December 2, 2011: More than 250,000 Teamster members cast their ballots in a hotly contested three-way race for Teamster General President.
What do the results tell us about our union and the future of the Teamster reform movement?
James Hoffa won reelection with a majority of the vote over opposition candidates Fred Gegare and the TDU-backed Sandy Pope.
Hoffa called on members to vote for him in record numbers to send a message that Teamsters are united. It didn’t happen: 40,000 fewer Teamsters voted for Hoffa this time than five years ago.
Hoffa got the vote of about one-tenth of all Teamsters. That’s a win, but hardly a mandate.
Most members sat out the election. That’s a wake-up call that too many Teamsters are dangerously disconnected from our union. You can’t build a powerful union when 80 percent of the members don’t participate.
To rebuild our union’s power, it will take a new approach from Hoffa. And it will take a more active rank and file.
TDU is committed to meeting the challenge, fighting apathy, informing members, and helping Teamsters build a more powerful union.
Involved Members Make a Difference
In areas where Sandy Pope supporters passed out leaflets and made phone calls, voter turnout was higher, the majority of Teamsters voted for change, and the reform vote was much higher.
In New York and New Jersey, members campaigned in 13 locals totaling 40,000 Teamsters in brewery, school bus drivers, grocery, UPS, freight, and more. Sandy Pope won the overall vote in these locals by a 10 percent margin.
Sandy Pope visited 29 local union areas in the Central Region, covering 150,000 Teamsters. In these locals, 58 percent of the members voted for change and Sandy won the majority of the opposition vote.
In the South, two states tell the story. Sandy got the most votes in the seven Tennessee locals, narrowly winning the state total. But in Florida, Hoffa won across the state by a big margin. The difference? In Tennessee, TDU had an active presence; in Florida it was very thin.
Across North America, the story was the same: where members were active, voter turnout was higher, the majority of members voted against Hoffa and Sandy Pope frequently finished first: including in Memphis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Akron, St. Louis, Charlotte, Spokane, Portland, Iowa, New York, New Jersey and other locals.
Money Talks. Active Members Trump.
The Hoffa-Hall Campaign spent more than $3 million—most of it raised by officials on Hoffa’s payroll.
Hoffa spent most of his campaign funds on negative attacks and a smear campaign overwhelmingly aimed at Sandy Pope.
Hoffa’s campaign didn’t inspire the members to vote for him. His vote total dropped by 40,000 from five years ago. But Hoffa’s smear campaign did succeed in driving down turnout and pushing voters away from Sandy Pope.
In many locals, the Sandy Pope Campaign and TDU did not have enough active Teamster volunteers to respond to Hoffa’s negative attacks. Hoffa could clean up in these locals. In locals where we had volunteers on the ground, many members voted for Sandy Pope and the majority often went against Hoffa.
The lesson is clear: big money talks and negative campaigning works—but rank-and-file Teamsters can overcome these obstacles where we’re organized and working together.
A Bigger, United Reform Movement Can Win
More than forty percent of Teamster members voted against Hoffa. His campaign benefited from having a split opposition.
In a head-to-head contest with Hoffa, Sandy Pope had a strong chance. Unopposed candidates do not appear on the ballot, Hoffa’s slate advantage would have been wiped out, and he would have to run on his own fading popularity.
In the past, officials who have broken with Hoffa have backed out of the race when it became clear that few top officers would ally with them. Vice President Tyson Johnson did just this in 2006—briefly running against Hoffa, and then dropping out. This year, Fred Gegare stayed in the race and benefited from having a slate box on the ballot.
To succeed in future elections, we need a bigger reform movement—one that can reach more Teamsters and have rank-and-file volunteers in more locals.
We need to be in a position to run a full slate. That means more Teamsters concerned with out union’s direction need to run for local union office.
And we need to build a united opposition that brings together all Teamsters who want a stronger union—whether they voted for Pope, Gegare or didn’t vote at all.
Building Union Power Starts Now
TDU members are not sitting around waiting for the next election, five years away. There are important contracts coming up—and local union elections where members are organizing for change.
TDU’s focus will be on informing Teamsters, training stewards and union activists, and networking concerned Teamsters to fight for good contracts, protect our benefits and enforce our contracts.
When President Hoffa does the right thing, we will stand behind him. When Teamster officials are going along with employers or violating members’ rights, TDU will be there to stand up and organize to get our union back on track.
Proud to Be for Pope
“I met Sandy Pope in our UPS parking lot and I was impressed. She knew the issues we faced on the job.
“She inspired me and I learned a lot from helping campaign. Now I want to put all that to use in organizing for a better contract in 2013.”
Cindy McLaughlin, Local 413, Columbus, Ohio
Good Ideas for Our Union
“The members in my local liked what Sandy Pope had to say: Stop letting UPS destroy our contract. Organize the nonunion companies. Educate our members.
“Those are the kind of ideas our union needs. There’s nothing stopping our local and International union leaders from using them. That’s what we need to push for.”
Jana Mills, Local 322, Richmond, Va.
Lessons for the Future
“I want to thank Sandy Pope for the courage to take on Hoffa and for being a great candidate.
“We worked hard here in Sacramento. The majority of the local voted against Hoffa. Sandy won 34 percent of the vote and took the overwhelming majority of the opposition vote.
“Gegare split some votes away from our campaign. He had virtually no presence in our area: no mailing, no calling, no supporters speaking for him. But he still got 176 protest votes in Local 150.
“The next campaign needs to find a way to reach more Teamsters who do not work under national contracts.
“More members need to compete in more local union elections and we need to build alliances and run a full slate next time.
“The focus here will be on the next UPS contract. We need to coordinate with other UPS members across Northern California and the nation to win a stronger contract. TDU has the core of a strong national UPS network. We need to build from there.
“It was a pleasure meeting Sandy Pope and working with her on the campaign.”
Ralph Meredith, Local 150, Sacramento, Calif.