Candidates for top office in the Teamsters union battled over the fate of multiemployer pension plans, jobs and organizing and concessions to employers Sept. 7 in the first and only Teamsters presidential election debate.
They also clashed over the whereabouts of incumbent General President James P. Hoffa, who delegated his role to running mate Ken Hall, an international vice president at large, president of Local 175 and head of the union’s package division.
“The big problem we have here tonight is where’s Jim Hoffa?” said Fred Gegare, president of Wisconsin Teamsters Joint Council 39 and an international vice president at large. “Jim Hoffa has deserted his own membership.”
“He’s just chicken, he can’t do anything that’s not prepared,” said Sandy Pope, president of Local 805 in New York City. She is considered the leading challenger after gathering 50,000 signatures from members to place her on the ballot.
Hoffa, however, seemed to be everywhere in the days before the debate using the bully pulpit of his presidency, calling Apple unpatriotic for not investing more in the U.S. and calling the Tea Party sons of something that rhymes with “britches.”
“Where Jim Hoffa is tonight is where he needs to be,” Hall said. “He’s talking about what’s most important to our members,” including pensions and health care and employment. “It’s about jobs, jobs and jobs, and he’s out there doing his job.”
How well Hoffa has done his job since he took office in 1999, and especially in the last five years, was the question at the core of the debate, and next month 1.4 million rank-and-file Teamsters will decide whether to give Hoffa five more years.
Pope and Gegare took turns blasting the record of the 70-year-old son of James R. Hoffa, the Teamsters leader who negotiated the first National Master Freight Agreement for Teamsters members in the trucking industry in 1964.
“Over the last 13 years, members have faced concessions and pension cuts,” said Pope, a former truck driver and the candidate endorsed by dissident Teamsters for a Democratic Union. “In the freight industry, Hoffa has driven our union over a cliff.”
Both Pope and Gegare called for a more militant union. “We need to start enforcing our contracts, which hasn’t been happening,” Pope said, specifically mentioning package giant UPS, the largest Teamsters employer, and the freight industry.
Hall countered that Hoffa is already fighting an aggressive anti-union movement and accused his rivals of “sitting on the sidelines in this battle for America’s workers” and “giving our enemies like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh more ammunition.”
Hall claimed the Teamsters have organized 130,000 new members in the last three years, “even during the recession,” including workers at one-time Teamsters nemesis Overnite Transportation, now UPS Freight. “That’s a core industry for us.”
Election ballots will be mailed to Teamstesr members Oct. 6. The a recording of the debate is available online at www.ibtvote.org, and DVDs will be distributed to local union halls and individual members by the Office of the Election Supervisor.