By reelecting General President Jim Hoffa and General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, Teamster members made their voices heard and gave a mandate to continue to build Teamster power. Teamster magazine recently discussed with Hoffa and Hall their vision for the future and the challenges that lay ahead.
As you begin your new term as General President, what are your top priorities?
HOFFA: We have so many priorities right now—contract negotiations, pension security, political action and more. Organizing is always one of our union’s biggest priorities. Obviously, if you can’t organize, the union can’t grow. Over the last decade, we have organized more than 300,000 new members. That’s a huge amount of progress and no other union in North America has even come close to those organizing numbers. Considering the relentless hostility right now toward labor, this is amazing progress.
We have seen union density shrink like never before, yet the Teamsters Union has had great success organizing the unorganized. How does the union do it?
HOFFA: When we took office, we changed the culture of the union. We turned the Teamsters into the top organizing union in the nation. It wasn’t easy. We have had success by working together with hundreds of our locals, with our Joint Councils and our other affiliates. Member organizers have also made a huge difference in many campaigns. And, of course, we have the best organizers in the labor movement.
What are some of the union’s organizing priorities right now?
HOFFA: A priority is to organize XPO Logistics, one of the largest global logistics and transportation companies in the world, and one of the greediest companies we’ve ever encountered. This greed includes mistreating former Con-way Freight workers in the United States, and the company denying their workers’ right to organize. It also includes port, rail and last-mile drivers around the country and in Southern California fighting wage theft in excess of $200 million because they are misclassified as independent contractors and denied the right to form their union. This greed has caused numerous lawsuits and strikes. Greed also means an unsafe workplace and mistreating its warehouse employees.
XPO’s greed extends to Europe. French workers and the unions have been fighting back against XPO’s disrespect, lies and attempts to slash jobs. Similar struggles are taking place in Great Britain, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and across Europe. The Teamsters are part of this struggle to win fairness, respect and dignity for tens of thousands of XPO employees around the world!
The union has also had great success in organizing school bus workers through the Drive Up Standards campaign. Will that continue?
HALL: Our campaign to organize the privatized school bus and transit industry has been a top priority for our union over the past 10 years. In 2006, we had 4,000 members in this industry.
Today, we have nearly 50,000 members and a national master agreement with the largest provider of school transportation, First Student. We continue our efforts to drive up standards across this industry by turning our focus to National Express (NEX) and its subsidiary, Durham School Services. Durham is the second largest company in the industry and, jointly with First Student, makes up nearly half of all school bus contracts. NEX is a global corporation and we have made strategic alliances with the affiliated unions of the International Transport Workers Federation to ensure that workers’ rights are protected in every place this company operates.
As General Secretary-Treasurer, you’re responsible for managing the union’s budgets, its investments and all other funds. Can you tell us whether the union is on sound financial footing?
HALL: We are. I’m proud to report that the finances of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are stronger than ever. When Jim Hoffa and his administration took office in 1999, the union was just about broke. We had so little money that our members couldn’t afford to strike. When a union can’t afford to strike, employers take advantage. We had to change that. And we did.
In 1999, our union’s net assets had fallen below $10 million. Now we have net assets of more than $250 million. We’ve reengineered our Strike and Defense Fund from being in the red to having more than $150 million today. Having a strong Strike and Defense Fund shows we have the resources to fight.
Both our General Fund assets and our Strike and Defense Fund are currently at the highest level ever under the Hoffa administration. I take great pride in that fact. I’m proud that we use our union’s finances to take on fights on behalf of our members and working families. We have the resources to strengthen collective bargaining, organize more workers, strike when it’s necessary and launch actions against employers that operate in bad faith.
The Teamsters Union has members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, but you work with unions all over the world. Why?
HOFFA: It’s going to take an international effort to rein in global corporations. I recently attended meetings where dozens of labor leaders from around the world met to strategize about our campaigns at XPO Logistics and NEX. We appreciate the support of our brothers and sisters from across the globe.
HALL: The fight for workers’ rights is a global fight. As more multinational corporations become dominant players in our Teamster core industries, we’ve been forced to fight on a global scale. When port drivers were facing a brutal anti-union attack by the Australian-based Toll Group, we worked with the Transport Workers Union in Australia, and we had shareholder actions to hold them accountable. Ultimately, we prevailed, winning an election and securing a strong first contract, including a Teamster pension for those drivers.
We did the same thing in our school bus campaign. We worked with Unite the Union in the UK to address worker rights, abuses, and safety issues at Durham. We also hosted British members of Parliament to come over here and asked the company why drivers in the U.S. should be treated worse than drivers in the UK.
Now that the U.S. is out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what’s next with respect to trade deals?
HOFFA: We’ve been fighting bad trade deals for a long time, and we’ll continue fighting trade deals that leave American workers out in the cold. I’m encouraged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership—what we called NAFTA on steroids—is not a threat for the time being. Our union led the fight against that bad trade deal. We’ve been saying for years that we have to keep good jobs in America. Some politicians are finally starting to listen. But we’re not out of the woods. More trade deals will be coming up for votes and the Teamsters will fight them if they’re bad for workers.
We’re living in a different world than we were when NAFTA was first introduced. We have far more globalization and mega mergers. There are dark-money campaigns, so-called right-to-work laws and union-busting corporations to contend with. We have a responsibility to defend our hard-won benefits and make sure that our members can retire with dignity.
What are the Teamsters doing to protect pensions?
HALL: This has obviously been a huge issue over the last couple of years and we expect it to continue as long as Congress keeps kicking the can down the road with temporary fixes. There is still a long way to go in the fight to protect the retirement security of our members. What’s at stake is the financial security of many retirees; not only those with pensions but those who depend on Social Security.
HOFFA: The time for comprehensive pension reform is now. Many workers and retirees worked decades contributing to their pensions, taking lower pay and benefits in return for the promise of retirement security. We must make sure the sacrifices workers made for promises about pensions are kept. Now more than ever, Congress must come together and create a bipartisan solution that protects their constituents who played by the rules and did everything they were supposed to do while supporting their families and contributing to our nation’s well-being. They don’t deserve to be cast aside. Instead, they should be protected with a real fix that allows them to live their golden years with dignity.
Is the union still involved in trying to get politicians to improve our nation’s infrastructure?
HOFFA: Yes, very much so. We unveiled our “Let’s Get America Working” campaign to encourage all lawmakers to endorse a pro-worker platform. At the center of the campaign is a need for our country to invest in infrastructure. This will put thousands to work in construction jobs, it will improve our roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure, which will help business and improve the economy. Meanwhile, the transportation system continues to crumble and the safety of those who work and travel along the vast network of U.S. roads and rails is being jeopardized. Our nation’s failure to maintain and improve our infrastructure is costing Americans more and more.
Education is another important aspect of our “Let’s Get America Working” campaign. Lawmakers need to remember that dollars invested in education, job training and supporting retirement for those who worked hard all their lives helps not only individuals, but our society as a whole. These are promises each generation in this country has made to the next and we can’t forget it.
Both parties should stop playing self-serving games and work to rebuild the trust of Americans. Our government is by the people and for the people. If elected officials from both parties want to rebuild and repair the trust between government and workers, they need to reinvest in people that have and can continue to make this country great. Better pay will lead to more spending and improve workers’ quality of life. That way everyone wins.
IIO Withdraws Hall Charges
By letter dated Feb. 17, 2017, the Independent Investigations Officer (IIO) withdrew his Oct. 31, 2016 recommendation of charges against General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall. The IIO determined “that Mr. Hall did not play a personal role in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ noncompliance … with document requests.”
“I said at the time that the charges were unjustified and ill-conceived,” Hall said. “I appreciate the support that I’ve received from my brothers and sisters throughout the union and look forward to continuing our work together for the next five years.”
Teamsters Elect General Executive Board and Trustees
AT-LARGE VICE PRESIDENTS
Steve Vairma, Local 455, San Leandro, Calif.
Gregory Floyd, Local 237, New York City
George Miranda, Local 210, New York City
John Murphy, Local 122, Boston
Fred Potter, Local 469, Hazlet, N.J.
Fred Simpson, BMWED, Novi, Mich.
George Tedeschi, GCC, Washington, D.C.
Stan Hennessy, Local 31, Delta, B.C.
Francois Laporte, Teamsters Canada, Laval, Quebec
Craig McInnes, Local 938, Mississauga, Ontario
Bill Frisky, Local 964, Cleveland
Tony Jones, Local 413, Columbus, Ohio
Robert Kopystynsky, Local 710, Chicago
Avral Thompson, Local 89, Louisville, Ky.
William Hamilton, Local 107, Philadelphia
Dan Kane Sr., Local 111, Rahway, N.J.
Sean M. O’Brien, Local 25, Boston
John Palmer, Local 657, San Antonio
Kim Schultz, Local 2011, Riverview, Fla.
Ron Herrera, Local 396, Covina, Calif.
Rick Middleton, Local 572, Carson, Calif.
Steve Vairma, Local 455, Denver
Jim Kabell, Local 245, Springfield, Mo.
Kevin Moore, Local 299, Detroit
Denis Taylor, Local 355, Baltimore