Sandy Pope: For twelve years Hoffa has promised to restore the power of the union, and we have done nothing but go backwards. We have lost thousands of members, thousands of good union jobs. We’re not organizing [non-union] companies that are going up against our union competition.
The members don’t have faith that the union is backing them up. I’ve been campaigning for the last few months with UPS members, members in freight, food, warehouses, offices, factories, and universally people are angry: they are angry that the union is not fighting back. They think that at UPS here’s a company that is making millions of dollars, millions of millions, and we gave concessions. And we’re letting management harass the hell out of people, fire people right and left, and it’s months before grievances are resolved.
We have good issues to go after UPS, with grievances at the national level, and they are not doing it: they are kicking it back to the locals and leaving the locals to fend for themselves. We have the power to do it, and we need to give UPS a big public punch in the nose, on overtime grievances, on the fact that they haven’t created full-time jobs that they said they were going to, there are a number of different things. In freight as well, we are not even enforcing the contract that we have. There’s a black and white language that the company signed, and if they signed it, they gotta be held to it. And that goes for every contract that we have. So, just because we are in bad economic times doesn’t mean that we should not make the company live up to the contract that they signed. . . .
And we gotta do it in a coordinated way: the locals need to be working together. We need to be getting people together to say: this is the type of attack that’s going on, this is how we’re gonna fight back. In many cases we can anticipate what the attack is gonna be on us, and we should be ahead of the game, instead of waiting until we’re getting smashed or we’re getting notices of closures or whatever it might be. So, whether it’s freight, UPS, or in the food industry for example, we need to be smart and think about what the management is looking to do, and we need to get people together and involve the members in fighting back.
And that’s one of the biggest problems I see with the Hoffa administration: they are afraid of the members, they are afraid of stewards, they are afraid of strong local officers. They don’t want people involved, when that’s the only way we’re gonna build enough power in this union to fight back effectively. We need to teach people, we need to teach stewards how to fight back, we need to train our business agents better.
We need to arm people with the information: we need to have full disclosure of grievance decisions, put things up on the Web site, information for people so that they can share, so they know what’s going on around the country. There’s no reason we should keep people in the dark when we have the Internet; we have so many ways we can communicate with people at all different levels. That’s how we’re gonna get something done: only if we get all the members involved.
I think that we have been relying on politicians way too much. We should not be throwing money at them — we gotta stop that. Instead, we need to educate the members about the issues that are important to their wellbeing, such as taxes, Medicare, healthcare, pensions, all those different things we need to educate people about, so that, when they go to vote, they are informed voters. We should be using that money to educate our members and organize them to vote and to be effective voters and understand what their self-interest is, instead of giving it, millions of dollars, to politicians who have abandoned us.
I came up through the ranks of the Teamsters: I was a truck driver under the master freight agreement, and I’ve worked on a dock. I know what it’s like to work and live under those sorts of conditions. I came up through the ranks of my union, I went to meetings, I was a shop steward, I became an organizer. And Hoffa has done none of those things. I think it’s a very important perspective to have if you’re gonna lead a labor union.
I also know what side I’m on — not in the middle. I’m not a lawyer that’s trying to figure out a compromise position. I’m on the side of the members, and that’s where the leader of our union should be. And I also think that companies are getting away with murder. My experience of coming up through this way is that I’ve learned through my experience in bargaining contracts, whether they are small contracts or large contracts like with Costco or a big supermarket chain, that you cannot expect the management ever to do anything nice to you, they aren’t, they’re only ever gonna respond to pressure, and that’s what we have to do, we have to put pressure on them, and we have to organize people.
For more information about Sandy Pope’s campaign, visit <sandypope2011.org>.
Jon Flanders is a member and former president of IAM LL 1145 and a member of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The text above is a partial edited transcript of the interview. See, also, Jane Slaughter, “Interview: Reformer Challenges Hoffa for Teamster Presidency” (Labor Notes, 11 October 2010).
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