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Hoffa to retire from the Teamsters

By Sean Orr |
February 22, 2020
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James P Hoffa.
James P Hoffa.

Chicago, IL - On February 21, in a letter sent to the staff and principal officers of the Teamsters, James P. Hoffa announced that he would not seek re-election as general president and would retire from the union at the end of his term in March 2022.

Few are surprised at the news from the 78-year-old union leader. Hoffa's time at the helm of the Teamsters has been defined by collusion with the bosses, whether in the form of concessionary contracts or in the form of open criminality. His exit from the Teamsters will mark the end of an era, and the turning of a page for one of the largest unions in the country.

Hoffa: Never a friend of working people

For as long as he worked for the Teamsters, Hoffa has stood with the most corrupt and cowardly elements of the union. He led the opposition to Ron Carey, the militant reformer who ran the Teamsters from 1991 to 1997. Carey's willingness to strike employers, combined with a serious anti-corruption drive, earned him the hatred of union officials who would rather cooperate with management than fight for their members. They fought him every step of the way, and when the federal government moved against Carey, these elements rallied around Hoffa as their candidate, winning him the general election in 1998 and every election since then.

Hoffa will be missed by the bosses. United Parcel Services (UPS), where over 200,000 Teamsters work, never worried about a strike when Hoffa ran the union. Contracts across the trucking and logistics industry were weakened, not strengthened, with each subsequent negotiation. Hoffa became so skilled at representing corporate interests in negotiations that, when the UPS contract was voted down by the members in 2018, he managed to even surprise the company negotiators by signing the agreement anyways. There are few instances in the history of the labor movement that compare to this stunning betrayal of workers. It has not been forgotten by the Teamsters forced to work under a contract they never ratified.

Hoffa protected criminals, and threw hard-working Teamsters to the wolves. He made every effort to shelter men like Rome Aloise and John Coli, and barely uttered a sound when Frank Ordoñez, a 27-year-old UPS driver, was murdered by police while on the job. Instead of spending time in his final years organizing Amazon - the greatest threat to the Teamsters in our lifetime - Hoffa is plotting to raise the delegate threshold at upcoming national conventions to prevent reformers to taking power away from his corrupt allies. He is a disgrace.

O'Brien-Zuckerman are the way forward

The good news is that Hoffa's full embrace of corruption and class collaboration has made him, and those closest to him, deeply unpopular. He barely survived re-election in 2016, and in the years since then a broad coalition has formed to compete in the 2021 elections.

Led by Sean O'Brien from Joint Council 10, the coalition brings together militants, reformers and former Hoffa allies. The full participation of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), which endorsed early on, ensures that the defense of internal democracy will continue to be a top priority for the anti-Hoffa forces. O'Brien and his running mate Fred Zuckerman are calling for the Teamsters to go on the offensive, to re-organize their strength in the core industries and to rebuild the union into a credible strike threat against the major employers.

Hoffa's camp, meanwhile, collapses by the day. Rome Aloise, recently returned to the Teamsters after a two-year suspension, now appears to be on his way out once again after new corruption charges. Steve Vairma, president of Local 455, has declared his intention to run to succeed Hoffa, although it is unclear how many of his loyalists he will be able to gather around him. It is obvious to anyone watching that the anti-Hoffa forces have the advantage, and odds are looking good for new leadership of the union in 2021.

A lot of work will have to go in to rebuilding the International Brotherhood of Teamsters into a fighting union. Hoffa's damage is deep, and it will not disappear with him. Fortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of Teamsters ready for change. The future is looking bright.

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