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Christine Royster Speaks: Teamster Leader Slams Hoffa

by staff |
October 1, 2002
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Christine Royster at Teamster Rank & File rally
Christine Royster at Teamster Rank & File rally (Fight Back! News)
Royster speaks at Convention
Royster speaks at Convention

Christine Royster ran for vice president of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters (IBT) last year on the Tom Leedham Rank & File Power Slate. Unfortunately, she lost, denying the Teamsters their first African American woman vice president. Royster, running as a rank-and-file member, would have been a dynamic addition to the Teamsters national executive board.

Royster recently retired from Blue Cross/Blue Shield where she worked for 28 years as a clerical employee. She also served IBT Local 743 members as union steward and business agent.

In 1998, Royster ran for recording secretary of Local 743 on the 743 New Leadership Slate. She is active in the Teamsters National Black Caucus. She recently joined and became involved in Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) the primary reform organization in the Teamsters.

Fight Back!: Why did you become involved in your union?

Royster: I did not like or have confidence in the people that were representing us. We were not getting the proper service at Blue Cross for the dues that we were paying. Clerical workers, nursing home and hospital workers also were not being treated right by the Teamsters and I wanted to do something about it.

To tell the truth, at first I did not see the big picture. Later, I was elected as a delegate to the 1991 Teamster convention. I saw future IBT president Ron Carey was nominated by an energetic group of rank-and-file activists. Then I saw the government remove him after he led the historic strike at United Parcel Service (UPS).

Fight Back!: Do you think African Americans are treated differently from other members in the Teamsters?

Royster: Sure I do! Hoffa and his cronies don't acknowledge us as leaders. We make up a huge section of this union, yet we are ignored, or, worse yet, treated as tokens. Women get this treatment too. Sometimes I think being ignored by Hoffa is worse than his negative treatment.

One of the most blatant examples happened at the IBT 2001 Convention in Las Vegas. Hoffa had started a scholarship fund in his usual self-promoting way. He named it the James R. Hoffa Scholarship after his father.

At the convention, they flashed the pictures of those Teamster children who had won the $10,000 scholarships. The first ten kids were all white. The next ten kids were all white. We could not believe it! When they were finished, zero African American and zero Latino children received a $10,000 scholarship from the James R. Hoffa fund.

Of course, our 743 New Leadership Slate delegation, led by Debra Simmons, rushed to the microphones to protest. When we got there, they turned off the microphones. They refused to acknowledge us. Dozens of Hoffa thugs were sent to surround and to try to intimidate Debra. They then turned out the lights and started to show us a video about trucks that we had already seen.

I guess this was Hoffa's response to affirmative action demands.

Fight Back!: How can working Teamsters turn their union into one that fights in their interest?

: Solidarity is the only way. We cannot wait for someone else to do it for us. To transform our union into an organization that fights for workers, everyone has to get involved. Sometimes it looks like a David and Goliath battle. Solidarity, worker involvement and organizations like Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the 743 New Leadership Slate are our sling shot. And, as I remember, David won that battle.