform movement elected a militant local president, Ron Carey, to the presidency of the union, the discredited old-guard gangsters dug up Hoffa Junior from obscurity and had him appointed administrative assistant to Detroit Local 299 so they could use his name to regain power. When Ron Carey was unjustly removed from office for charges for which he was later vindicated, Hoffa used his name to get elected president of the Teamsters despite never serving as a Teamster officer at any level.
Sandy Pope offers Teamsters a fundamentally different type of leadership to the backroom concessions and rampant corruption of the Hoffa administration. Pope calls for a program to mobilize the membership to enforce and win better contracts. At her keynote speech at the recent Teamsters for a Democratic Union convention, Sandy Pope asked, “Why is Hoffa so afraid of the members? And why am I not afraid of our members? Well, first off, I’m a Teamster.”
The Sandy Pope campaign faces an uphill battle against a well-funded opponent. Hoffa has the advantage of incumbency, including a well-funded campaign and the allegiance of the vast majority of local officers. However, he also has a record of failure—which members know all too well.
Teamster activists across the country are building the campaign and getting the word out to the rank and file that there is an alternative. A Sandy Pope victory would be a major step toward realizing Hoffa’s broken promise of “restoring Teamsters power.”
> This article was originally published in the December 2010 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.