The Hoffa-Hall Administration Starts to Crack
As early as the 2011 IBT election, there were rumblings of dissent inside the Hoffa administration, which was starting to show cracks under the pressure of failing to deal with the crisis.
In July 2010, International Vice President At-Large Fred Gegare announced he would run against Hoffa. Two months later, Tom Keegel retired as General Secretary Treasurer, and Ken Hall replaced him.
TDU members and leaders were open to a coalition with officers disgruntled with Hoffa’s inaction, but there was no coalition to be made with Gegare.
TDU supported an independent candidate, TDU leader Sandy Pope, for Teamster president in the 2011 election. The Sandy Pope campaign projected a progressive program and won in freight, but came in third.
The Hoffa forces were up to their usual dirty tricks, including even bribing leaders to drop out of the race with offers of lucrative salaries. One offer came to Fred Zuckerman, who blew the whistle to expose the scheme, and the Election Supervisor investigation proved it.
Hoffa prevailed with 60% of the vote.
Fred Gegare and a few others on his slate retired. A few others made their piece with Hoffa. But most importantly, a few turned toward the rank and file and a new direction. These leaders included Fred Zuckerman of Local 89 and Tony Jones of Local 413.
TDU members and leaders began working with them to develop a common platform for change, and common action to stop contract concessions and support members who want to fight corporate greed.
The Vote No Movement
The movement for change took root in rank and file fights on contracts, with TDU playing a leading role to organize and unite members.
In August 2013, 18 regional supplements to the UPS Contract were voted down, a historic first. The Vote No movement was spreading, with leadership coming from Fred Zuckerman as well as TDU, backed by grassroots upsurge. It took nearly a year for the Hoffa-Hall leadership to get the contract ratified, with supplements in Louisville, Western Pa. and Philadelphia voted down three times.
The Vote No movement extended well beyond UPS. YRC Teamsters had voted No on concessions. ABF Teamsters had rejected their supplements. UPS Freight Teamsters rejected their first offer.
In 2015-2016 carhaulers, led by Fred Zuckerman and solid network of stewards and members, overwhelmingly rejected their contract twice, before finally approving an acceptable contract. The Vote No movement stopped the concessions.
Meanwhile, local reform movements were brewing. In 2013, the 5,500 members of Rhode Island Local 251 elected the United Action slate and reelected them in 2016, and again in 2019.
In 2018 a new reform team swept into office in Local 804. Then in Washington DC Local 96, a new reform leadership won office. In 2019, new reform leaders—who came out of the Vote No movement and—won office in Philadelphia Local 623 and Charlotte Local 71. The new leaders of Locals 96, 71, and 623 had all participated in TDU’s first Black Leadership Conference in 2019.
From Vote No to Vote Them Out
The 2016 IBT election was very different from 2011. The Teamsters United slate was headed by Fred Zuckerman. Tim Sylvester of Local 804 ran for General Secretary Treasurer, and the slate included a reform team of local officers and rank and file members.
When the votes were counted, Hoffa limped into office with 51% of the vote. The six Teamsters United candidates for Central Region and Southern Region vice president all won by big margins.
Election analysis done by TDU showed that where TDU was active, and where the Vote No network campaigned, Teamsters United came out on top.
The Teamsters United coalition showed the way forward.
Hoffa reacted to the debacle of the past UPS contract and the 2016 election by removing Ken Hall as Parcel Director and UPS lead negotiator, and replacing him with Sean O’Brien.
But Hoffa quickly soured on O’Brien when he aggressively reached out to Fred Zuckerman, Matt Taibi and other Teamsters United leaders to bring them in the center of UPS contract campaign planning and bargaining. So Hoffa fired O’Brien and replaced him with a loyal do-nothing, Denis Taylor.
O’Brien, who was working with Zuckerman and other Teamsters United leaders and activists, declared his candidacy for General President. By May 2018, the O’Brien-Zuckerman Teamsters United slate was born.
Meanwhile developments in the broader labor movement offered more hope to Teamsters who want to build rank and file power.
The Teamsters Union is not a separate island, but part of the political landscape and labor movement of North America. While the Hoffa administration was idling, labor was on the move.
A half million workers went on strike in 2018, the most in 35 years. The strike wave began with teachers in the red state rebellion. Teachers will no legal right to strike in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, made their own rights and their own strikes, and won gains. Teachers organized in reform locals in Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland also struck. Retail workers, hotel workers, university workers, locomotive workers and 50,000 General Motors workers struck in 2018-2019.
Teamster members were taking note of the new labor insurgency, and wanted to get into the action.
TDU and the Teamsters United Coalition
In 2018, TDU and Teamsters United again teamed up to battle contract concessions and support a membership mobilization to defend contracts and organize new members.
In October 2018, UPS Teamsters rejected the national contract with 56% voting No. Denis Taylor, Hoffa’s UPS negotiator, announced it was ratified, using the “2/3 to reject” rule, with the excuse that less than 50% of UPS Teamsters had cast a ballot. This had never been done before.
The UPS Freight contract was also rejected.
Over the next seven months, supplements would be voted and revoted. As members' energy worn down, the 'ratified' contact was finally went in to effect in April 2019.
But O’Brien-Zuckerman Teamsters United and TDU had mobilized thousands of workers at UPS, UPS Freight and other companies, and members were ready to retire the Hoffa-Hall leadership and put the Teamsters Union into the forefront of a labor resurgence.
TDU was working with Teamsters United on contracts and other issues, but—as always—TDU remains an independent rank and file movement, dedicated to principles of rank and file power.
The TDU Steering Committee spent 2019 consulting with TDU members and leaders on the road ahead. By the Fall of 2019, TDU was prepared to endorse the O’Brien-Zuckerman Teamsters United slate, and encourage Teamsters to get involved in the election process.
Involvement includes petitioning for Accreditation in the summer of 2020, preparing to run reform slates for delegate in late 2020 and early 2021, and putting forward reform proposals at the Teamster Convention in 2021—including elimination of the hated “2/3 rule.”
In November 2019, the four co-chairs of the TDU Steering Committee laid out the reasons for endorsing Teamsters United, and the TDU Convention adopted two resolutions on the road ahead for reform.
TDU: A Proud History, a Bright Future
Members of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) are justly proud of our history: standing up to intimidation, playing a leading part in the great UPS strike of 1997, winning the Right to Vote for all Teamsters, and carrying forward the vision of an strong, inclusive Teamsters Union and labor movement.
We are aware that we enter 2020 at a crucial time in labor history.
Workers’ rights and unions are under attack from corporate greed and from Washington DC. Corporations tell us jobs are plentiful, but nearly half of US jobs pay a median wage of under $11 per hour.
At the same time we see more workers and unions fighting back—and starting to win. We believe that the Teamsters Union can take the lead in turning our country away from a two-tier society and toward equality and fairness for all workers.
More TDU History:
How the Reform Movement Has Changed the Teamsters Union (1976-1979)
Winning the Fight for Democracy (the 1980s)
Rebuilding Teamster Power (1991-1997)
Save Our Contracts, Pensions and the Right to Vote (2008-2013)
From Vote No, to Vote Them Out (2013-2020)