Too Little, Too Late from the IBT Leadership

Pension Legislation Loss

August 9, 2006. Late in the evening of August 3, the U.S. Senate voted to approve a piece of pension legislation which contains much of the “Red Zone” cut-back language that rank and file Teamsters have fought hard to get removed from the bill. President Bush is expected to sign it.

Thanks to rank and file action, a portion of the red zone was cut that would have let funds cut benefits of members who had already retired. Certain other restrictions were also included, thanks to an extensive rank and file effort over the past year.

The IBT’s PR machine was ready with a press release denouncing the bill and congress. "Congress has failed the American worker," trumpeted James P. Hoffa.

Congress should be blamed for opening the door to possible cuts in earned benefits in certain troubled pension plans, but the role (or lack thereof) played by the Hoffa administration makes them co-responsible for this defeat.

Rank and file Teamsters, officers and Leedham Slate candidates traveled to Washington D.C. three times, on their own dime, to meet with congress about the red zone. They organized a petition drive that sent thousands of letters and petition signatures to members of the conference committee. They got media coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC News and numerous media outlets. They passed motions at union meetings. And they got the Senate to remove the red zone entirely when the Senate voted on it in November of last year.

Let’s look at how Hoffa compared to the grassroots effort:

• Hoffa supported the bill, and the red zone measure, starting during hearings in the House, through the House vote in June 2005 and after that. In fact congressional staffers reported in May 2006 that in their last contact with the IBT’s lobbyists, they were avidly supporting the red zone cuts.

• After rank and file delegates traveled to Washington, and the Leedham Campaign took up the red zone issue, Hoffa announced in late 2005 that he was reversing himself. Still, the IBT took no action.

• In 2005 and 2006 Hoffa did not mobilize the vast resources of the IBT to send Teamster delegations to DC to lobby against the bill, or to circulate petitions against the cutback provisions or to get media coverage on the issue. The Teamster legislative department delivered zero results.

“Then at the very end, when all was said and done,” Local 391 retiree Frank Bryant pointed out, “Hoffa did some robo-calling to stewards and members. I’ve seen what is involved when a union really lobbies over an issue, and this is no where near what has to be done. It’s just another PR stunt, while member rights are on the line.”

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