September 9, 2011: In a debate held in advance of the upcoming election for officers of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, candidates Sept. 7 laid out their visions for the Teamsters' future while drawing sharp contrasts with their opponents and pointing to past accomplishments.
Participating in the debate were Sandy Pope and Fred Gegare, who are running for IBT general president, and Ken Hall, who is running for general secretary-treasurer on a slate with current Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa. Teamsters election rules allow presidential candidates to send another member of their slate to the candidate forum. This marks the third general election in which Hoffa has exercised that option.
The Office of the Election Supervisor for IBT sponsored the debate, which is required under IBT election rules. The candidates for the union's general executive board were nominated at its convention, held the last week of June in Las Vegas (127 DLR C-1, 7/1/11), and ballots for the election will be mailed to IBT members Oct. 6.
Hoffa has served as IBT general president since 1999, while Pope is the president of Teamsters Local 805 in New York. Gegare is a longtime Teamsters member and union official from Green Bay, Wis. Hall is running to replace the current secretary-treasurer, C. Thomas Keegel, who is retiring.
Hoffa's Absence Attacked
The debate was moderated by Harold Meyerson, an editor at the American Prospect and a Washington Post columnist. Michelle Amber of BNA's Daily Labor Report and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post also posed questions of the candidates.
Hoffa's absence from the debate was immediately called into question by Pope and Gegare. In his opening statement, Gegare said it was “criminal” that Hoffa was not present.
“Where's Jim Hoffa?” Gegare asked. “This past weekend we've seen him on cable boasting himself like he's a fighter, but he's deserted his own membership.” He added that Hoffa was “afraid of the membership.”
Pope said the union's membership had “had enough of Hoffa's broken promises.”
“We need a president who will be a field general, not an empty talker-in-chief,” Pope said. She added that IBT members have faced concessions and pension cuts on Hoffa's watch.
Responding directly to a question about where Hoffa was, Hall defended his slate.
“Where he is tonight is where he needs to be—fighting for workers against right-wing politicians,” Hall said. Pointing to an incident over the Labor Day weekend during which disparaging remarks Hoffa made about the tea party were rebroadcast by Fox News and other conservative outlets, Hall said Hoffa “has been vilified by Fox News for speaking the truth.”
But Pope countered by noting that Hoffa had opted out of the debate months ago, well before the latest spat with Fox.
“He's just chicken, that's all there is to it,” Pope said. “He can't do anything that's not prepared.”
Hall accused Pope and Gegare of “sitting on the sidelines attacking [Hoffa],” which he said would give “ammunition” to those generally opposed to the labor movement.
‘Not a Single Plan.'
“All I've heard from them is criticism, and not a single plan,” Hall said.
The candidates agreed that organizing in “core industries” should be a priority for the Teamsters, but suggested different ways of going about it.
Pope said the union should “focus on our core industries by enforcing our contracts,” charging that too many collective bargaining agreements have not been enforced under the Hoffa administration. Beefed up contract enforcement, Pope said, will result in more workers being “better organized” and the union will be in better shape to further build its membership.
Hall countered that the union had organized some 130,000 workers in the past three years, and that IBT had been successful in its efforts to organize workers at UPS Freight, formerly known as Overnite Transportation. “Sandy must be confused” in thinking that union membership was dwindling, Hall said, “because her local membership is declining.”
Gegare, meanwhile, also emphasized the need to organize in “core industries” but charged that “Hoffa hasn't had a game plan to organize our core industries since he's been in office.”
Pension Fund Difficulties at Issue
A good portion of the debate centered around an announcement earlier this year that the Central States, Southeast, and Southwest Areas Pension Fund would slash pension benefits for IBT members employed at YRC Worldwide Inc., which has been plagued by financial woes since the onset of the economic downturn (61 DLR A-9, 3/30/11).
Gegare, who serves as the chairman of union trustees at the pension fund, said the fund had lost 40 percent of its revenue because the Hoffa administration allowed some 45,000 IBT members at UPS to leave the fund. “People worked their whole lives for their pensions, and when Hoffa leaves them suffering, it's a dirty shame,” Gegare said.
But in a later question, Gegare was asked about his involvement with the Central States fund, and its failures. Gegare said that in 2006, when the union announced a deal to organize some 12,000 drivers and dockworkers at UPS Freight, he was unaware that Hoffa and Hall had “cut a deal” to also allow UPS to withdraw the 45,000 UPS workers from the pension.
“The deal was cut, and guess what: they never put Overnite into the multiemployer fund,” Gegare said.
But Hall shot back: “There's something you don't understand, called leverage.”
“When UPS pulled out of Central States, you didn't show up” and say anything, Hall said, drawing attention to what he saw as Gegare's lack of leadership and awareness that the fund would have difficulties.
Pope also went after Gegare, asking, “why didn't you say anything to everyone else when Hoffa wouldn't listen to you?”
Pope's Presence at Convention
Gegare, meanwhile said that because of “Hoffa and Hall's dumb decisions in cutting a deal with UPS, I've lost 192 more employers out of Central States” because of the release of UPS workers from the fund.
But Hall asked Pope and Gegare, “I'm waiting to hear, if this is [the union's] biggest disaster, will you say you'll put those members back in Central States?”
Pope said she would not do so if members did not want to go back into the fund. “But we need to find ways to strengthen our pension plans,” she said. “You have to have new people coming in to keep the pension viable.”
At various points in the debate, Hall drew attention to the fact that while Pope and Gegare had made many points about what they felt the Hoffa administration had done wrong, they had been short on suggestions of how they would do things differently. Pope was asked specifically why she had not been more of a presence on the floor of the union's nominating convention, held the last week of June in Las Vegas.
At the previous convention, in 2006, Pope said, she was “booed and yelled at every time” she wanted to speak. “This time, I was prepared” for the booing when she got up to speak during the convention, Pope said. “But I was blocked by a very large person” and could not reach a microphone (127 DLR C-1, 7/1/11).
In addition, Pope said she had submitted resolutions for consideration, but they were “dismissed.”
“The whole [convention] is very controlled,” she said, referring to it as a “dog and pony show.”
“I just went there to get nominated, and that's what I did,” Pope said.
‘A Big Party for Jim Hoffa.'
But Hall countered that Pope “absolutely was not blocked,” and that “to suggest she was blocked from making amendments or constitutional changes is just ridiculous, and if it were true, I would not be in this race.”
Gegare, too, said the convention was “a big party for Jim Hoffa at the expense of the membership's dues money.”
In his closing statement, Hall alluded to the fact that Pope had seen her own local's pension fund decrease, had “never negotiated a national contract, and has no slate to support her.”
“Do you want someone with that track record responsible for protecting your pensions and health care?” Hall asked. “Those who know us best are our own local union members. But Sandy's members elected her by 66 votes.”
Pope, meanwhile, told members, “If you're happy with what's happening in our union, vote for one of my opponents. Because I'm not about more of the same.”
“Hoffa sent Ken Hall here to put a new face on the failures of his administration,” she said.
Gegare, for his part, said it was an “act of crime that Hoffa is not here,” and charged that Hoffa relied too much on “outside consultants” in his leadership of the union, rather than fellow members. Gegare pledged to run the union from the “bottom up, not the top down.”
By Michael Rose BNA Daily Labor Report.