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New politics, Hoffa-style. (Devil In The Details).

Teamster President James R Hoffa Jr. has had a rocky couple of weeks. First, one of his key supporters, Chicago Teamster leader Bill Hogan, was bounced from the union by its Independent Review Board (IRB).The board's findings showed that Hogan, in an attempt to help an employment agency where his brother was a senior executive, tried to have hundreds of nonunion workers hired for convention work in Las Vegas. His quiet efforts to persuade Vegas Teamsters leaders to accept the deal--which would have depressed wages and benefits for thousands of Vegas Teamsters--came to naught. The IRB concluded that if Hogan wanted to bust the union for fun and profit, he probably shouldn't be an official of that union.

By Teamster standards, of course, this is old news. The union's history is full of wise guys who got rich off their members' work. What's new news is the union's political program. When the AFL-CIO's executive board voted to raise an additional $19 million to finance its political-action program this year, Hoffa was one of two union presidents who voted no. Jimmy Jr. accused the federation of focusing too much on helping the Democrats retake the House and hold the Senate. Accordingly, The New York Times's Steven Greenhouse reported, the Teamsters plan to direct 30 percent of their campaign contributions this year to Republicans. Surely, this is a demand-side strategy: The Teamsters would have an easier time finding Old Man Hoffa than they would finding that many pro-union Republicans.

In the long, dank history of Teamster opportunism, this Republican quota is a new low. The union has a record of buying the occasional Republican official. And that ridiculous string of union presidents, running from Hoffa Sr. to William McCarthy (who preceded reformer Ron Carey), had a habit of backing GOP presidential candidates--always good for executive clemency if it came to that--while supporting close to the straight Democratic ticket for Congress. The reason the union overwhelmingly endorsed Democratic candidates is straightforward: Teamster local and regional leaders tend to be conscientious unionists who calculate which candidates will best serve their members' interests.

Now, Hoffa Jr. has gone where even his most loathsome predecessors declined to tread. All they wanted was a quiet understanding with the president; Hoffa apparently thinks he can help the whole damn GOP so much that the Reeps will convert to the union's position on trade (generally excellent) and fossil fuels (generally indefensible). Hoffa's primary goal, however, is to persuade Bush to lift the government's oversight of Teamster internal affairs. Why that's so all-important that it's worth bolstering Tom DeLay's control of Congress is a good question. Why that's good for the Teamsters at all (see the Bill Hogan case, above) is a good question, too.

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Title Annotation:Teamsters
Publication:The American Prospect
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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