Politics
Teamsters Union President James Hoffa listens prior to President Barack Obama speaking in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 5, 2011. Obama Teamsters Union President James Hoffa listens prior to President Barack Obama speaking in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 5, 2011. Obama's speech at the annual event was serving as a dress rehearsal for the jobs address he's delivering to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)  

Teamsters head Hoffa tries to squash his own employees’ union

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Patrick Howley
Political Reporter

International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) general president Jimmy Hoffa Jr. is suspected by his members of trying to squash a union comprised of some of his own Teamsters organizers.

Hoffa’s battle with his own organizers’ union overlaps with a host of other problems for the prominent labor leader, including a pension crisis that is undercutting his support and a potential UPS strike that he might not be able to afford, according to insiders.

Hoffa still has not granted a contract to the Federation of Agents and International Representatives (FAIR), a union that represents Teamsters organizers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allowed FAIR to represent some Teamsters organizers last year in their negotiations with Hoffa, after organizers voted 18-16 to unionize in a Teamsters election.

The Hoffa administration’s battle with FAIR has been divisive, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller. Teamsters officials openly threatened their own organizers to discourage them from joining FAIR, leading to accusations that the Teamsters were union-busting their own employees’ union.

The growing Teamsters pension crisis, which has seen the union’s retirement fund spiraling toward insolvency, has been one of FAIR’s foremost issues in its opposition to Hoffa.

But instead of drafting a contract with FAIR, the Hoffa administration is believed to be planning to try to strip FAIR of its certification.

Teamsters can begin FAIR’s decertification process in late May by getting 30 percent of its employees to sign a petition to the NLRB to force a new election, where FAIR can be voted out.

Last year the Teamsters sent out a mailing to organizers, obtained by TheDC, disparaging FAIR and asking members if they want to “betray” the Teamsters and “put what you currently have on the table” by joining or voting in favor of FAIR.

“Being disrespectful and making fun of your coworkers that do not agree with your stance is not the way to win friends and influence people. It is a direct reflection of those that are leading the FAIR campaign and the FAIR organization itself,” the mailing reads.

“Are you willing to betray the faith and respect given you by Teamster leaders?,” the mailing [pdf] reads. “Are you willing to put what you currently have on the table?…Choose to remain a Teamster.”

FAIR responded after the election with its own letter, obtained by TheDC, criticizing Hoffa’s union-busting tactics.

“We succeeded in the election…The continuing barrage of frivolous objections and appeals by our senior staff in order to stall and delay the exercise of our rights is appalling,” according to the FAIR letter.

“The use of Teamster member’s dues including yours and ours, to employ union busting tactics is not approved of by our membership or the labor movement at large. This shameful behavior is hypocritical to say the least,” according to the letter.

The FAIR letter [pdf] also accused the Teamsters of having “involved itself in the same unethical behavior as those employers we combat daily.”

TheDC reported this month that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was forced late last year to issue a notice, pursuant to a settlement agreement with the NLRB and posted as flyers in Teamsters offices, conceding that the Teamsters are not allowed to bust the organizers union.

“Federal law gives you the right to: form, join, or assist a union; Choose a representative to bargain with us on your behalf;” according to the notice, dated August 29, 2012.

“WE WILL NOT do anything to prevent you from exercising the above rights,” according to the notice. “The International Union has been required by the NLRB to post notices that the IBT will cease harassing union organizers for joining a union.”

But the flyers on the office walls have done little to cool tensions.

Insiders are concerned that the Hoffa administration will utilize the same tactics that it used in 2008, when Teamsters organizers tried to unionize after they were removed from the International Brotherhood’s pension plan. The Hoffa administration sent out letters requiring field organizers to sign an admission that they counted merely as “temporary” and “at will” employees — and thus were officially expendable.

The Hoffa administration engaged in “Making phone calls, sending emails and threatening the consequences if they were not signed (using direct and indirect methods),” according to a statement made by a Teamsters organizer posted to a private Teamster chat forum. The veracity of this statement was confirmed by an insider to TheDC.

“It is not any secret after the first wave were ‘terminated’ in November 2008, those that remained were harassed further by the administration and they either conformed or they were fired. Leaving only a hand full [sic] of people that could be used for their gain,” according to a statement by an organizer.

Hoffa’s problems with FAIR are exacerbated by upcoming UPS negotiations.

United Postal Service (UPS) is hoping for concessions once its current contract with the Teamsters expires on July 31. UPS is planning to ask for a new contract that would among other thigns require the International Brotherhood to contribute to its own members’ health plans, according to insiders. The proposed give-back contract would likely necessitate a strike by Hoffa.

However, a lengthy UPS strike would deplete virtually all of the Hoffa administration’s strike resources. Hoffa might be considering a mere two-week strike, which is likely all he can afford to wage, according to one insider.

Hoffa, then, will be going into his UPS negotiations from a position of considerable weakness.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters did not return requests for comment.

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