Report from the Candidate Forum at Local 344

By Karl Gartung, Local 344 Members

On March 20 more than 200 teamsters from throughout Wisconsin and Northern Illinois attended a forum for candidates for General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Hoffa was a no-show but members listened attentively to Sandy Pope, President of Local 805) and Fred Gegare (President, Joint Council 39 and Teamster Trustee Chair of the Central States Pension Fund). Ken Hall had accepted an invitation but cancelled a few days prior to the event.

Pope noted in her comments that Hoffa and Hall always make time for high-dollar fundraisers, but never can make it to answer questions from members or to face a debate.

This meeting happened as a result of a motion from the members, which was noted by Local 344 President Ric Schmidt in his introduction to the event. The leadership of the Local is to be applauded for hosting the meeting. Local 344 Secretary-Treasurer Pat Tappa introduced the forum, which allowed for twenty minute speeches from each candidate, to be followed by questions.

There was substantial agreement between the candidates regarding the present state of the union, particularly in regard to pensions, the UPS contract, the freight industry and the lack of aggressive contract enforcement by the present regime. Not a single member in attendance voiced support for the Hoffa/Hall ticket, as they questioned candidates Sandy Pope and Fred Gegare.

Sandy Pope promised to reduce top salaries for IBT officials (including General President) to put money to work for a stronger union.

Gegare emphasized the weakness of the Pension Funds (he's the head of the Central States Pension); the poor record of investment by the pension funds and the poor financial condition of the Union, even with the dues increase ("a nickel an hour for Teamster Power").

With most attendees from UPS, contract enforcement was a key question. Sandy Pope addressed concerns from members over lack of enforcement, and the glacial pace of enforcement even when language clearly supports member grievances. She proposes reducing the panel process, to get disputes settled in a more timely manner. At present, even a grievance with air tight language and evidence takes two years to resolve.

Pope attacked the backwards slide in real wages and benefits for part-time UPSers, with starting wages stuck at $8.50 (hardly more than minimum wage in some states) and in the most recent contract a new year-long wait for benefits, including health, for new hires.

Regarding UPS Freight, both candidates talked about the poor language and even worse enforcement of seniority, pension and subcontracting grievances.

The forum was held in the context of the fight over public worker rights in Wisconsin. Local 344 helped organize and has maintained a presence in the Madison demonstrations. Recall petitions were available in the hallway for member signatures.

Sandy Pope's pledge to reward locals for such organizing activity was especially pertinent in this context, as was her promise to reward political parties and politicians when they act in our economic interest, and not otherwise.

As the hour allotted for the forum drew to a close, Tappa asked members if they would like to extend the discussion, to enthusiastic applause. The forum continued for another forty five minutes, and then in the hallway. Then a number of us headed to a nearby restaurant to continue talking with Sandy Pope and planning to expand her Wisconsin campaign.

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