BNA Daily Labor Report
Monday, June 25, 2001
Hoffa, Leedham Expect Nomination At Teamsters' Convention in Las Vegas
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters' 26th convention, opening June 25 in Las Vegas, is likely to prove less contentious than the prior gathering of union delegates five years ago in Philadelphia, those involved in the IBT election process say.
Like the last convention in 1996, the main purpose of this year's five-day event will be the nomination of international officers. And again this time, the incumbent president and his slate is being challenged.
James P. Hoffa, who in 1996 faced off against then-President Ron Carey, ultimately won election to the union's top spot in a 1998 rerun election after Carey was forced from office in a campaign finance scandal.
This time around, Hoffa faces a challenge from Tom Leedham, an official in the Carey administration, who lost to Hoffa in the 1998 rerun (235 DLR AA-1, 12/8/98).
Unlike at the Philadelphia convention five years ago, however, the two candidate slates this time are much less evenly matched in their delegate strength, both sides say. In 1996, challenger Hoffa, in fact, commanded slightly more delegates than incumbent Carey.
This year, Leedham is expected to have a sufficient number of delegates to meet the low threshold of 5 percent of delegate votes required for nomination. With 1,745 delegates certified by the election administrator to participate in the proceedings, Leedham needs only the support of 88 delegates to get his name placed on the ballot this fall.
Leedham campaign spokeswoman Sandy Pope said the campaign estimates that at least 120 delegates ran for election as declared Leedham supporters, and there are others who have not come out publicly to back the candidate.
"We plan to go in there, get nominated, and get the hell out," Pope said, adding the important time will be the election campaign that follows.
The Hoffa campaign, meanwhile, in May said it had 90 percent of the elected delegates in its camp. Campaign spokesman Richard Leebove said Hoffa in his two-plus years in office has been able to unite the union, which had been divided badly by the contentious 1996 election and ensuing events.
Now, he said, a number of Carey supporters have come over to the Hoffa camp. He noted, for example, that Carey's former union local, Long Island Local 804, elected delegates who are declared Hoffa supporters.
Both the Hoffa and Leedham camps say constitutional changes that they want to see approved will make up an important part of the business during the five-day convention. Both sides advocate so-called "one-member, one-vote" language that would make permanent provisions of the constitution that require the election of international officers in voting open to all union members, not just convention delegates, which is a common practice among unions.
Language specifying the direct election of officers was incorporated into the IBT constitution at the union's 1991 convention, two years after the Teamsters settled the government's civil racketeering suit through a consent decree. The intent of the consent decree was to root out corruption and organized crime influences and to instill democratic principles in the union. The direct election of
officers was seen as a key part of this democratization process, the language specifying this was incorporated as part of the settlement.
Thirteen years after the consent agreement was approved, Hoffa is actively pursing the termination of the 1989 decree, arguing that the objectives of the decree have been accomplished and it is time for the union to handle its own affairs free of government interference. He has stated that making the one-member, one-vote language a permanent part of the constitution is a key step in assuring democracy in the union.
Leedham and his supporters also have deemed this constitutional change critical. They have expressed concern, however, that once the consent decree ends and the government no longer has oversight of the union's internal affairs, current democratic practices would be eroded unless they are made a permanent part of the constitution.
The Leedham slate, known as the Rank and File Power Slate, also plans to put forward other democratization proposals including a constitutional amendment requiring the election of business agents at the local level as well as the election of shop stewards, according to Matt Ginsburg, Leedham's campaign manager.
"We don't have any expectation that our resolutions and amendments will be approved by the constitution committee, he said, noting that the committee is controlled by Hoffa supporters.
However, Leedham delegates plan to bring their proposals up on the floor of the convention, Ginsburg said, where they believe there is more support among the delegates.
Another issue for Leedham forces, he said, is approval of a proposal to build a strong strike fund in anticipation of upcoming national negotiations with United Parcel Service in 2002 and the national master freight agreement in 2003.
On the opening day of the convention June 25, several political leaders will address the gathering being held at the Paris Hotel Convention Center. Delegates will hear from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D- S.D.), Sen John Ensign (R-Nev.), and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.).