July 2011, Week 1


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Mon, 4 Jul 2011 20:31:40 -0400
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A Victory in Las Vegas: Teamster Reformers Win Ballot 
Status for Sandy Pope 

by Steve Early


Behind every good man, one finds a good woman, or so
we're told.  In this year's contest for the Teamster
presidency, that traditional gender-defined
relationship has been reversed -- at least in Sandy
Pope's campaign.  In Las Vegas last Thursday night, it
was a small band of good men (plus a handful of their
union sisters) who rallied successfully behind a very
unusual woman, one of only sixteen women who currently
serve as Teamster local leaders.  As a result of their
efforts, Pope -- the candidate backed by Teamsters for
a Democratic Union (TDU) -- made it into the next stage
of a three-way race that culminates in a referendum
vote this fall.

Nominated along with Pope, president of Local 805 in
New York City, was fellow opposition candidate Fred
Gegare, a Teamster regional leader from Wisconsin, who
also garnered about 9% of the 1,600 Teamster convention
delegates.  (Five percent was the minimum required for
nomination.)  Current IBT president James P. Hoffa and
his slate, which includes UPS contract negotiator Ken
Hall for Secretary-Treasurer, received 82% of the vote
at a meeting completely dominated and controlled by the
incumbent leadership.  Hoffa-Hall supporters worked
throughout the week to prevent any other candidates
from qualifying for the ballot.

If the convention voting results seemed lopsided to
some observers, they didn't bother John Lattanzio, a
mustachioed 57-year-old freight handler from Spokane,
Washington, who helped Pope sign up 50,000
rank-and-file supporters last November.  Nor was
Lattanzio rattled by the thunderous booing that drowned
out Pope and Gegare, along with the delegates who
nominated them, when Hoffa critics tried to speak
briefly last Thursday morning.  "If you got out of line
at these conventions in the past, they just knocked you
on your ass," Lattanzio observed.  "At least no one is
getting beat up this year."

Lattanzio and other TDUers recall that, when Pope ran
for Secretary-Treasurer on a reform slated headed by
Tom Leedham in 1996, she was nominated with just 6
percent of Teamster delegates but then received 36% of
the membership vote.  And two decades ago, the most
successful TDU-backed candidate ever, Ron Carey, became
president of the Teamsters after winning 48% of the
rank-and-file vote in a similar three-way race. 
Carey's support, on the convention floor among
similarly hostile local officials, was only 14 percent
in 1991, when top Teamster officials fell out among
themselves as Hoffa and Gegare have done today.

The disconnect between delegate sentiment, heavily
pro-Hoffa, and the actual grassroots electoral support
already demonstrated by Pope (during her signature
gathering last fall) was not the only source of
cognitive dissonance in Las Vegas last week.  Along
with thousands of his co-workers, Lattanzio recently
suffered a 15% pay cut and faces the loss of defined
benefit pension coverage and other contract protections
at YRCW, a leading freight company.  So he found the
bombastic rhetoric of Hoffa and his allies to be quite
out of touch with workplace reality in the trucking
industry.  "We used to have 2.2 million members," he
says with a mixture of wonderment and disgust.  "Now
we're down to 1.3 million Teamsters and these assholes
are bragging about it?"  Lattanzio believes that many
local union officials are privately "scared to death." 
 According to John, "They realize things need to change
or we're dead. . . .  Even Fred Gegare, who's on
Hoffa's own executive board, can see that the union is
not going in the right direction."

Lattanzio and his fellow delegates from Spokane got to
the Teamster convention the hard way, because none of
them are full-time union officials.  They ran as
rank-and-filers, pledged to Pope, and defeated a slate
of pro-Hoffa Local 690 officers and executive board
members in a Teamster affiliate with 3,000 members. 
Along with another TDU activist, Tim Hill, who works as
a feeder driver at United Parcel Service in Spokane,
Lattanzio spent this week handing out Pope flyers,
talking to other delegates who are working members (a
minority of those attending), and posting nightly
accounts of convention activity on YouTube, Facebook,
and the "Local 690/Teamsters United" Web site.  At a
Pope for President fundraiser last Sunday night, which
raised $12,000 in cash and pledges, Hill donated a
week's pay -- $800 -- to the campaign, even though he
has worked only five full weeks so far this year.

A TDU Reunion

Lattanzio first became a union dissident in the 1970s
-- a second-generation member of TDU -- after returning
from a tour of duty in Vietnam and becoming a Teamster
like his father.  Rocky Lattanzio, who is now 80 and
disabled, attended the 1976 Teamster convention in Las
Vegas where soon-to-be TDU co-founder Pete Camarata was
badly beaten by union goons for speaking out on the
convention floor. Camarata had criticized the inflated
(and, often, multiple) salaries of top Teamster
officials, a waste of dues money that continues today. 
He further enraged the officialdom by casting the only
delegate vote against Frank Fitzsimmons, a member of
his own Local 299 in Detroit, who was running for
re-election as IBT president.

Four decades ago, the IBT had no well-organized reform
caucus, membership voting on the top leadership, or any
type of judicial oversight.  The union was a cesspool
of mob influence, benefit fund corruption, various
forms of racketeering, and violence against dissidents
and wildcat strike leaders like Camarata.  Among the
union gangsters at the convention in 1976 were those
from Delaware and New Jersey who had only recently
engineered the killing of James R. Hoffa, the convicted
felon and former IBT president who sired the current
one. (The body of the senior Hoffa, lauded by his son
on Monday, as "the greatest Teamster ever," has never
been found.)

Now retired from the Teamsters, after a long career as
a rank-and-file activist, Camarata talked about his
encounter with John Lattanzio's father, over dinner
last week in Las Vegas.  "It took a lot of nerve for
Rocky to come up and say he was with us.  I had no
friends at all at that convention," Camarata recalled. 
Further impressed by Pete, after reading a pro-TDU
article in Reader's Digest, the Lattanzios invited
Camarata to speak in Spokane in 1978.  Following a
script that hasn't varied in four decades, Teamster
officials quickly began red-baiting their visitor and
his local hosts.  Members were warned that a notorious
TDU radical was coming to town -- Pete "Commie-rata"
from Detroit.

John Lattanzio describes his mother as a woman "not
afraid of anything."  But, knowing what her husband and
son were up against in the Teamsters, even she became
worried.  "What are you involved in?" she asked Rocky. 
To line up a hotel banquet facility for Camarata's
appearance, John Lattanzio emptied his own personal
savings account. But the TDU fundraiser and recruitment
event proved to be a huge success.  It helped establish
the local TDU chapter that, two years later, backed
Rocky's run for president of the local in an early
reform movement victory.

Now, John Lattanzio is mentoring and supporting a
third-generation TDUer in Locval 690, who reminds him
of himself at the same age. Thirty-three year old Tim
Hill has long side-burns, colorful tattoos on both
arms, and an affinity for the Industrial Workers of the
World (IWW).  Hill's Wobbly ties and active grievance
filing almost got him fired early in his 12-year
Teamster career when he was working as a part-time
package sorter for UPS.  The charge was "sabotage" and
the supporting "evidence" IWW tracts downloaded by a
UPS labor relations manager and presented at Hill's own
grievance hearing.  His discharge was changed to a
month-long suspension (a result that could have been
worse since Hill's business agent sided with the
company during the presentation of his case).

An Opening for Reform?

Lattanzio believes there is a political opening for the
reform movement, nationally and in Local 690's own
officer elections  next year.  "People are ready for a
change," he says.  "It's a whole lot different because
of what's happening in UPS, grocery, and freight.  In
1967, the NMFA [National Master Freight Agreement] was
so strong, so solid, that everyone got to live a normal
home life and we had decent working conditions."  Now,
at Lattanzio's freight company, "they're able to work
us 11 or 12 hours a day continuously," with variable
start times, and a backlogged grievance procedure that
does little to curb contracting-out and other contract

Both John and Tim are, nevertheless, encouraged by the
national publicity their photogenic and articulate
candidate for president has been getting in the New
York Times, on CNN, and CBS.  Fifteen years younger
than Hoffa, Pope has 33-years of Teamster work to draw
upon in the grueling four months of campaigning that
lies ahead.  An experienced local officer with a track
record of accomplishment, she ended up winning the
votes of convention delegates who didn't dare support
her publicly.

As Camarata, Lattanzio, Hill, and I were wrapping up
our dinner discussion last Wednesday night, a hulking
Teamster delegate, with a jarhead haircut, got up from
a nearby table and approached ours.  A prison guard
back home, he wanted to wish the two Local 690
delegates well.  Both he and his heavily muscled
companion were visibly troubled by the convention
chairing tactics and booing of delegates that made it
impossible for Pope supporters to be heard, on any
issue.  "We're Hoffa-Hall," he said, with an
embarrassed shrug.  "But we don't agree with what's
been going on.  This is America and people have a right
to disagree."

Last Friday morning, John Lattanzio -- one of those
Teamster known to disagree --joined Sandy Pope on the
stage when she made her acceptance speech.  By that
point in the proceedings, no amount of orchestrated
booing could drown out the reality that 1.3 million
Teamsters will have the final say about who their next
president will be.

(Steve Early was active in the Teamster reform movement
in the late 1970s as an organizer for the Professional
Drivers' Council, which became part of TDU.  He later
served on the staff of the Communications Workers of
America for 27 years and is the author, most recently,
of The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor from Haymarket books.
Earlier versions of this article appeared in Labor
Notes and Working in These Times.) 


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