Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hoffa soft on Obama and vice versa

By Herman Benson

There must be more to it.

If in quest of change the Democratic primaries had not lifted affairs into the loftier realm of statesmanship, we would have to conclude that this was simply another example of the tired old horse trading politics that so debases life in America. “Obama has indicated willingness to end federal oversight of the Teamsters.” So reported Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times on February 24. In contrast, Bill Clinton indicated that under Hillary, the monitorship would continue. What followed was “The unexpected endorsement of Barack Obama by Teamsters President James Hoffa.” A spokesperson for the Obama office, confirming the accuracy of Novak’s report, told one reporter that the Teamsters Independent Review Board has run its course, that organized crime influence is down, and that the Teamsters are being held to a higher standard than other unions.

The IRB, empowered by court order to act against corruption in the Teamster union, has been an effective force against organized crime. It is true that, on corruption matters, the Independent Review Board has held the Teamsters to a high standard --- that difficult task has been its finest achievement, one that no other agency, government or private, law enforcement or civil, has been able to do before. But not exactly to a standard higher than expected of other unions. The Teamsters are required only to meet anti-corruption standards we should expect --- at least demand --- of other unions. If some other unions fall short, does that give the Teamsters a free pass? Senator Obama proposes to lift the moral standards of the nation’s politics. Could he begin by lowering standards for the Teamsters union?

Is organized crime influence down so far that it is time to jettison the Independent Review Board? That raises an interesting question. Valid or not, how did the Obama team reach that conclusion? It is a fair question, because there is no reason to believe that, in their busy days, they themselves ever had occasion even to think about it. They have been so preoccupied with other pressing matters. Surely they have not had time to consult the IRB itself or its investigating arm which is still busy eradicating ties between Teamster officials and organized crime. Surely they never took time to question the Department of Justice or the presiding federal judge who are giving the IRB full support and have rejected every demand that they suspend their efforts. Surely they never consulted Ed Stier, the man whom President Hoffa himself retained to come up with proposals that could demonstrate that the union would effectively combat corruption if the IRB would only go away.

Ed Stier did his part. After many months of effort, he did design a program which --- if honestly carried out --- could have served as a possible substitute for the IRB. Stier even tried to implement the proposed plan by actually acting to expose crooks in the IBT. Once Hoffa, obviously surprised, realized that Stier took the job seriously and would not serve as a mere PR prop, he lost interest. In breaking with Hoffa, Stier charged that Hoffa was actually sabotaging the anti-corruption campaign. With Stier gone, Hoffa is obviously looking for a new prop for the old PR campaign against the IRB. Along comes the Obama team in the search for votes; whoever it was that decided to go easy on Hoffa must have confined research to the Hoffa PR team.

What is involved here transcends the IRB’s responsibility to act against corruption in the Teamsters union. The Independent Review Board is a pivotal part of a federal monitorship that has given working Teamsters the right to elect their international officers in a fair election. After generations of mob control, intimidation, and murders in the union, the federal monitorship stands as a defense of the right of members to elect international officers by direct membership vote in an honest count, to the right of candidates to equal access to the union magazine during elections. Undermine that system and you undermine the right of Teamsters to control their own union.


Richard said...

I recall reading your piece once it was posted here and have returned today. Matt put a link up on Union Review, where I posted a piece on Obama.

I wrote a comment back to Matt today and thought to just come here. I am keen to know what your motivation is for this piece? I cannot help but wonder if you are just a man in line with the TDU, which is, of course, fine, but it is for this reason alone that you are for Clinton.

These are just my presumptions, but if they are accurate, why not just say where you really stand and why?

My concern is that this kind of a post just separates more as one labor movement, which, in my opinion, should not go with a presidential candidate whose advisors are also working on trade deals that hurt us, who is as married to NAFTA as the current administration, who cannot be trusted for anything to better working people in this country.

Thanks, Mr. Benson.
-Richard Negri / Union Review

Richard said...

Here is what this thread is about:
1. I posted a piece on Union Review about Barack Obama for President.
2. Matt Noyes posted a comment suggesting that people be aware of your (Mr. Benson) piece about the IRB/ IBT.
3. I got pissed off and transferred some unkind energy and commented about Mr. Benson's motivations.
4. Matt Noyes wrote back about the importance of people knowing about the IBT/ IRB relationship.
5. I apologize for my tone from yesterday and provide my take on the IRB/IBT relationship.

Below is the original post on Obama, followed by the comments between Matt and myself.


I have seen a lot of disappointments and successes in the union movement in the United States; especially over the last three years of publishing Union Review. If there is a rhythm to what is and is not taking place in the United States it would have to be our lame administration. We have an anti-union president, NLRB, and more and more power transferred to the largest of union busting corporations. Clearly I am concerned with who will be taking office after this election.

While the AFL-CIO is spending a lot of dollars, time and energy on its anti-McCain campaign and the Change to Win is going with Obama ... I have watched close to both Democratic candidates since Edwards pushed out of the race.

I am going with Obama – and I think you should too.

I believe that Obama is serious when he says he will strengthen our ability to organize unions. I believe him when he says that he will fight for the Employee Free Choice Act. I believe him when he states that his labor appointees will support workers’ rights and that he will work to ban the permanent replacement of workers.

Many working people know that going on strike is often a last resort – but that it is a tool that we are often left no choice but to employ. Unfortunately, many working people also know what it is like to lose our jobs to scabs crossing our lines and taking less money, unaffordable health care, and take what they can get their hands on.

Can you imagine a president coming out and saying that he supports the right of workers to bargain collectively and to STRIKE if necessary? We need to be able to strike so that we can stand up for ourselves without the worry that some moronic scab will take our jobs. Obama has pledged to work toward BANNING replacement workers!

Then there is the misclassification issue that many of us deal with. Whether we are taxi drivers in California, nurses and health care providers, construction workers or FedEX drivers and sorters ... we have all known, first hand, the utter rubbish associated with misclassification.

Obama is a cosponsor of legislation that would overturn the “Kentucky River” decisions that classified hundreds of thousands of nurses, construction, and professional workers as “supervisors” who are not protected by federal labor laws – and that goes a long way with me. We need more Mickey Mouse laws overturned and stronger, union-made laws put in place. I truly believe that Obama can do this ... and more!

I am not going to head into a whole Clinton-bashing segment of this entry, but I will tell you this: I am not comfortable with anyone as married to NAFTA as Clinton is. I am not comfortable with a Clinton who sat on the Board of Wal-Mart ... knowing full-well how this company has continued to mistreat its workforce while instilling an anti-union rhetoric and propaganda parade as part of its corporate culture. I am not comfortable with a Clinton who has recently lied about being against NAFTA, lied about being shot at in a warzone ... or, well anything else. While I think it is exciting to see a woman running for president, this is not the woman I want to run the country. I simply don’t think that she can do it – or at least do it right.

Are you ready to join me?

Comment by Matt Noyes:
Did people notice Robert Novack's piece on Obama's plan to end federal oversight of the Teamsters union?

Herman Benson has a piece on this:

The IRB, empowered by court order to act against corruption in the
Teamster union, has been an effective force against organized crime. It
is true that, on corruption matters, the Independent Review Board has
held the Teamsters to a high standard --- that difficult task has been
its finest achievement, one that no other agency, government or
private, law enforcement or civil, has been able to do before. But not
exactly to a standard higher than expected of other unions. The
Teamsters are required only to meet anti-corruption standards we should
expect --- at least demand --- of other unions. If some other unions
fall short, does that give the Teamsters a free pass? Senator Obama proposes to lift the moral standards of the nation’s politics. Could he begin by lowering standards for the Teamsters union?
(me, pissed off from a weird day, transferring undue disrespect)

I, speaking ONLY FOR ME, not the Teamsters, or even Union Review ... but as one simple working guy ... read Benson's piece and wondered if he ever worked-worked ... meaning, how long has he been looking to find items to discuss that creates a greater separation among working people at a time when we are starving for unity? Maybe I am ignorant, but ... I read this when it first got posted on 3/13 and thought, OK ... he is writing this because 1)He, like many others in the union movement, hates everything Teamsters because the union is a big and powerful target, and we love to hate the big and powerful in our ranks. 2) He is a strong supporter of the TDU and will speak their speak no matter what or 3) He is not interested in supporting a candidate who is less married to NAFTA. (Just last night her chief strategist had to step down because of his involvement with yet another "free trade deal." Is Benson in favor of free and fair trade deals and sending more work to other countries? Is Benson a Republican? Is Benson for Clinton, simply because she and her husband went out in favor of Carey against Hoffa?

Matt, I totally respect you and all your work, so, please don't read this any other way than with true respect, but: Can you honestly tell me what Benson's motivations were for writing this?

In my humble opinion (again, not to sound at all cynical), I wish Benson would have just said ... "A ha, since I was a TDU Carey man, and thus a Clinton Man ... I want to tell you about Obama and Jim Hoffa." In other words, I cannot see any reason to this article from Benson, why you are bringing it up, and instead not talking about this.
Matt Noyes, writing; asking why the speculation:

Richard, thanks for your reply. I'll forward your comments to Benson and let him reply as to his motives, if he likes. (Probably on his blog.)

I can tell you that to me the piece is straightforward. I doesn't make any of the arguments you suggest and it is not pro-Clinton or pro-any candidate.

Benson's argument boils down to this: whatever your political allegiances, Obama's position in favor of ending the federal monitorship in the Teamsters union is important and worth discussing.

Why? Because Obama is taking sides in an important debate in the union movement, not the only debate by any means, but an important one for those who want to see unions become both stronger and more democratic.

You may think it is time to end the government's role in the Teamsters. Certainly the IBT leadership thinks so. If so, Benson raises several issues that challenge your point of view.

If you want to tackle Benson, go to the issues -- argue in favor of ending the federal monitorship, argue that Obama was right to take that position. Drop the guessing about Benson's motives and loyalties.

(Two more suggestions: "creating separation among working people" -- you need to drop this line of attack. It is not helpful. It's just a tired old dodge leaders use to try to suppress criticism instead of answering it. Likewise the "did this guy ever work-work" line.)
----MY RESPONSE AND TAKE ON THE IRB involvement with the Teamsters Union.

Matt, As I wrote in my email to you, I apologize for my tone yesterday. It was an odd day where I was forced to read between the lines of, well ... anything anyone wrote. I believe I transferred some of that onto you and Benson; totally uncalled for and ... I am not hitting the coffee pot so hard today.

In regard to the issues that you and Benson bring up, and which I will also post to his site, I do believe it is time that the government gets out of the Teamster business.

As far as I understand, the IRB began filing charges in 1991 relating to organized crime's involvement with the IBT. Between '91 and '99, they filed 181 charges relating to organized crime, and since 2000, the IRB brought 4 cases relating to organized crime forward, no doubt, a dramatic reduction since it all began.

My take on it is this: If the IRB is in place to remove organized crime from the International, hasn't it long proved its job is done? The IRB, I am guessing, would agree; only because it primarily focuses on Teamster issues out of its jurisdiction.

Isn't it the work of the Department of Labor or the FBI to handle corruption and other issues that arise at unions? Isn't that what is happening with UNITE HERE and LiUNA, both of which were once under the same kind of trusteeship? Why shouldn't the Teamsters be able to police itself in the same manner as these other unions? I suppose that part doesn't make sense to me, mainly because the IRB has done its job and is fishing for work outside its scope. The government didn't do this with either of the other two unions, did they?

With the fact that the union, especially since 2001, has been more democratic, the Teamsters and the DOJ should negotiate a renewed partnership to release the union from the Consent Decree and begin to police itself like any other union or business.

We got on this whole matter because of my "endorsement" of Barack Obama, and while yesterday I was annoyed that this came into the fold, today I am a little more relaxed and less ...well, bitchy. In the end, I still strongly believe that, regardless of this point you and Benson bring forward, union workers (and those whom wish to be union) have a candidate.

I believe we need a president, such as Obama, who has gone on record about banning replacement workers, revisiting NAFTA while opposing other like trade agreements; about misclassification and, of course, EFCA. These and other important issues continue to face every American worker, therefore, I think Obama is the candidate worthy of every worker's vote for president.

Herman Benson said...

Richard: No need to apologize for tone. I prefer people that feel strongly and speak their mind, Makes me feel free to speak mine! My motivation for writing the piece is simple. I feel strongly that the IRB as part of the government monitorship is essential now to Teamster democracy. We try to defend union democracy without regard to political views. If the Obama people, looking for votes, are ready to undercut union democracy, they should be called to account even if they were the most wonderful people in the world.

I should add that I, myself, support neither one of the two candidates against the other. In fact, I am a registered Working Families member and not even eligible to vote in the Demo primary.

I started working for a living at the age of 18, most of the time as a machinist and toolmaker, and never stopped until retirement.

So, Richard, let me ask you one: Since you are obviously an Obama fan --and I can respect that view --- does that mean you are willing to overlook a sleazy campaign overture to Hoffa . Or to put it another way: forget about Benson for a moment. what is YOUR opinion of the deal? Regards, Herman