In Low Turnout, Hoffa Reelected Teamster President

James Hoffa has been overwhelmingly reelected president of the Teamsters. With well over half the votes counted as Labor Notes went to press, Hoffa was taking nearly two-thirds.

Member turnout was down from the previous election. Only 22 percent of the members had returned their ballots. The Hoffa campaign attributed the low turnout to voter fatigue, citing three IBT presidential elections in five years, plus delegate and local union elections. It also cited the anthrax scare as discouraging people from opening letters postmarked Washington.

The Rank and File Power reform slate, led by Tom Leedham, was getting about 34 percent of the vote, down from the 39 Leedham received in a three-way race in 1998. According to Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the vote reflects the three million dollar campaign war chest that Hoffa accumulated, the support he received from 95 percent of Teamster local officials who wanted to be in the good graces of the International, and hardly any bargaining history to defend.

In the two years Hoffa has been in office, he has overseen contract negotiations for carhaulers, Iowa Beef, Northwest Airlines, and Budweiser. In all of these jurisdictions, Hoffa was convincingly defeated. But these contracts represent less than four percent of the Teamster membership. The vast majority of Teamsters have not experienced a Hoffa-negotiated contract, so his name recognition, national visibility, and glossy campaign materials allowed him to carry the day.

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Workers at Anheuser Busch voted heavily for Hoffa in 1998, but this year 68 percent backed Leedham-a commentary on what TDU calls "the worst contract in the history of the brewery industry." The Leedham slate easily carried Iowa Beef, carhaul, and Northwest Airlines locals, despite low voter turnout. Several flight attendants at Northwest have said they would rather decertify and reaffiliate with the Association of Flight Attendants than work another five years under Hoffa.

"To Hoffa, democracy was a slogan," said Matt Ginsburg, Leedham's campaign coordinator. "Without having a rank and file campaign, there would be almost no issues on the table. His campaign has been: 'I'm Hoffa, vote for me.' We raised many important issues that have defined the campaign-negotiating strong contracts, the need to organize especially in freight, and a proactive stance to rooting out corruption in the union."

Hoffa's number one campaign issue was unifying the union, said Hoffa spokesperson Richard Leebove. "The union has been through civil war-brother against brother, sister against sister. We worked tirelessly to unify the union," he said. "We want a unified and progressive union and don't want to see any more of the negativity that the Leedham campaign promoted."