Ballots for participation in the election of International Brotherhood of Teamsters leadership went out yesterday, October 6, to union members. Longtime Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, in his position now since 1999, is on that ballot, the first national election since 2011.
But there’s another candidate some watchers believe holds a chance of pulling off an upset. Teamsters’ Louisville, Ky., Local 89 leader Fred Zuckerman is a candidate for the General Presidency, joined by a slate of regional vice presidents covering much of the nation and others running under the Teamsters United banner on a platform of better organizing, fewer concessions to employers in contract negotiations and generally increasing the size and scope of the union to bolster its viability as a path to the middle class for the freight haulers and others among the rank and file.
Zuckerman started his 37-year career in trucking as a driver with a Houston-based nonunion tank-haul carrier, where he was part of a group that organized its drivers. In 1983, he ended up in car hauling in Kentucky and drove until 1993, when he went to work at the union hall in Louisville, being elected to his current role there more than a decade ago.
In recent times, he’s led series of “Vote No” efforts centered on what he views as undue concessions made on driver benefits and other contract terms with UPS, whose employees represent the largest share of his local’s membership.
Central to his candidacy, however, is Teamsters expansion and something of a retrenchment in freight. “One of the big things that’s very high on my agenda” as candidate for the general presidency, he says, is bolstering “organizing in our core industry, in the freight industry. We’ve lost density,” he says, down to around 8 percent of the industry all told. “We’ve been organizing in areas other than our core industry, which is hurting us. We haven’t been organizing in freight, our central industry. As a result of that, the standard of living is going down rather than going up. We want to focus on bringing people into the middle class, and we’re not doing that.”
If his candidacy succeeds, he says, “we’re going to be coming at a lot of these companies” with better coordinated organizing campaigns.
Such efforts are key to preserving the pensions of longtime union members, he says. “There are half a million Teamsters right now at risk of losing their pensions in 10 years,” according to reports. Hoffa “hasn’t done anything about it,” he adds.
Zuckerman cites a lack of active participants in the Central State Pension Fund as underscoring Teamsters United’s own projections of its insolvency in as soon as eight years from now, according if things don’t change.
A strong union raising the standard of living for its members, Zuckerman believes, has ripple effects on the businesses among Overdrive‘s primary owner-operator readership. “I think that as the standard of living goes up for [union members, largely company drivers], owner-operators’ standards will also go up,” he says.
At the Teamsters’ nominating convention earlier this past summer in Las Vegas, according to this Daily Labor Report story, Hoffa received 1,424 nominating votes from delegates. Zuckerman won 134, enough to pass the 10 percent threshold “to be placed on the ballot,” wrote reporter Michael Rose.
Whether Zuckerman and Teamsters United slate candidates have enough support among the 1.4 million Teamster members nationwide to win the election outright will be known next month. The ballot counting process starts November 14, Zuckerman says, and will take a couple days.
Ballots are expected to arrive in most members’ mailboxes early next week following the Monday mail holiday.