Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘James Hoffa’

After 41 Years, The Teamsters Reform Movement Is Finally Building Power

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

In the beginning, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) was full of spunk. But they didn’t have any union leaders on their side, nor many rank and file supporters, nor much strategy about turning around a corruption-riddled union.

“When they said we didn’t know what we were doing, it wasn’t totally false,” says Ken Paff, who has led the TDU almost since its founding 41 years ago. “We knew what we didn’t know.”

In time, the TDU learned how to become a thorn in the union’s side, challenging its contracts, finger pointing to officials’ corruption and lopsided multiple salaries, and electing reform-minded members to local and national positions.

At its 41st convention from October 27 to 29 in Chicago, TDU will mark last year’s national campaign that fell only 6,000 votes short of ousting James P. Hoffa. He has led the nearly 1.3-million-member union since 1999, four years longer than his father, James R. Hoffa.

But the TDU is not “just about elections,” Paff says.

The talk during the upcoming convention, according to Paff, will focus on winning strong contracts, converting part-time jobs into full-time work, boosting wages that start for some at $11 an hour and protecting pensionsthat have been under attack. And then there’s what the group has focused on since its start: developing leaders, he adds. The union’s problem, he explains, “is not such bad leaders, but that we need more leaders.”

It’s a strategy of constant activity that the TDU honed as it became one of a handful of reform movements inside the nation’s largest unions. And it has survived with a small Detroit-based staff and about 10,000 members, of whom half are behind on their dues, according to Paff. TDU has six full-time staff, all of whom earn the same salary, as well as two part-timers, Paff explained.

Paff joined the group in 1978 as a full-time national organizer. But he didn’t fit the stereotype of a hardscrabble trucker. He had an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of California at Berkeley and had worked as a schoolteacher. He was driving for a trucking company in Cleveland when he lined up with the union dissidents. For inspiration, he studied the work of the Miners for Democracy, learning about their battle within the United Mine Workers union.

Looking for a way to make an impact, TDU began campaigning against the contracts signed by the union. It was a gutsy strategy, since the group had no voice within the union. “They [the contracts] were terrible, and members knew it. And they [union leaders] didn’t have to pay any attention to the members,” Paff recalls. The group won a lawsuit requiring the union to put its contracts up for a majority vote. After a major publicity push, members voted down the union’s master freight agreement in 1987.

“That really caused people to take notice,” Paff says.

But the real turning point came in 1989, when the U.S. government took control of the union in a consent order—and said the union had to hold its first-ever rank-and-file election. The government described the union as virtually a “wholly owned subsidiary of organized crime.

The union sought to put off the election, which finally took place two-and-a-half years later. Ironically, that was a gift for the TDU. “It was perfect for us. We weren’t able to hold an election and we lined up Ron Carey to win,” Paff recalls. Carey’s 1991 election led to reforms across the union.

But the changes were short-lived. An election victory by Carey in 1996 was overturned, and he was barred from the union by a court ruling as a result of election wrongdoing by his aides, leading to a new election. Hoffa beat a TDU-backed candidate in 1998 and has been in power ever since.

For the last 35 years, the TDU has hectored the union about officials’ salaries. Its latest report, issued in 2016, showed, that 46 union leaders earned over $200,000 in 2015. Hoffa earned $387,244 in salary and compensation in 2015, the TDU reported. He was ranked as the highest paid leader of a major union in 2016, according to news reports.

John Coli, the once-powerful head of Chicago area Teamsters, was among the highest-paid Teamsters in 2015, with $337,215 in salary and compensation, according to the TDU. He was indicted this year by federal officials for an alleged extortion scheme that netted him $325,000 from a major Teamster employer in Chicago. A major internal investigation of union corruption that focused on Chicago collapsed in 2004, allegedly when Chicago Teamster leaders protested to Hoffa.

By constantly pointing to the union’s high salaries and voicing the concerns within the union, Paff claims that the attention helped spur changes. “Once we got the right to vote, we started driving down the salaries. [Jackie] Presser made $500,000 in the 1980s, and today they make in the 300,000s,” Paff says.

Some of the TDU’s challenges have not disappeared, however. At the union’s last convention, only 8 percent of the delegates were aligned with the group. Furthermore, TDU has been unable to raise the money required to run a major national campaign. Hoffa and his slate spent about $3 million on the national election in 2016.

And yet the Teamsters United slate, backed by the TDU, won in the Midwest and South, sweeping the votes in the Chicago area for the first time ever. One of its candidates for vice president came within roughly 4,000 votes of winning, according to Paff. The vote totals “show you the discrepancy between the rank-and-file and local officials,” he adds.

With many more Teamsters coming from jobs outside prisons and public services—the union’s traditional trucking base—the union is seeing more members who don’t have the same interests or long-term loyalties to Hoffa and his supporters. Paff sees yet more potential for change. At 71 years old, he expects to pass the baton to others in the coming years.

There’s no expectation within the TDU that jobs are passed down to family, friends or long-term allies—as is the case in some unions, he says. Paff underscores, “We still have people out there who can help.”

 This article was originally published at In These Times on  October 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Stephen Franklin, former labor and workplace reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was until recently the ethnic media project director with Public Narrative in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East.

Happy ‘Enlightened’ Labor Day

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that workers in the United States apparently don’t want to join unions because of the “very enlightened management in this country now, treating employees better and employees have decided they don’t want to pay the dues.”

McConnell, R-Ky., husband of the most anti-union Labor Secretary in history, enlightened the rest of the country with his ridiculous reason claiming why no Republican will vote for the Employee Free Choice Act

To borrow from Rep. Barney Frank, McConnell must spend most of his time on a planet that’s much better than the planet the rest of us live on.

In truth, the Employee Free Choice Act is desperately needed on my planet, where 16 workers die on the job every day because managers ignore their health and safety. On my planet, field workers die of heat exhaustion. Laundry workers are killed by dangerous machinery. Exhausted airline pilots die in crashes.

Here’s something else very enlightened managers do on my planet: cheat poor workers of their wages. Last week, 68 percent of low-paid workers were victimized by wage violations, according to a new University of Chicago report. The typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339.

So-called enlightened Amerijet managers forced pilots and flight engineers to strike on Aug. 27. Fort Lauderdale-based Amerijet doesn’t put working toilets on its Boeing 727s, which fly from Florida to Venezuela and the Caribbean. Amerijet’s female pilots are forced to relieve themselves by squatting over bags. Male pilots urinate into bags hanging just outside the cockpit doors. There are no sanitary facilities in which to wash.

Amerijet managers are so enlightened they think it’s a good policy to force exhausted, hungry, sick pilots to fly long hours. The company pays a small fortune to union-busting lawyers who have prevented Teamster pilots from negotiating a contract for 5-1/2 years. But Amerijet managers pay their co-pilots less than $35,000 a year.

Sen. McConnell might be surprised to learn of the outpouring of support for the Amerijet strikers from their dues-paying Teamster brothers and sisters in the airline and trucking industries. Teamster maintenance workers and cleaners at Miami International Airport are refusing to cross the picket lines. Amerijet’s picket line is being walked by unions at American, US Airways, Southwest, JetBlue, UPS, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association. Other South Florida unions, as well as organized labor in the Caribbean and South America, are supporting the strikers.

So-called enlightened managers make life difficult for school bus drivers, who have an important job that requires skill and hard work. This is how managers at one private school bus company treated its drivers before they became Teamsters: At several depots, the toilet paper was removed from the employees’ bathroom. Workers had to ask for it at the office. They would get four or five squares.

Along with shabby treatment, school bus drivers earn low pay and enjoy few benefits. The Teamsters are building a movement of school bus and transit workers to change that. Almost 30,000 school bus and transit workers became Teamsters in the last three years. They are now seeing real improvements in their jobs and in their lives.

We are organizing school bus workers at First Student, Bauman/Acme and Durham School Services. Next week, we plan to file petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize 3,500 school bus drivers, aides, attendants, monitors and mechanics at 30 yards across the country.

Studies show that millions more workers would belong to unions if they had the chance. We are working hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act over Sen. McConnell’s objections. Workers need the chance to decide for themselves – without being spied on, threatened, interrogated or fired by their employers – whether to join a union.

The Employee Free Choice Act would give them that chance.

Enjoy your well-deserved holiday, brought to you by America’s labor unions.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on September 4, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

 

Taxing Employer Health Benefits: The Poison Pill That Would Kill Health Care Reform

Monday, July 6th, 2009

I was asked today to post a diary to Daily Kos written by my boss, Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa – it is beneath the fold. In this piece we are looking into the fact that a tax hike on health benefits to pay for health care reform is a bitter, bitter pill for middle-class wage-earners to swallow.

 

By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa

Congress is finally beginning to grapple with a way to give all U.S. citizens access to affordable health insurance. Unions support universal coverage like a large majority of Americans.

Almost 15 years have gone by since lawmakers considered comprehensive reform to our nation’s health care system with the goal of making sure every American can access health care. How to pay for health care reform was the problem then — and it’s the problem now.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee, is suggesting an enormous new tax on employer-sponsored health insurance.

Such a tax would raise hundreds of billions of dollars. That tax revenue would help pay for a public government-sponsored plan for individuals and families.

For those who have employer-provided coverage, creating a “public” plan is a sensible way to make health insurance available to people who can’t get it through their employer and don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. But a tax hike on health benefits to pay for health care reform is a bitter, bitter pill for middle-class wage-earners to swallow.

Most Americans find the prospect of such a tax downright obnoxious. Fortunately, Members of Congress are aware of the public’s hostility to taxing employer-based insurance. A recent national survey by Lake Research Partners shows 80 percent of likely voters oppose taxing health benefits.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the mistake of floating the idea during his presidential campaign. Candidate Barack Obama lashed out with a television commercial calling it “the largest middle-class tax increase in history.” Obama’s opposition to taxing employer-based health insurance was a big reason the Teamsters supported him for president.

For all those reasons, it seems extremely unlikely that a tax on employer-sponsored health insurance will ever become a reality. Or, let us hope.

If it did, it would destroy employer-sponsored health insurance.

Adding a tax onto an already crushing expense for employers and employees would create a huge disincentive to buy employer-sponsored health insurance.

It would mostly burden people who are older or sicker, women of childbearing age, employees of small businesses and residents of high-cost communities.

It would set off a stampede to the public plan. And the public plan would lose a major source of revenue.

There is no reason that revenue to pay for health care reform has to come out of the current health care system. Middle-class taxpayers just gave Wall Street the biggest bailout in history. Wall Street can well afford to return the favor.

We know Members of Congress can be creative when they need to find revenue offsets. Let them use that creativity just as they did for Wall Street to prevent another tax on those of us who live on Main Street.

Eliminating subsidies and preferences for the wealthiest Americans would go a long way to pay for the health care reform this country so desperately needs.

President Obama is suggesting a limit on itemized deductions for the 3 million wealthiest people in this country. That would raise about $270 billion over 10 years.

Another good suggestion is to extend the 2.9 percent Medicare tax, which applies only to wages, to ALL adjusted gross income, would raise $38.1 billion.

Imposing a 1.05 percent surtax on the Medicare tax on single people who earn more than $200,000, or couples that earn more than $250,000, would raise $7.2 billion.

Raising the capital gains tax to 28 percent — the rate under President Ronald Reagan — in top income brackets would raise $34.7 billion.

Limiting tax deductions for stock options and the write-off for intangible assets would add $15 billion to the federal Treasury.

Let’s make health care reform cover the uninsured but not penalize hard-working American families and individuals who have employer-sponsored plans. For those who claim this is class warfare, I’d say it’s been going on for quite a while and it’s time for that to change. Middle-class families — the backbone of this country — deserve better.

James P. HoffaJames P. Hoffa grew up on picket lines and in union meetings. He is the only son of James R. Hoffa, former General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. On his 18th birthday, Hoffa received his own union card and was sworn in by his father. Prior to becoming Administrative Assistant to Michigan Joint Council 43, Hoffa was a labor lawyer in Detroit for 25 years.

Hoffa is recognized as one of the foremost authorities on Union issues. As the most visible and outspoken critic of government trade policies and anti-worker corporate agendas, Hoffa is recognized as a leader on issues that affect working people.

(bio taken from excerpts of http://www.teamster.org/content/leader-issues-affect-working-people with permission from the author)

This article originally appeared in Daily KOS on June 30th and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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