Leedham’s Grassroots v Hoffa’s Glossy Ads

January 30, 2006: The campaign for Teamster president is starting to heat up—with the opposing slates employing competing strategies.

Both Hoffa and the Tom Leedham Strong Contracts, Good Pensions Slate have campaign pages in the February Teamster magazine and on their websites. But the similarity ends there.

While Hoffa is struggling to keep defectors in the fold and put a glossy sheen on his failed record, Tom Leedham is drawing in new support and building a grassroots network of Teamster campaigners.

Leedham has built on the vote he got in the last election—picking up support from Teamster members and officers who are disaffected with
Hoffa because of the decline in Teamster power during his seven years in office.

Hoffa may be his own worst enemy. He is haunted by his broken promises of “No Dues Increase,” “25-and-Out,” and “No Corruption”—and by his broken pledge that “Health and pension benefits are guaranteed” under the master contracts he negotiated.

The Hoffa “Unity” that was formerly rock solid among Teamster officials is cracking, if not crumbling. It took an all-out pressure offensive to hold together his Unity Slate when Freight Director Tyson Johnson launched an aborted third slate in December. While Johnson is back in the fold, other key Hoffa supporters have turned against him or dropped away from active campaigning.

Third Slate?

Johnson, who announced his candidacy for Teamster President on Dec. 12, abandoned that campaign just two weeks later. Reportedly Johnson will retire from office. At the eleventh hour, Hoffa vice presidents and consultants convinced Johnson to drop out, all using the argument that Leedham would surely win a three-way race.

Some Teamster officials would rather let the union continue to go downhill under Hoffa than risk a Leedham victory.

But many officials, including several in the Freight Division, refuse to come back to Hoffa. Some allies who helped put Hoffa in office are no longer with him. Even his former Executive Assistant, Carlow Scalf, is working against Hoffa’s reelection. Former Freight Director Phil Young, International Vice President Tom O’Donnell, New Jersey Joint Council President Don DiLeo, among others, have split from Hoffa.

To many officers it looks like Hoffa has not only abandoned Teamsters in freight, but he relies more on his consultants and handlers than the local officers who put in power.

Whether these developments will lead to a third slate, a coalition with Leedham, or something else, remains to be seen. In any event, they show that Hoffa has lost key support, at the same time that Leedham is reaching out to draw leaders who formerly backed Hoffa into the campaign and slate.

With no positive record to run on, Hoffa’s strategy is to go negative. Hoffa’s campaign ads call Leedham a “loser,” because Leedham lost to Hoffa in 1998 and in 2001.

But that approach may fall flat: thousands of Teamsters feel like they have been the big losers under the Hoffa administration.

Since Hoffa took office, our union has lost 100,000 members; hundreds of thousands of Teamsters have had pension and health benefits cut; and many officers feel Hoffa has lost touch with local officers and lost control of our union to inside-the-beltway consultants.

PR Campaign vs Ground War

The Hoffa Campaign will rely on a big fundraising advantage to bankroll a glossy PR campaign. Hoffa pays some 148 multiple salaries to Teamster officials—not including the hundreds more on the Hoffa payroll, most of whom can be made to pony up big bucks to his campaign.

Leedham is relying on grassroots fundraising to finance a “ground war” campaign based on Teamster-to-Teamster outreach.

The campaign has launched a Strong Contracts, Good Pensions tour that is putting candidates in the field to talk with Teamsters about what it will take to rebuild our union’s strength.

Hoffa can only buy another term of office if we let him. The PR attacks of Hoffa’s consultants are no match for Teamster members if we’re organized in the terminals, hubs, factories, warehouses, job sites, and other Teamster workplaces.

The Leedham Campaign is building a Teamster army. It’s time for you to enlist.

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