Hoffa Re-Elected Teamsters President
Editor’s Note: In a blow for union reformers, incumbent Teamster President James Hoffa, Jr. was re-elected for a fourth term as Teamsters President in mid-November. Hoffa beat reformer Tom Leedham by a 65 to 35 percent margin. Only roughly of quarter of the union’s members (333,000 Teamsters out of 1.3 million) voted in the election.
The following article was originally published by the Teamster reform group Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
Tom Leedham’s campaign for Teamster General President did more than win 35 percent of the vote. It strengthened our union for the future.
Since the 1997 UPS strike, employers have been on the offensive against our union. We have lost 150,000 members. Overnite defeated our organizing drive, paving the way for UPS to purchase it and operate it nonunion. And hundreds of thousands of Teamsters have suffered the first big pension and benefits cuts in Teamster history.
Hoffa tried to silence any debate of these problems by keeping all opposition off the ballot and denying Teamster members a contested election. TDU protected our Right to Vote and gave members a choice.
For the last year, our union has had a lively debate about the challenges we face and what to do about them—not just Hoffa PR and happy talk. Tom Leedham’s campaign put the issues of pensions, health benefits, strong contracts and organizing front and center, and outlined an action plan for rebuilding Teamster power.
Leedham’s message resonated with Teamsters across North America. He received his strongest support from Teamsters who are covered by national contracts negotiated by Hoffa and members whose pension or health benefits were cut by Hoffa’s trustees. He won numerous freight and UPS locals, the strategic industries that are the foundation of Teamster power, including Chicago Local 705, Detroit Local 243, New York Local 804, St. Louis Locals 604 and 688 and numerous others.
The Teamsters who know Tom Leedham best, the members of Oregon Local 206, supported him by a whopping 93% margin. Hoffa carried his own home Local 614 by just 26 votes.
Teamsters in the Central and Southern Regions who were hit with pension cuts voted for Leedham in higher numbers. Hoffa’s victory margin in these areas—and across the country—was padded by votes from locals where members aren’t affected by his contracts and benefit cuts and by the votes of Teamsters from the 150,000 members of the recently merged graphic communications and rail unions (TDU will provide more detailed election results and analysis when the full results are in).
During the campaign, Hoffa attacked Teamsters who disagree with him as union busters. Are the 100,000 Teamsters who voted for Leedham really agents of Wal-Mart? Leedham won dozens of locals, several major urban areas (including Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, and St. Louis) and several states. Are all these Teamsters really friends of the employers?
Hoffa won’t solve our union’s problems by attacking every Teamster who disagrees with him. The low voter turnout in this election shows that members are tired of empty sloganeering about “unity” and “power.” President Hoffa called on Teamsters to vote in record numbers to send employers a message—and he spent millions to turn out the vote. Only 13 percent of Teamsters voted for Hoffa. Nearly eighty percent of Teamsters did not vote at all. The low turnout was not a mandate for Hoffa. Hopefully it will serve as a wake-up call. It’s time for Hoffa to abandon the negative attacks and PR-spin that have alienated so many Teamsters from our union.
Leeedham was outspent by 10 to 1 ($3 million to $300,000). His grassroots campaign reached hundreds of thousands, won 100,000 votes and helped unite rank-and-file Teamsters who want a more powerful Teamsters Union.That rank-and-file movement for Teamster Power will grow.
TDU will support our elected International Union leadership when they work to organize and build Teamster Power and in all struggles with employers. We will also continue to be a watchdog for the rank-and-file to hold leaders accountable. Most importantly, we will continue to fight apathy, inform members, and help Teamsters organize for a more powerful union—at the International and local levels.
For more information on the Teamster elections and on reform inside the Teamsters union, go to www.tdu.org.