The Woman Who Would Rule the Teamsters
By Stephen Franklin
Here are Sandy Pope's credentials: She's been a
warehouse worker, truck driver and organizer, and
climbed New York City Local 805's ranks until becoming
president in 2005 of the 1,100-plus worker organization.
But does that give her shot at becoming president of the
giant Teamsters' union?
Alexandra "Sandy" Pope thinks so, and this week she said
he plans to face off with James P. Hoffa next year for
the union presidency. "I'm the real Teamster," she says.
"Hoffa came out of a white collar job."
She clearly has challenges to overcome. There's never
been a female president for the 1.3 million-member union
whose membership, according to Pope, is about 30 percent
Still, in her more than 30 years as a Teamster, Pope has
been places where few female union members have set
Indeed, women have rarely made it to the union's top
ranks and so Pope made union history when she was number
two on an opposition slate in 2006.
Plus she comes from the small band of reform-minded
Teamsters, who have been fighting the union's leadership
on and off for more than three decades.
"The members are fed up with Hoffa. He has been riding
on his father's name and the ride is over," says Ken
Paff, head of the dissident Teamsters for a Democratic
Union (TDU). He sees several reasons why this time may
be different for union reformers who have failed in
their last election battles with Hoffa.
One is a split in the ranks that could dilute Hoffa's
strength. Fred Gegare, a former Hoffa supporter from
Wisconsin, has already put his name up for the union's
Another is the union's trouble in keeping up its numbers
and fending off companies' tough contract bargaining.
By Paff's reckoning, the union's membership has dropped
by over 100,000 members since Hoffa took over the union
in 1999. The loss would have been higher, Paff says, if
the Teamsters had not merged with smaller unions.
And then there is the TDU's unending mantra that union
leaders under Hoffa have fattened their wallets while
the union and its members have been suffering.
In 2009, according to the TDU, there were 120 Teamster
officials who earned more than $150,000 in salary, the
largest number ever in the group's tallying over the
As president of local 805 in New York City, Pope says
she earns about $100,000 in salary and benefits.
She doesn't describe herself as an outsider at war with
the union. Rather she talks of "getting along fine" with
the union's leaders in the last few years. She expects
to run up against the same money problems as the last
campaign when "we got outspent 10 to one."
"But we've got the Internet and a lot of other ways to
run a grassroots campaign," she explains.
Measuring the way Teamsters outside of her circle have
treated her in the last few years, she says she hasn't
encountered much negative reaction.
"I think most of the men are ready to vote for a women.
Some may not think a woman can't handle it. But I think
most of the members are ready for a real change."
"I'm a problem solver," she says. "It is the worst
moment that the labor movement has ever faced and we
have to get all hands on deck. You have to get every one
involved to save this union and the labor movement."
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