Will the Teamsters Union "Change to Win"?

James Hoffa has been getting a lot of press these days for being part of a group of labor leaders who formed the Change to Win Coalition. What does this new group stand for, and what does it mean for Teamsters?

The Change to Win Coalition, led by the Service Employees (SEIU) and joined by the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE-HERE, the Laborers, Farm Workers, and Carpenters says its purpose is to make organizing the unorganized in each union's "core industries" a major priority. The theme they are putting forward is that current union members can't win good contracts, preserve jobs, or save health benefits or pensions as long as the labor movement keeps shrinking.

As we go to press, James Hoffa is on the verge of taking the Teamsters out of the AFL-CIO. With almost no discussion beyond Hoffa's own staff, on July 20 the General Executive Board gave Hoffa and Tom Keegel the unilateral power to split from the labor federation.

What does this mean for Teamsters?

In the short term, the big split among top labor leaders could lead to more weakness and division, but possibly to new strategies. It may lead to unions trying to lure members from each other (raiding) instead of organizing new members.

Is there anything positive for working Teamsters in this split at the top?

In the bigger picture, the question is whether Hoffa is prepared to apply the principles that he has signed onto by joining the Change to Win Coalition inside the Teamsters union.

After all, only 1 percent of every Teamster dues dollar has gone to help support the AFL-CIO; just $9 million out of $700 million in annual Teamster dues. Hoffa tried to get about $4 million of that rebated back to the Teamsters.

So the real question is, is the $700 million in dues going to protect the future of Teamster members?

With that in mind, Teamsters should take a look at the Change to Win Coalition program, endorsed by James Hoffa and Tom Keegel, and see if we can apply it to the Teamsters union. Here are the key Change to Win planks:

Organize in core industries to build power

This is a central Change to Win theme. The Teamsters union must take on Overnite, DHL, FedEx, and other major targets in our core industries. Some of this has started, but much more needs to be done in trucking, construction, warehousing and food processing. In a July 13 letter to the General Executive Board, Local 805 President Sandy Pope pointed out that the 2002 dues increase added $65 million to the international union’s annual budget, only a small fraction of which is being used for organizing. If we are to Change to Win in the Teamsters, we need to redirect resources now spent on multiple salaries, golf matches and PR into core industry organizing.

Stop the “race to the bottom”

Change to Win says that “affiliates undercutting bargaining standards should suffer penalties.”

This is a good principle for our union. For an important example, see “Carhaul Deals Endanger Contract” on page 7. Local 120 has just signed substandard contracts in direct violation of the national carhaul contract. We could apply the Change to Win program right now to help save the carhaul contract.

Rebates to affiliates that are putting resources into organizing

“Half of what unions now pay to the AFL-CIO should be rebated to unions that have a strategic plan and commitment to organizing in their core industries,” Change to Win says. This model can be applied to the Teamsters union: Locals spending significant money on organizing in Teamster core industries could get a rebate of half the per capita paid to the International. This would enhance the ability of locals to organize as part of a coordinated program to build Teamster power.

Diversity

“The AFL-CIO must make diversity at all levels of the labor movement a central strategic objective, with standards and timetables, including ensuring that the diversity of the membership is reflected in elected leadership,” says Change to Win.
Presently there is one African American, one woman, and no Latinos among the 24 voting members of the General Executive Board.

Clearly, we do need to Change to Win in this area.
The Teamster leadership has embraced the Change to Win program. The next step is a thorough discussion about applying these principles inside our own union, and then using them to build a more powerful and democratic Teamsters union.

All quotes and platform planks are from www.changetowin.org under “Restoring the American Dream.”

Click Here to Read a letter from Sandy Pope, the President of New York Local 805 on this issue

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