After the Hoffa Split: Forging Alliances Based on Plans, Not Personalities

Frank Halstead
Local 572, Ralphs Grocery
Los Angeles

The Hoffa Unity Slate is cracking into two. More and more members are seeing that we won’t stop the decline of Teamster power until we change our union’s leadership at the top. Now, even members of Hoffa’s own team are realizing the same thing.Hoffa, the candidate, promised to restore Teamster power.

But when the Hoffa train left the station, his platform stayed behind. Instead of restoring the power, Hoffa has focused on managing the decline of Teamster power. Under this approach, we’re always on the defensive, always making contract givebacks or accepting benefit cuts, never mounting a fight. As Tom Leedham said in a recent speech, “Hoffa isn’t about power, he’s about the illusion of power.” But after seven years, the PR and press releases aren’t cutting it anymore.There’s a lesson to be learned from the unmasking of the weak corporate lawyer behind the Hoffa celebrity mystique. In choosing our next General Executive Board, we can’t make our decision based on promises or personalities. We need to elect leaders with clear plans for building our union’s strength.

In Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), we’re not about personalities or just getting someone different into power. We are about a new direction for the Teamsters. And we’re not alone. Many Teamsters are looking for a new direction, including local officers who supported Hoffa in the past—and former members of Hoffa’s own slate.

The fake Hoffa “unity” of recent years has muzzled any serious discussion about what we need to do to revitalize our union. That discussion is wide open now. We should be looking for common ground with all Teamsters regardless of who they have supported in the past—provided that we can agree on a common vision and plan for the future.

As we chart our course going into the coming election, we should be flexible about alliances but firm on our principles. Those principles include:

• Opposition to the pension and health cuts that the employers pushed on our benefit plans. We will support a leadership with a record and plan to fight to restore and protect Teamster pensions.

• Accountability of pension fund trustees to Teamster members and retirees. Full disclosure to the members, not closed-door deals with employers.

• Leadership to win strong contracts, by tapping rank and file power and using smart strategies to combat union-busting. In 1997 the Teamsters Union mobilized UPS members in a year-long campaign and we won. In 2002-2003 the Hoffa administration never mobilized the ranks. Hoffa claimed to bargain the “best contracts ever” and lied about the benefit cuts those contracts made inevitable.

• Organizing the nonunion competition in Teamster industries. The IBT should provide financial help to local unions that put in place real organizing programs. And we should build on the successful organizing strategies of the 1990s when Teamster members, hired as organizers, reversed the decline in Teamster membership and started to grow our union again.

• End the financial waste and multiple salaries and political patronage. Put funds into programs that build Teamster power, not perks. And put in place a real plan to root out Teamster corruption.

• Promote Teamster membership involvement, through accountability, democracy and respect for all members. Promote a diverse leadership, and involve members of all races and backgrounds in our union structure.

Those of us in TDU will look at leaders who come forward with an open mind. We’ll evaluate leaders based on their commitment to a clear program to build Teamster power. The leaders who will stand and fight for such a program are the right leaders for the future of the union.

Click here: Tom Leedham Campaign for Teamster Presidency Moves Ahead!
Click here: Members Back Tom Leedham Candidacy
Click here: Hoffa 'Dis-Unity' Slate Splits
Click here: Teamster Candidates Will Debate
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