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Teamster Activists Say: 'Dump Hoffa!'

by staff |
June 1, 2005
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International Teamster President James P. Hoffa is in trouble. He is discredited because of his lies and his complete inability to deliver for rank-and-file Teamsters. During his last run for president of the union, Hoffa claimed that he would not raise union dues. Hoffa lied. After he won he said he had to raise dues to negotiate strong contracts. His slogan was, “Five cents an hour for Teamster power.”

Instead, Hoffa failed to negotiate even enough from employers to maintain the pensions of workers covered by the Teamster’s pension plan. The lies about a dues increase and the sudden cutbacks in Teamster pensions have led to an explosion of anti-Hoffa sentiment across the union.

While Hoffa’s huge PR machine still dazzles the corporate media, Teamsters across the country are looking for alternatives to their famous president who prefers the company of mobsters, bosses and republican politicians to the workers who are fighting to maintain their standard of living. Teamsters in Georgia recently voted out Hoffa allies in favor of reformers who promised to organize workers to fight in their own interests. Rather than stand with the new leaders, Hoffa’s allies on Joint Council 75 ordered a second election to give his cronies another chance. The workers saw through this sham and again voted for the reformers who were running on the Members First Slate.

Hoffa ally Robert Walston, in Chicago’s Local 743, didn’t even bother to include the joint council in the decision to stop an election he was losing. He just called for a ‘do over.’ Hoffa upheld the right of his crony in Local 743 to block the election of the reform 743 New Leadership Slate. Not surprisingly, the second election was fraught with irregularities.

Since this ‘election,’ Walston’s connections to the Chicago underworld have surfaced. Walston has run a video poker business and associated with known mobsters. In a dying confession, former Local 743 President Chester Glanton told a Teamster anti-corruption committee about how Walston had made deals to give free health insurance to the relatives and friends of mob businesses. Walston has also had secret meetings with former Local 743 boss Robert Simpson at the mob-run Russian Turkish Bathhouse.

Hoffa has had troubles closer to home. Hoffa was forced to fire his top assistant, Carlow Scalf. Scalf had embezzled $69,000 in housing funds to which he was not entitled. Hoffa first suspended him, but was later forced to fire him when Teamsters for a Democratic Union protested the mere slap on the wrist.

Mounting corruption while workers’ standard of living continues to fall has led local Teamster leaders to form the New Leadership Committee. The committee is exploring what it will take to defeat Jimmy Hoffa in next year’s election.

The Teamsters for a Democratic Union website (tdu.org) quotes Jack Reardon, vice president of Local 170 in Massachusetts, “Right now, we’re at the stage of reaching out and building the alliances and campaign infrastructure we’ll need, not just to win this election but to successfully lead this union on a new course. Our job is to build a grassroots army for change.”

Local Teamster officials are sick of Hoffa’s patronage army that does nothing to assist them when the boss asks for even more concessions. Worse yet, when the International Union does show up, it is usually to punish reformers for putting the members’ interests before those of the Hoffa machine.

This was the case in Pasco, Washington, where Tyson Foods was able to use Teamster documents to end its relationship with Local 556 and its militant Latina leader Maria Martinez. “Maria Martinez was an inspiration to all immigrant Teamsters,” said Chicago Teamster Tony Caldera, “she organized the workers, she used militant contract campaigns to fight for dignity and respect for all workers. That is why the company went after her and that is why Hoffa went after her.”

Hoffa has also failed miserably at organizing new members. This is especially important to the Teamsters working in the delivery of freight, which is where the union got its historic truck driving strength. Reformers, under the leadership of Ron Carey, organized almost half of the freight industry’s largest non-union trucking company, Overnight. When Hoffa took office, rather than finish the job, he ordered them out on a disastrous, ill-conceived strike. The strike failed miserably, destroying the livelihoods of many courageous Overnight workers and ending the Teamster’s last serious attempt to organize the freight industry.

Now Hoffa wants to join with the leaders of SEIU, UNITE HERE, the Carpenters Union and others - but not to rebuild the labor movement. Under the Hoffa Plan, he would be able to keep a larger portion of the union dues. “I was at the last Teamster convention,” said Local 743 delegate Esmerelda Cuevas, “Hoffa just wants the money for himself and his patronage army.”

“Teamsters are ready for a change,” said TDU International Steering Committee member Richard Berg, “The Hoffa name has not done anything but divert us from fighting for better wages and benefits. We are ready to focus on the future. We can leave Hoffa and his failed legacy in the past.”

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