Potential Teamsters president to visit U

Tyler Rushmeyer

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union boasting 1,200 campus members, will hold elections this fall, and one candidate will be on campus Friday to rally support.

Tom Leedham, general president of Oregon Local 206 for 20 years and former vice president of the national union under Ron Carey, will face incumbent James P. Hoffa in the Teamsters national election in October.

Leedham will bring his 2006 campaign, “Strong Contracts/Good Pensions,” to the mechanical engineering building at 3 p.m. Friday.

This is the third time Leedham has faced Hoffa in a nationwide Teamsters election, which are held every five years.

After former general president Carey was removed from his position in 1997 after allegations of corruption, Hoffa defeated Leedham while obtaining 40 percent of the membership vote in 1998 and again in 2001 with 35 percent of the vote.

Hoffa, a labor lawyer in Detroit for 25 years before being elected in 1998, has served as the general president of the Teamsters union since 1999. He is son of former union leader James R. “Jimmy” Hoffa and will run his campaign under the “Unity” slate.

In June, Leedham won 6 percent of the total delegates’ votes at the Teamsters union national convention in Las Vegas, enough to be placed on the 1.4 million ballots to be mailed to Teamsters nationwide. Candidates need 5 percent of the votes to be on the ballot.

With more than 1,200 unionized employees on campus, opinions are strong for both candidates.

Erik Jensen, a leader of reform activity in Teamsters Local 320 and a senior grounds and building worker at the University, supports Leedham and said it is time for a change.

Jensen, also the treasurer for Leedham-supporting Teamsters for a Democratic Union, said Leedham’s stand against multiple salaries is important.

Officers in Teamsters unions are taking salaries from local, joint councils and national Teamsters unions, he said.

“Officers accept these multiple salaries and it wastes the union’s money,” he said. “This practice strays from union values, and it is something that Leedham has never accepted and is running against.”

Hoffa has increased union dues without a membership vote, and he has protected the corruption that is increasing throughout the union, Jensen said.

“The fact is that all labor unions are under attack by corporate employers and Hoffa has been too cozy with this management,” he said.

Sue Mauren, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 320, which represents 1,300 University employees systemwide, said Hoffa has turned the union around since his election.

When Hoffa took office, the union was nearly bankrupt and its members were left with no strike benefits, Mauren said. Under Hoffa, members can currently be paid 25 percent of their salary while on strike.

“Now we are fiscally sound, and members have seen their strike benefits restored,” she said. “Members now have the ability to defend themselves against employers and are more powerful in their negotiations.”

Patti Dion, the University’s systemwide director of human resources, said the unionized workforce at the University is essential to keeping the institution running and that there has not been a major problem or issue between administration and workers over the past year.

“We are committed to having a working relationship with Teamster workers across campus,” she said. “All unions have their own leadership and officers and that is their internal business. No matter who is elected we will continue to strive for cooperation.”

David Skeie, Teamster Local 320 member and custodian at the University, said the election of Leedham would help reform the Teamsters union on every level and help empower the membership.

Skeie said Leedham’s election would rejuvenate the union.

“Leedham’s a worker who drove truck for UPS for many years, not a lawyer,” Skeie said. “When I met him, he spoke face-to-face to me. I’m a janitor and I can tell you that you won’t find Hoffa anywhere talking to the common member who makes up the union.”

Skeie said many officers have lost touch with the employees who make up the union and encouraged people to come out Friday and hear a voice for change.

Matt Schuth, Local 320 member and employee at the University’s landscape arboretum, said he supports Hoffa and that everything he has seen from the Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the Leedham campaign has been more anti-Teamster and union than anti-employer.

“Leedham and his supporters have always been disruptive,” he said. “I always hear them criticizing Teamsters leadership, whether local or national, no matter who is in charge, yet hardly do I hear a word of criticism against employers.”

Schuth, who has been on the Local 320 bargaining committee for 20 years, said Hoffa has done a good job organizing members and fixing the financial mess Carey and Leedham left behind.