Teamsters for a Democratic Union has been fighting uphill battles since its founding in 1980, alerting fellow union members to corruption occurring within their ranks. Their workload isn’t likely to get any lighter, given that general elections are set to be held this fall. TDU has been a steadfast opponent of James P. Hoffa, since 1999 president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. They’re accusing Hoffa of pulling out the stops to defeat chief rival Tom Leedham and his “Strong Contracts, Good Pensions” slate.
Union politics have never followed a standard “Democrat vs. Republican” script. It’s a world where candidates and their followers sling mud with extra ferocity, and where payback has no mercy. Portland, Ore. Teamsters chieftain Leedham, who served as a general vice president and director of the union’s warehouse division during Ron Carey’s presidency, has challenged Hoffa, unsuccessfully, for the top spot before, in a 1998 special election and again in a 2001 regular election. He wants another go at it. His people, including TDU activists, think he’s going to succeed this time around.
Back in October Leedham supporters won all 27 delegate slots within Louisville’s Local 89, the IBT’s fourth largest. TDU activists say that Hoffa is running scared – and has resorted to unethical and illegal tactics to ward off his main challenger. Hoffa’s people, they allege, have done the following: illegally used union funds to poll carhaulers; intimidated members for receiving and reading reform literature; forcibly transferred members from Local 549 (Kingsport, Tenn.) in retaliation against Local President T.C. Bundrant’s decision to run on Leedham’s slate; tore down Leedham campaign literature; overcharged delegate candidates for labels in a campaign mailing; pressured an employer to make a donation to the Hoffa campaign; and made misleading displays of literature inside union halls. The situation would be worse, notes TDU, were it not for its counsel, Barbara Harvey, filing complaints and (mostly) winning. More such accusations are likely to surface in the months ahead, especially as one of Hoffa’s own vice presidents, Tom O’Donnell, has bolted and declared his own candidacy for president. (www.tdu.org, 1/18; other sources).