The race to lead the Teamsters is on. The first woman candidate to run for president, reformer Sandy Pope, crossed a threshold May 15 when she announced she had enough votes to get on November’s ballot.
Pope, a longtime leader of Teamsters for a Democratic Union and president of a New York City local of drivers and warehouse workers, says she would “close the concessions stand” and join with frustrated local officers to end the union leadership’s back-scratching, pocket-lining culture (watch video here).
To be nominated, candidates must receive the votes of 5 percent of the 1,700 delegates to the June 27 convention in Las Vegas, in a secret ballot. Under rules enforced by the government-appointed election supervisor, candidates may campaign in the Teamsters magazine, mailed to each member.
Slates pledged to Pope have won delegate slots in locals around the country, and she also expects the votes of delegations headed by supportive local officers.
Howard Spoon, president of a Rock Island, Illinois, local, backs Pope and says the stakes are high enough to risk retaliation by incumbents. His priority is organizing the non-union companies that compete with his members’ employers, especially in freight, where the Teamsters have been decimated.
“The biggest change” if Pope is elected, Spoon said, “would be strength from the international going after our key industries—bakery, dairy, food distribution, and freight.”
Pope has made a point of working with fellow local officers in her seven years as local president and before that as an international rep in the warehouse division.
ANYBODY BUT HOFFA
In a statewide public employees local in Minnesota, Erik Jensen ran on a slate called “Anybody but Hoffa.” It took all 17 delegates and alternates. Some will support Fred Gegare, a disillusioned former Hoffa supporter from Wisconsin whose hat is also in the ring. All benefited from what Jensen, a university janitor, called “discontent with the gravy train mentality in the local and in the international.”
The slate publicized the outsize compensation of their principal officer ($200,000) and Hoffa ($362,869), while members “are taking freezes, mandatory furloughs, health benefit cuts,” Jensen said. “They feel the union is ineffective and the leaders are riding high on the hog.”
What difference could a new international president make? Jensen says Pope would get back to basics: build public support, mobilize existing members, and organize more Teamsters into the union. He wants the international to help with internal organization, though he’s not sure his local’s old-guard leaders would even accept this kind of help. As it is now, “the IBT gives us very little assistance of any kind that we can see.”
In one large local that recently affiliated to the Teamsters, a pro-Pope slate won the top three delegate positions. The union, representing 14,000 clericals at the University of California, has been without a contract for three years.
Delegate Claudette Begin, an administrative assistant at the Berkeley campus, says the vote for her slate, by the small number of members not too demoralized to vote, reflected dissatisfaction with local leaders, who have been AWOL during the biggest crisis ever in the public sector.
At a giant UPS hub in Louisville, Kentucky, steward and delegate David Thornsberry says the full-time jobs members struck for and won in 1997 are being eliminated. In his building no drivers have been hired in four years, despite deaths, firings, and retirements. The company is outsourcing more and more work to the Postal Service.
Thornsberry says Pope will hold UPS’s feet to the fire and enforce the contract language that says management must maintain the 20,000 full-time jobs that members won.
Since Hoffa’s UPS director, Ken Hall, ignores Thornsberry’s requests for information about the missing jobs, he says, “now he gets to answer to me on the convention floor.”