April 13, 2010: A female trucker fired for failing a physical ability test on returning from a work-related injury raised a jury issue of sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because the plaintiff had successfully performed the job in the past, her injury had healed, and the employer did not require injured male employees to take the test, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled April 9 (Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., 4th Cir., No. 09-1498, 4/9/10).
Reversing summary judgment for Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., the court decided plaintiff Deborah Merritt had raised a triable issue that Old Dominion's reliance on the physical ability test (PAT) to fire her in February 2005 was a pretext for intentional sex discrimination.
Although Old Dominion's vice president Brian Stoddard alone made the decision to fire Merritt, the court said other managers' statements that Merritt's pickup and delivery driver job was not women's work, Merritt's history of difficulty in securing the job, and Old Dominion's shifting and inconsistent explanations of its PAT policy would support a reasonable jury in finding Stoddard's decision was based on Merritt's sex.
A federal district court in Virginia had dismissed Merritt's Title VII claim, saying she failed to prove Stoddard “harbored any discriminatory animus” or that Old Dominion's legitimate, nondiscriminatory use of the gender-neutral PAT was a pretext for bias.
Joined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on appeal, however, Merritt contended that Stoddard's selective use of a test intended for job applicants was not neutral and that circumstantial evidence suggested Old Dominion was using her ankle injury (from which Merritt's doctor testified she had fully recovered) as an excuse to fire her based on gender.
Purported Policy Selectively Applied
Writing for the appeals court, Justice J. Harvie Wilkinson III said “the record as a whole supports Merritt's claim that a jury could find that discrimination on the basis of gender was afoot.” Although Merritt might lack a triable sex bias claim if Old Dominion had a uniform policy of requiring all drivers returning from injury leave to pass the PAT, the court said, evidence suggests that was not the case. Rather, the evidence indicates that Stoddard made a purely subjective decision to require Merritt to take the PAT, even though the test was developed for job applicants and it assessed nothing specific to Merritt's injury, the court said.
Moreover, Stoddard exercised his discretion against the backdrop of an Old Dominion corporate culture in which the company could identify only six female pickup and delivery drivers among approximately 3,100 drivers in that position, Merritt had been passed over for the job for nearly two years despite a spotless record as a line haul driver, and managers allegedly told Merritt the job was not for women, the court said.
“While the views of others are no proof of the views of Stoddard, at some point the corporate environment in which he worked places Stoddard's own selective use of the PAT in Merritt's case in a less neutral context,” the court said.
“[W]e do not hold that Merritt's evidence must be believed or that, if believed, must yield an inference that Old Dominion unlawfully discriminated against her,” Wilkinson wrote. “But because Merritt's evidence may well be believed and may well yield such an inference, Old Dominion is not entitled to summary judgment.”
Judges Allyson K. Duncan and Andre M. Davis joined in the decision.
Denied Return From Injury Leave
Old Dominion is a nationwide trucking firm that employs thousands as “line haul” drivers and “pickup and delivery” drivers, the court related. Line haul drivers travel across state lines and often spend nights and weekends away from home, while pickup and delivery drivers work locally and rarely work nights or weekends. The pickup and delivery job requires more lifting and therefore is more physically demanding than line haul driver, the court said.
Merritt worked for Old Dominion for six years as a line haul driver based in Greensboro, N.C., before she sought a travel and pickup delivery driver job so she could spend more time at home. Beginning in 2002, Merritt applied for several open pickup and delivery positions at Old Dominion's Lynchburg, Va., facility, but initially was turned down for jobs that went to less-experienced male drivers, the court said.
Bobby Howard, the Lynchburg terminal manager, allegedly told Merritt that the company “did not really have women drivers” in pickup and delivery jobs and that regional vice president Lemuel Clayton “was afraid [a woman] would get hurt” if given such a job. On another occasion, Howard told Merritt that VP Clayton “didn't think a girl should have that position.” Clayton denied the alleged comments, the court said.
In March 2004, Old Dominion hired Merritt as a pickup and delivery driver, but placed her on a 90-day probationary period, the court said. Merritt alleged no male drivers who transferred were placed on probation, but VP Clayton testified probation was standard procedure that permitted transferring employees to “change their minds” if a new job did not work out.
Through September 2004, Merritt performed her new job successfully, the parties agreed. She had no trouble lifting freight and received no complaints from management, co-workers, or customers, the court related. Despite her positive record, however, Lynchburg terminal operations manager Steve Godsey allegedly told a male driver he did not understand why the company “brought [Merritt] here in the first place” because “this is not a women's place.”
On Sept. 29, 2004, Merritt injured her ankle on the job. She was diagnosed with an ankle sprain and plantar fasciitis and her doctor prescribed light-duty work until Merritt's next appointment on Dec. 27. Prior to that doctor's appointment, however, Brian Stoddard, vice president of safety and personnel, decided Merritt must pass the PAT before she could return to work.
On Dec. 27, Merritt's doctor examined her and concluded her injury was “not a disabling condition” and that nothing prevented Merritt from performing her duties as a pickup and delivery driver.
Based on the PAT administered on Dec. 28, however, Old Dominion determined that Merritt received an overall failing grade and was not physically fit to resume her job, the court said. Although the test revealed no problem with Merritt's ankle, she was unable to place a weighted box on an overhead shelf (the five-foot, one-inch Merritt testified the shelf was placed too high) or walk backward pulling a cable (Merritt testified the test occurred in a crowded hallway in which she bumped into people).
Citing the test results, Stoddard fired Merritt effective Feb. 1, 2005. Merritt sued under Title VII, alleging sex discrimination, but the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia granted summary judgment to Old Dominion. Merritt appealed.
Triable Issue of Pretext
The Fourth Circuit said that while Merritt proceeded under the familiar “burden-shifting framework” of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 5 FEP Cases 965 (1973), “the issue boils down to whether the plaintiff has presented a triable question of intentional discrimination.”
Merritt has done so, the court decided, saying a reasonable jury could find the evidence undermines Old Dominion's contention that it had a regular policy of requiring drivers returning from injury leaves to pass the PAT. Merritt introduced “ample evidence” that Old Dominion's explanation for its decision to fire her “was unworthy of credence,” the court said.
The record indicates Merritt's ankle injury was temporary and had healed at the time of Stoddard's decision to fire her, the court said. The plaintiff's doctor testified there was nothing in Merritt's medical condition to prevent her from resuming her duties as a pickup and delivery driver in December 2004, the court pointed out.
Rather than allow Merritt to return, however, Old Dominion required a “full-blown fitness test” to assess the effects of a minor injury on Merritt's ability to perform a job she had successfully performed for six months prior to her injury, the court said. “In doing so, Old Dominion terminated a good employee who, pre-injury, performed her job ably and without complaint and who, post-injury, was both willing and able to report to this same job for work,” Wilkinson wrote. “These facts, if believed, would allow a trier of fact to think Old Dominion was simply looking for a reason to get rid of Merritt.”
Although Old Dominion contended it had a gender-neutral policy of requiring all injured drivers to pass the PAT, the court said a reasonable jury could find that explanation was a pretext, given the company's inconsistent use of the test, plus evidence that the PAT was not designed to test Merritt's alleged physical shortcoming and that injured male drivers returned without taking the PAT, the court said.
A reasonable jury could also conclude sex discrimination was Stoddard's actual motivation for scheduling the PAT and firing Merritt, given previous managerial statements that pickup and delivery driver was not a job for women and statistics suggesting Old Dominion acted on that belief, the court said.
“While a neutral policy serving Old Dominion's legitimate business interests in public and employee safety could certainly be put in place, a trier of fact could reasonably find that Old Dominion's selective application and ever-changing rationales for the PAT were designed to conceal an intent to reserve the plum pickup and delivery positions for male drivers only,” Wilkinson wrote.
Valerie Ann Chastain in Bedford, Va., represented Merritt on appeal. Roger Craig Wood of McGuire Woods in Charlottesville, Va., represented Old Dominion. Julie L. Gantz of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C., represented EEOC as an amicus supporting Merritt.
By Kevin P. McGowan for BNA Daily Labor Report
October 30, 2009: Just days after hundreds of Local 848 members came to the union hall to call for Jim Santangelo to resign, he was driven out of office.
On Oct. 29, Santangelo resigned as the secretary treasurer of Local 848, the president of Southern California Joint Council 42, and International Vice President.
Santangelo’s fate was sealed on Oct. 25, when nearly 500 members attended a meeting called to explain the $500,000 settlement of a sexual harassment suit filed by a former secretary at the joint council.
According to members present at the meeting, the crowd yelled, “You gotta go!” at Santangelo. Business agent coordinator Emilio Arias reportedly told the entire meeting that Santangelo was guilty of a pattern of harassing female employees of Local 848. Joint Council 42 attorney Joe Kaplon was lambasted when he tried, in vain, to defend Santangelo.
Santangelo took $287,946 in union salaries in 2008, the maximum allowed by the Teamster constitution for that year.
Last month TDU broke the story on the big pay-out of union funds and the attempt to cover it up; click here for that report.
Santangelo’s departure did not go smoothly. Reportedly, the Local 848 executive board has installed Eric Tate as the new secretary treasurer in a quick vote. Not all e-board members were present for this critical vote, and the process is being scrutinized.
Santangelo’s departure is overdue. It should serve as a wake-up call that our Teamsters Union needs to live up to its best ideals of respect for women, and of a zero-tolerance policy of sexual harassment and discrimination.
It should also serve as motivation for the members of Local 848 who have lived under Santangelo’s intimidating regime; it’s time for members to get involved and take control of their local.
What do you think? Click here to send your comments to Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
September 17, 2009: A sexual harassment scandal involving an International Vice President has cost our union a half million dollars.
So why is Jim Santangelo still an International Vice President and head of the 100,000-member Joint Council 42 and Local 848 in Los Angeles? That’s the question some Southern California Teamsters are asking.
In August, a sexual harassment lawsuit against Santangelo was settled for $500,000. The lawsuit was filed in January 2009, so the large settlement came very fast, just as depositions under oath were slated, according to court papers.
Did Santangelo have to pay the $500,000? No way. The legal bills and pay-out came from the members’ dues as well as insurance coverage.
“It’s an outrage that the members’ dues have to pay for this. It’s bad enough we pay a three dollar monthly assessment for nothing, and now this,” said Howard Palmer, a Vons driver in Local 848. Santangelo’s total salary was $287,946 in 2008.
Santangelo and his attorney vehemently deny any wrongdoing. But if Santangelo was innocent of these charges, he had every opportunity to fight them.
We asked Jim Santangelo for his side of the story. He told us that “It’s settled and behind me. I’m not supposed to talk about it.” He did offer that the plaintiff “distorted things” but he didn’t feel he could defend himself in a trial, and also noted that the insurance company paid most of the settlement money.
We also spoke with Joint Council 42 attorney Joe Kaplon, who’s been a friend of Santangelo for 35 years. When pressed on the issue of why wouldn’t Santangelo want to fight the charges, he claimed it’s easy for women to win sexual harassment cases in California, so he didn’t want to risk a jury trial. He added that the union’s insurance company was willing to pay most of the $500,000. Kaplon also alluded to Teamster politics; he claims that certain Teamster officials helped the plaintiff with the case.
The plaintiff, a former secretary at Joint Council 42, alleged a long list of despicable acts were committed against her. For example, she alleges that when she asked for a raise, Santangelo would only meet to discuss it at a hotel restaurant, where he stated “What if I said you can make $700 a week more if all you did was pass through those doors and go to a room with me?”
At the September meeting of Joint Council 42, Kaplon reported the settlement as a prudent business decision. Santangelo said little, saying “you all know me.” Many officials then stood to applaud him, without any questions asked. But at least a few are very upset, and have made it known via anonymous leaflets, internet postings and word of mouth.
Practice What We Preach
This sexual harassment scandal raises a larger question for our union. We need to organize women workers into the Teamsters, and to encourage more women to take leadership positions. Presently there are zero voting members of the Teamster General Executive Board who are women.
Our union has good positions on paper on respect for women. It’s time to put those into practice in our own house.
The officials of Joint Council 42 apparently claim they had to approve this settlement, to protect the organization. The best way to protect our organization is to get our union to live up to our own high ideals.
Click here for a copy of the complaint in the case. The settlement agreement is confidential and thus unavailable.
March 18, 2009: President Hoffa has named Brad Slawson, Sr. to replace the only woman on our union’s top leadership.
Cheryl Johnson, the lone woman on the Teamster General Executive Board, is retiring and has resigned as a Central Region Vice President. Hoffa has appointed Slawson, the principal officer of Minneapolis Local 120, to replace her.
The General Executive Board is the highest leadership body in our union. It has 26 members: 25 white men and one African American man.
Ferline Buie, the head of Local 922, serves as an International Union Trustee, but she has no vote and is not a member of the General Executive Board.
Of 1.4 million Teamsters, could Hoffa not find a single woman to name to the leadership to represent women Teamsters?
Slawson, Sr. will be the second member of Minnesota Local 120 on the Board. The other is Secretary-Treasurer Tom Keegel.
TDU believes that our union leadership should reflect the membership and that a strong union involves everyone.
January 26, 2009: A federal district court in Ohio Jan. 22 gave final approval to a $2.43 million consent decree settling an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit alleging that a regional trucking firm unlawfully discriminated against women in hiring for driver and loading dock jobs (EEOC v. Pitt Ohio Express Inc., N.D. Ohio, No. 06-747, consent decree approved 1/22/09).
At a Jan. 22 fairness hearing, Judge Lesley Wells of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio verbally approved a five-year consent decree between EEOC and Pitt Ohio Express, which the court had tentatively approved last fall (212 DLR A-1, 11/3/08). No written objections were filed to the proposed decree, and no one voiced any objections at the Jan. 22 hearing, according to Jeffrey Stern, an EEOC trial attorney based in Cleveland.
The trucking firm admits no violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act under the settlement, which benefits a class of women who applied for, but were denied, jobs as drivers or dockworkers at Pitt Ohio Express terminals in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati between Sept. 1, 1997, and Oct. 19, 2008. The decree calls for preferential hiring of qualified class members who are still interested in the jobs, as well as equal employment opportunity training for Pitt Ohio Express supervisors, managers, and human resources personnel.
Notices, Forms Sent to Potential Class Members.
Stern, the EEOC attorney, said the commission had sent out 811 notices and claims forms to potential class members after preliminary approval of the decree in October and that EEOC has received about 230 completed claims forms. Potential class members have until Feb. 16 to submit completed claims forms so more are likely to come in, Stern told BNA Jan. 23. EEOC then will review the claims, decide which are valid, and assess the merits of the claimants to determine who may be qualified for placement on the “job offer list” for Pitt Ohio, Stern said.
“We are pleased that this settlement will provide appropriate relief for the people who have been harmed,” said Debra Lawrence, EEOC acting regional attorney in Baltimore. “We are likewise glad that this employer is taking proactive steps to ensure a discrimination-free workplace in the future by addressing the problems that led to the lawsuit.”
“Pitt Ohio is pleased to put this legal dispute behind it through a settlement, reflected in the consent decree entered in federal court,” the company said in a Jan. 23 statement. “The settlement involves no admission of liability by Pitt Ohio. Pitt Ohio has progressive employment practices and programs which value and promote diversity and inclusion through the company.”
The case originated with an EEOC charge filed by Pamela Moher, who applied for driver jobs with Pitt Ohio during the 1990s but was rejected. After EEOC filed suit in 2006, Moher intervened as a plaintiff. She reached a separate $570,000 settlement of her discrimination claims, including $305,000 in attorneys' fees and costs. Under her individual settlement, Moher will not seek employment with Pitt Ohio but she remained eligible for additional monetary relief under the EEOC consent decree.
Decree Includes ‘Priority Hiring.'
The decree provides that within 30 days of final court approval, Pitt Ohio will deposit $2.43 million into a settlement fund for eligible class members, to be administered by an EEOC-selected outside firm.
The decree provides that Pitt Ohio must extend at least 40 offers of employment to class members, including 26 driver positions and 14 dockworker jobs.
Two categories of class members are eligible for “compensatory damages” from the fund after submitting releases, claims forms, and completed questionnaires, according to the decree. “Claimants” are women whom EEOC determines applied for, but were not hired, as drivers or dockworkers at the company's four Ohio terminals during the 11-year period covered by the decree. EEOC will determine how much each “claimant” shall receive, with a minimum award of $1,000 each.
EEOC also will designate “offer eligible claimants,” rejected female applicants whom the commission determines are qualified under Pitt Ohio's current hiring criteria for jobs as drivers and dockworkers and who remain interested in working for the company. Those claimants will be entitled to payments of at least $20,000 each and “priority hiring consideration,” according to the decree. Disagreements between EEOC and Pitt Ohio regarding whether a class member is eligible for hire will be sent to mediation, according to the decree.
After such disputes are resolved, Pitt Ohio will place those with “priority hiring consideration” on a “job offer list” at the terminal of the claimant's choice. When future driver or dockworker job vacancies occur, the company will consult the job offer list, invite as many “job eligible claimants” as it deems appropriate to interview, and offer employment to “job eligible claimants” before considering applicants outside the class, the decree provides.
The decree provides that Pitt Ohio must extend at least 40 offers of employment to class members, including 26 driver positions and 14 dockworker jobs. If at least 30 hires do not result from the company's initial job offers to class members, EEOC will provide Pitt Ohio with the names of additional “offer eligible claimants” and Pitt Ohio “shall in good faith make additional offers” until 30 women are hired or the five-year decree expires, whichever occurs earlier.
Class members who are hired will receive “rightful place instatement,” receiving seniority rights and other employment benefits based on the date they originally applied to Pitt Ohio, the decree provides. Among other steps, Pitt Ohio must designate an in-house “ombudsperson” to informally resolve workplace issues that may arise from women filling the driver and dockworker jobs.
Debra Lawrence of EEOC's Baltimore office and Jeffrey A. Stern of EEOC's Cleveland office represented the commission. Bruce Elfvin of Elfvin & Besser in Cleveland represented Moher. Terrence H. Murphy of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Pittsburgh represented Pitt Ohio Express.
By Kevin P. McGowan
Click here to read the text of the consent decree.
May 1, 2007: Nichele Fulmore has been a package car driver at UPS in Lumberton, North Carolina for over 12 years. She is a member of Teamsters Local 391 and has been a full-time steward for two years. She began organizing to reform the Teamsters when she realized that “things weren’t right, especially when members are kept in the dark.”
As part of our ongoing “Women Leaders in Our Unions” series, read more about how Nichele is standing up for the women, and men, in her local.
Labor Notes: How many other women in your local do the kind of challenging physical work you do?
Nichele Fulmore: There are only two other women drivers in my building, out of about 40 drivers. I was the only woman for at least five years.
The work is really tough physically—we have to be able to lift up to 70 pounds and the older trucks don’t have power steering. The job just wears you out when you’re out driving and lifting all day long, sometimes for 10-12 hours at a stretch. I think the fact that this is such a challenging job physically deters a lot of women from taking this job. I grew up working, so I was pretty sure I could manage it.
LN: UPS is pretty demanding when it comes to the physical requirements, isn’t it?
NF: Yes. When I was pregnant my doctor put me on a 20-pound weight restriction and UPS just treated me as if I had an off-the-job injury. So the best I could get was short-term disability through the union while I was off work, but when that ran out, I spent all my time trying to figure out how to keep my head above water financially. I filed a grievance with the union, but we lost it.
TDU (Teamsters for a Democratic Union) put me in touch with other women at UPS who had the same problem. We tried to build a campaign around this issue because it’s happening to pregnant women everywhere—except in California, where the law says that you are allowed to request light duty while you are pregnant. It’s tough to get women organized around this issue because we are such a minority in the trucking industry and we’re all afraid for our jobs, especially in the South.
It’s good we raised this issue though, because it made people more aware of this injustice. Anytime you try to change something that is wrong, there is going to be a struggle. We have to continue to get more members involved—including men—so that we can tackle this issue, and others, more effectively.
When I talked with my male co-workers about it, I asked them, “Would you want your mom, wife, or sister put out of work just because they are pregnant?” It’s an issue for everyone.
LN: How do you and your women co-workers deal with the male-dominated culture at UPS?
NF: We’ll talk amongst each other as much as we can, to give each other support. I’m the steward also, so if they have problems then they take it up with me. We definitely started to stick together more once we got so we would trust each other.
In the beginning you want to see if someone will respond to favoritism from management, by accepting easier routes and stuff like that. So even among women you need to prove yourself. It does make it harder for women though, because we are also having to prove to the men that we can do “their” jobs as well as they can. So you’re working harder, making sure you follow the book, and not complaining about your job.
LN: I know that you also spend a fair amount of time connecting with workers in other unions. Why?
NF: That’s right. I’ve been trying to make contact with different unions in my area. We’re—organized labor, that is—a minority here in North Carolina and so it’s important to try to build some solidarity between us. So I did some picket line support with the striking Goodyear workers recently together with some other rank-and-file Teamsters. We bought a hog and cooked it on their line and also donated some turkeys for Christmas.
Lately I’ve also been going out to meet meatpacking workers at Smithfield. I was just there a few weekends ago. Some Spanish-speaking guy came up and hugged me. I don’t speak Spanish, but we understood each other. I never felt so much inner joy as at that contact. The only difference among people that exists in the world is between men and women; all the other differences we create and we need to work to break those walls down.
LN: If a woman asks you for advice on becoming active in her workplace and union, what would you tell her?
NF: Know your stuff, and educate yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you know is right. Take leadership positions, run for steward and such, when you can, as that will encourage other women and will start to focus the labor movement on issues that are important to women.
And look for role models and try to learn from them. I did a lot of reading on Dr. King. I’m still amazed at the kind of stand a woman like Viola Liuzzo took during the civil rights movement—she was a white woman from Detroit whose husband was a Teamster and who traveled down to Selma, Alabama to join Dr. King on his march to Montgomery, only to be shot by KKK men soon after the march ended. She wanted to come and make a difference and that really inspires me.
by Marsha Niemeijer for Labor Notes magazine
Read more at Labornotes.org.
The Woman Who is President of a New York Teamsters Local is in an Uphill Race for Secretary-Treasurer of the National Union
By Stephen Franklin
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
October 12, 2006. Say a mean-looking, burly guy starts giving Sandy Pope a tough time at a Teamsters union meeting.
Her inclination is to walk up to him and ask what's his problem.
"I'm pretty in your face," she said about the style she has relied on since becoming a Teamster almost 30 years ago.
"It doesn't occur to me to be scared, and sometimes I think that is not wise," said Pope, 50, the No. 2 candidate on a slate challenging Teamsters President James P. Hoffa for the leadership of the 1.4 million-member union. She is the first woman to do so in Teamster history.
Whether her grit will win supporters is another issue. Ballots went out last week, and counting will begin Nov. 14 in Washington, D.C.
Pope's running mate is Tom Leedham, 55, a Teamsters union official from Oregon who, in his third try on behalf of the union's reformers, is facing Hoffa, 65. Pope, who heads a small local in New York, was in Chicago recently trying to drum up support for her ticket.
Leedham's support dropped from 38 percent of the vote on his first effort to 35 percent in 2001. And Hoffa expects to rake in more than $2.8 million in contributions, a slight increase over the last campaign, while Leedham's slate has raised only $300,000, say officials from the two campaigns.
Even Ken Paff, head of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, or TDU, a small dissident group that has fought Hoffa from the day he took over the union in 1999, is hesitant to predict Hoffa's downfall.
"It's hard to call what is going to happen," Paff said. "[Leedham] is running more against a cynical `don't' bother to vote' mood than Hoffa."
Meanwhile, Rich Leebove, Hoffa's campaign spokesman and a Michigan-based consultant for the union, said, "Leedham has never been a serious candidate."
Hoffa backed out of a debate with Leedham set up by the union's court-appointed election officer in August, with Leebove explaining at the time that Hoffa wanted to avoid his opponent's "negativity."
Despite the union's effort to present itself as having shed its criminal ties, the Teamsters remain under a court-appointed election officer and government controls, which were imposed as a result of a consent decree in 1989.
The union's failure to escape the government's grasp and the collapse in April 2004 of the union's internal cleanup efforts are high on the reformers' list of criticisms of Hoffa's leadership.
Once ballyhooed by Teamsters officials for rooting out corruption, the self-policing program evaporated when its leader quit, saying Teamsters leaders had thwarted his work, especially investigations into ties between organized crime and Chicago locals. Teamsters officials denied his claims.
So, too, the reformers point to Teamsters officials' growing payrolls, which is often the result of multiple salaries. Three of the union's five highest paid officials, according to the dissidents, are Chicago Teamsters.
The highest paid Teamster overall was John Coli, the head of Local 727 and Joint Council 25, according to the TDU, which said he received $329,628 last year in salary alone.
But Leebove said the TDU's long-term practice of tallying officials' wages "is not an issue with our membership." Many of the unions' members, he said, "make in excess of $100,000 a year."
Merger with Smaller Unions
While the reformers fault the union for failing to organize new members and stem its membership losses, Leebove points instead to the Teamsters' ability to merge with three small unions in the last five years.
The smaller unions brought in 130,000 members and another 20,000 workers were newly organized, making up for the union's losses, says Leebove.
A major point raised by Leebove is that Leedham got on the ballot with the votes of only 6 percent of the delegates at the union's June convention in Las Vegas. But Pope said that's not a reliable measure of his support.
"We are much more hopeful this time because there are so many angry members," she said.
Indeed the convention became a test of Pope's grit and the toughness of a woman in a union where women account for about one-fourth of the rank and file. Now she is running for secretary-treasurer.
"It was big boys playing little games," said Katie Brutcher, a Teamsters union member from upstate New York, and Leedham supporter. Hoffa supporters "would set her [Pope] up and try to embarrass her," Brutcher said.
Leebove has no apologies. "This was a Teamsters convention, not a society luncheon," he said. "If you can't take the heat, don't get involved."
As Pope explains, she has had a history of being a woman able to stand on her own in a union stamped with the image of a place for tough guys.
She came from a middle-class family; her mother was born in Panama. Pope had dropped out of college after two years and was working as a ward in a state mental hospital in Massachusetts when she lost her job because of a strike.
During the dispute, she met TDU members and decided to move to Cleveland, where the group began, and signed up as a volunteer.
Soon she found a job as a baggage handler at a Greyhound bus station, but got laid off and applied for a warehouse job, which opened the door to becoming a Teamster.
The man who hired her apparently misread her application, and thought her name was Alexander, not Alexandra, she said. "The guy laughed when I came in. He said, `Well, I guess I'm going to have to hire you anyway.'"
On her own time, she began learning how to drive a truck, and then went to trucking school when the warehouse job evaporated. That led to a job as a driver, which she kept up for about seven years before she began raising a family. She eventually went to the union and got involved in its politics.
For several years she was the executive director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, an AFL-CIO group that speaks on behalf of female workers.
Moving Up the Union Ladder
She became president of Teamsters Local 805 in New York City two years ago after holding several other positions with the local. Previously, she was an international representative for the union and a business agent with another local.
"All the time I was a dockworker and driver, there were no other women. I was the only one. There were so few of us out there," she said.
It wasn't easy being a woman alone on the road, one reason why she began studying martial arts years ago. The men said she didn't belong on the road.
And if someone would make an especially nasty remark, "I just went right up to him," recalled Pope who stands 5-foot-6. "Sometimes I think I am bigger than I am."
When Mary Plagman's doctor put her on a 25-pound weight restriction because of her pregnancy, UPS management informed her that they had no work available for her. As they have done with many other women in her position, UPS forced her off the job and onto leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Anticipating the end of her FMLA leave Plagman-Markham planned to go onto disability leave, but now UPS is challenging her ability to get even that limited protection.
Markham’s doctor put her on restricted work on Dec. 14, 2004 and she filed for disability within 30 days of that date. To prevent her from receiving disability UPS now claims that her disability date was four days earlier, on Dec. 10.
Before TDU won the right for direct elections of delegates, women and minorities hardly ever made it to the floor of the Teamster Convention. The Right to Vote helped that situation. As we look forward to building a movement that includes the voices of all Teamsters, TDU would like to take advantage of Women’s History Month to acknowledge some exceptional women who have fought for their sisters and brothers against the corruption of previous Teamster leaders.
Diana Kilmury, Vancouver Local 213, enraged the old guard in 1981 when she spoke for ridding the union of its bad apples. “I didn’t say you were a bunch of crooks ... [but] if you’re too damn scared to have an Ethical Practices Commission that you yourselves, the General Executive Board will control, then my God, you must be up to something.” Later, Kilmury would go on to become our union’s first female International Vice President in 1991. Those events inspired the film “Mother Trucker: the Diana Kilmury Story.”
Linda Gregg, Denver Local 435, was one of the first women to become a local principal officer. She spoke in favor of increasing strike benefits at the 1986 convention. The majority of delegates, led by then-President Jackie Presser, voted down the proposal on the grounds that it would be too expensive and make the members too eager to strike. The previous night the Teamsters had footed the bill for giant parties with lobster and free-flowing booze.
Ten years later, Laurie Craig from Minnesota Local 1145, spoke against multiple salaries. “Mr. Chairman, why would a union leader want to be paid two, three, or more salaries? It’s against the principles this union is built upon. We are not a corporation where greed is king. We are a union of brothers and sisters. Let’s unite and do what’s right. Put that money, millions of dollars, to work in organizing and bargaining and strike benefits.”
The proposal to eliminate multiple salaries will again be made at the 2006 Teamster Convention.
The questions these women have raised still resonate with the average Teamster. Local 805 President Sandy Pope, a candidate for International Vice President, is the former director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). She is one of the three women on the still-growing Tom Leedham Strong Contracts, Good Pensions Slate.Hoffa’s slate contains 21 men and no women yet.
Pope says she believes the Teamsters can realize the dreams of the women and men who faced down the old guard in decades past, and that the common-sense, members-first approach advocated by women such as Kilmury, Gregg, and others have given our reform movement a strong base for the work to be done in the twenty-first century.