In the Teamsters, a Candidate Tries to Break the Mold
By Steven Greenhouse
New York Times
June 27, 2011
Sandy Pope acknowledges straightaway that she faces an
uphill battle - she is the first woman to run for the
presidency of the very macho Teamsters union, and she
is running against a three-term incumbent, James P.
Hoffa, who has the most famous last name in American
But Ms. Pope, president of the Teamsters Local 805 in
Queens since 2005, insists that she can pull off an
upset. She argues that the rank and file are tired of
Mr. Hoffa and fed up with contracts packed with
"The anger among the membership is at an all-time
high," said Ms. Pope, who ran unsuccessfully for the
union's No. 2 spot, secretary-treasurer, in 2006 as
part of a dissident slate that lost by a ratio of
nearly 2 to 1. "The members are much more willing to
look for change than five years ago."
Although the mob influence that once pervaded the
Teamsters has been largely rooted out thanks to two
decades of federal supervision and scores of
indictments and expulsions, the union and its 1.4
million members face other problems. Membership has
steadily declined as nonunion trucking companies have
taken over much of the market, and the economic
downturn has made it hard to negotiate sizable wage
increases or in some cases, to avoid contract
Ms. Pope's campaign will move into a higher gear after
Thursday, when she expects to be officially nominated
as a candidate for the presidency at the Teamsters
convention in Las Vegas. A third candidate, Fred
Gegare, a former supporter of Mr. Hoffa and leader of a
Teamsters local in Wisconsin, is also expected to be
nominated. The members of the International Brotherhood
of Teamsters are scheduled to vote this fall.
Like many political candidates, Ms. Pope hopes to
capitalize on an anti-incumbent fever that has been
fueled by the weak economy, and she says she thinks the
three-person race will give her an edge as the person
least identified with the old guard and a problem-
plagued status quo.
But David L. Gregory, a professor of labor law at St.
John's University, questioned Ms. Pope's chances. "I
would suspect Hoffa has a lock on the presidency," he
said. "He seems to have solidified his base."
Ms. Pope, who is affiliated with Teamsters for a
Democratic Union, a powerful faction that has long
opposed Mr. Hoffa, said she wanted to make the
Teamsters a more dynamic, more combative union that
energizes its rank and file far more. But even if she
loses, she said, she is confident that her campaign
will improve the union by propagating her vision and
prodding Mr. Hoffa to adopt some of it.
She said she would have the locals do far more
organizing and would move money from headquarters to
the locals to pay for it. She also intends to push
locals to cooperate more to increase their clout when
negotiating with regional employers.
Ms. Pope said that Mr. Hoffa had not been nearly
aggressive or tough enough in bargaining or organizing.
She criticized several contracts negotiated in recent
years, especially the one with YRC Worldwide, the
biggest unionized long-haul trucking company, which
included a 15 percent pay cut and exempted the company
from making pension contributions for nearly two years.
Union leaders justified that as an effort to keep the
company out of bankruptcy and save more than 25,000
jobs, and the union received some equity in YRC in
Ms. Pope, 54, is far from the traditional image of a
burly male Teamsters president. She is 5-foot-6, weighs
135 pounds and has blond-streaked sandy brown hair that
falls past her shoulders. A member of the union since
1978, she drove trucks in the Midwest for years,
hauling steel and delivering auto parts, and obtained a
black belt in tae kwan do to help protect herself.
Supporters say she is a smart, savvy operator and a
charismatic speaker. And she is plenty tough, having
faced sexual harassment as a driver and a lot of boos
when she ran for secretary-treasurer.
"I've had to take a lot of guff," Ms. Pope said.
"Driving a truck is a hard job. It's hard to drive in
snow and ice in Cleveland and Buffalo, going to places
you don't know and making deliveries in the middle of
She recalled arriving covered in grease to truck stops
that had only men's showers, often asking a waitress to
stand guard while she washed up.
Still, Mr. Hoffa's forces say that they are hardly
worried about Ms. Pope.
"She can wish upon a prayer of a rainbow," said John
Murphy, a Teamsters vice president for the Eastern
Region who is a member of Mr. Hoffa's slate. "She's
very critical, but she doesn't offer any solutions. She
doesn't have a rationale to justify her campaign. She's
a vanity candidate."
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