Two candidates for running for Teamsters national office debated recently at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, presenting calm, well-reasoned descriptions of their differing positions on the issues of concern to union members.
Nah, not really. What we got was a whole lot of name calling and finger pointing – just like the other national election that’s currently dominating the news.
Teamsters General President challenger Fred Zuckerman slashed at the incumbent James Hoffa for not showing up and sending Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall instead.
“Again, General President Hoffa is a no show,” Zuckerman observed. “As you know Hoffa has never debated in front of the membership during an election. You may not know this, but this is the third debate that he has ducked this year. It is time for him to stop being a coward and stand in front of the membership.”
Hall pulled no punches, either. “My opponent here is a self-described angry man,” he said. “But he’s not angry for all the reasons that he tells you. He is angry because in January 2010 he practically begged us to let him get on the Hoffa-Hall slate as a candidate, and we rejected that. It was not personal at the time, I like Fred.”
Hall also explained that Hoffa had been too busy attending to union business on behalf of the members to show up for the debate, especially one with Fred Zuckerman.
“Jim Hoffa is out doing what he’s supposed to be doing, he’s out representing our members,” he said. “There frankly is no good reason that Jim Hoffa would be standing here and letting an angry local union officer just run down this union. He has more important things to do than that.”
Zuckerman was equally complimentary about Hall. “They sent Ken Hall, who I feel is the most dishonest and corrupt union official within the Teamsters,” he asserted. “We have real problems in this union.”
These include corruption, loss of membership, lack of organizing, deteriorating contracts and standards, and loss of pensions for over one half-million Teamsters, Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman argued that the answer to the pension crisis is to recruit new participants for the fund, the union should step up efforts to organize the warehouse and trucking industries.
Under Hoffa the union has expanded its organizing targets to include FedEx Ground drivers, ride-sharing drivers, and the more than 200,000 draymen estimated to be serving West Coast and East Coast ports.
These organizing efforts have met with varying degrees of success. Federal courts ruled FedEx Ground drivers were employees and not independent contractors, but organizing stalled when drivers at several terminals rejected the union.
The Teamsters are meeting with greater success in organizing West Coast port drivers, in part because federal and state officials have helped the union by granting it major legal and regulatory advantages.
However, a major failure for the union leadership has been its inability to stem the dominos-like collapse of Teamsters local and regional multi-employer pension funds, including the biggest of them all, the massive Central States Fund.
Earlier this summer a Treasury Department Special Master rejected a Central States plan to save the fund which included cutting current retiree pensions by as much as 60% (AA, 6-15-16, P. 5).
Rather than address fund mismanagement and demands for increasing benefits while employers disappeared in the wake of trucking deregulation, Hall blames others and hopes a government bailout will save his members’ retirement benefits.
“We have got to ensure that our members get the same kind of treatment as those greedy bastards who destroyed the economy and with it our pensions,” Hall declared.