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By Michael Rose
July 15 — Fred Zuckerman, head of an International Brotherhood of Teamsters local in Kentucky, says he will unseat incumbent James P. Hoffa as national president, despite being vigorously booed during a recent convention.
“We're gonna beat them in the streets, and we're gonna beat them at the gates,” Zuckerman told Bloomberg BNA, referring to workers' job sites. “Over the next three months, we're going talk to people and get our message out. And I’m sure it’s a message that they want to hear.”
Zuckerman is president of Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville, the fourth-largest in the union, he said at the convention. Many members of the local are employed at United Parcel Service Inc., one of the biggest employers of IBT members.
Both Hoffa and Zuckerman are running with slates of candidates for various vice presidential offices behind them. Zuckerman's slate, known as Teamsters United, is backed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which has long opposed the Hoffa administration.
It's unclear whether Zuckerman and his slate will garner enough support to unseat Hoffa and incumbent IBT Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall. Hoffa and Zuckerman both earned enough delegates at the union's convention, held June 27-July 1 in Las Vegas, to earn spots on the general election ballot.
The election is conducted by mail among the union's 1.3 million members, making it one of the largest elections in the world not conducted by a government. Although delegates for Hoffa at the convention far outnumbered those supporting the Teamsters United slate, they represent only a small portion of the rank-and-file membership of the union.
On top of booing and sporadic cries of “TDU sucks!” from convention attendees, Hoffa delegates also mostly left the convention hall during Zuckerman's nomination acceptance speech on the convention's last day.
The Teamsters election is conducted by an independent election supervisor, a practice first established by a 1989 consent decree intended to root out corruption within the union. Under a new agreement reached last year between the IBT and prosecutors to phase out federal oversight of the union, a supervisor will continue to conduct the union's election in future cycles but will be selected by union leaders.
The election supervisor's office announced July 13 that it would mail election ballots to all IBT members Oct. 6, and would begin counting them Nov. 14.
Zuckerman and Ken Paff, national organizer of TDU, both highlighted the fact that in the last Teamsters election, in 2011, Hoffa won only 59 percent of the vote.
Paff told Bloomberg BNA he's “99 percent confident” that the share of the vote going to Hoffa will decrease. “[O]bviously it's got to diminish quite a bit” for another candidate to win, he said in an interview conducted during the convention.
During the last election, Hoffa faced two other candidates who split votes against the incumbent. This time, there's only one challenger.
In his nomination acceptance speech, Zuckerman said Hoffa would depend on low voter turnout to win, and urged his supporters to vote. Paff said that in the IBT election, “it's retail politics.”
“No one’s on CNN,” Paff said. “No one’s buying ads on national television.” Rather, he said, the election will be won by members talking to each other in their workplaces.
Zuckerman told Bloomberg BNA that his campaign is raising three major issues in the fight against Hoffa: concerns over pensions, corruption and organizing.
In the 17 years since Hoffa took office, Zuckerman told Bloomberg BNA, “the union has lost 20 percent of its membership.”
“He's certainly doing something wrong,” Zuckerman said. “He’s at the helm, and he's got to accept responsibility for what goes on.”
Furthermore, Zuckerman has argued that the Hoffa administration is too cozy with employers and hasn't done enough to make sure Teamster pension funds are shored up.
“Not only is he not doing anything to bring participants into the funds, he's allowing participants out of the funds,” Zuckerman said. He added that the Hoffa administration's failure to organize in the union's “core industries,” such as freight trucking, warehousing and the grocery industry, meant new participants weren't being brought into the pension funds.
The troubles facing the Central States pension fund have been well-documented. Teamsters retirees in the fund were set to see pension cuts, which were averted only after the Treasury Department denied the fund's application for restructuring. Zuckerman said it's necessary to organize new workers to participate in Central States and other funds.
Although the union has organized workers in recent years, many of them are in the public sector, he said. Those workers already have their own municipal pension plans, so they wouldn't participate in Teamsters funds, he said.
“We're not going to be able to negotiate those folks into multiemployer pensions,” Zuckerman said. “We really need to focus on the core and make the core strong” before organizing workers in other industries, he said.
The Hoffa-Hall campaign didn't make either candidate available for an interview. But Richard Leebove, a Hoffa-Hall spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail July 12 that “the Teamsters, under the leadership of Jim Hoffa, have organized more workers in the last 10 years than any other industrial union in America.”
“Who has Fred Zuckerman organized? When he was the director of the Teamsters Carhaul Division, he failed to organize a single company and oversaw an unprecedented decline of a once-strong union industry,” Leebove said.
As for the pension issue, “deregulation and poor government oversight devastated funds like Central States and current bankruptcy laws allow companies to abandon workers and their pensions while keeping their assets intact,” Leebove said. “There is nothing more disingenuous than to claim organizing alone will save our country’s multi-employer funds like Central States,” he said.
Zuckerman has maintained that corruption within the union is still a problem. Opponents of the Hoffa administration frequently point to the fact that Rome Aloise, an IBT vice president who is close to Hoffa, earlier this year was accused of various instances of corruption. These included requesting and receiving tickets to a Super Bowl party sponsored by Playboy magazine from an employer negotiating with the union.
“We've still got corruption within our union that’s killing our union,” Zuckerman said. And he said the corruption manifested itself “at all levels, from the very top to grievance panels.”
Leebove, the Hoffa-Hall spokesman, pointed to the fact that federal prosecutors already had agreed to end the consent decree, and had “decided that corruption had sufficiently been rooted out of our union.”
“There will always be bad apples, but there is no union in America that is more democratic or run with more checks and balances to root out corruption than the Teamsters under the leadership of Jim Hoffa,” Leebove said. He also pointed to another former IBT official, Brad Slawson, who ran on the same slate of candidates for IBT international office in 2011.
“Ask Fred Zuckerman why he ran on the same slate for IBT VP with Brad Slawson in 2011 while Slawson was terrorizing the members of Local 120, looting their treasury and committing other corrupt acts,” Leebove said. “When he answers your question, ask him if he would be satisfied if Hoffa used the same excuse he just gave you.”
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