|NEWSMAKER: JAMES P. HOFFA|
December 7, 1998
|James P. Hoffa was voted president of the Teamsters Union this weekend. His father, Jimmy Hoffa, held the position between 1957-1971 and made it the era's most powerful labor union.|
MARGARET WARNER: James P. Hoffa declared victory this past weekend in the government-supervised union election after his opponent, Tom Leedham, conceded defeat. It was Hoffa's second try for the presidency of the 1.4 million-member Teamsters Union. He narrowly lost in 1996 to Ron Carey, but Carey was later ousted following charges that his campaign benefited from an illegal fund-raising scheme. Hoffa, a 57-year-old Detroit labor lawyer, is the son of the late Jimmy Hoffa, who headed the Teamsters from 1957 to 1971 and made it that era's most powerful labor union. James Hoffa joins us now for a Newsmaker interview.
|Restore the Teamsters.|
MARGARET WARNER: Welcome, Mr. Hoffa.
JAMES P. HOFFA, President-Elect, Teamsters: Nice to be here.
MARGARET WARNER: You ran for this position vowing to restore the Teamsters to the power and strength that endured when your father headed it. How do you plan to do that?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, first of all, we're going do what we're already doing, unify the union. This union has been divided in like a civil war - brother against brother - sister against sister. And I'm pulling it together. We've already seen evidence of that in New York, in Pennsylvania, in California. The first thing is we have to get on the same page. We have to be united in one cause. The second part of the program is that our finances of the union are completely a shambles. We're going to pull that together, rebuild the finances of the union. The third aspect is for us to start going out and organizing. If we're all together, we have money, and we start to organize, you're going to see the Teamsters Union start to bloom.
MARGARET WARNER: And by organize you mean try to build up your membership?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Absolutely. We've been drifting right now. There are members out there that want to join the Teamsters Union in the public sector, regional trucking, food warehousing, traditional areas that we've been strong in, and we're going to emphasize that with a new director of organizing and allocating money to make sure that we have enough money to go into these areas and to grow our union.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how about in the way you deal with employers, are we going to see a militancy, the kind of militancy that we saw say last summer, when the Teamsters struck UPS?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Yes, we are. We're going to be very strong with employers in all of our aspects, because I think there's been too much of this idea let's try and get along here, and we've eroded some of our standards. We have to get very militant with some of these employers to say there's no shortcuts, our people have a right to a fair day's wage for a fair day's pay, and we've got to get that done. And that's going to happen.
|Vulnerable to mobsters?|
MARGARET WARNER: Now, some of your critics, including your opponent, said that some of your plans include things like say making the locals more powerful again and that whether you want it or not, that's going to open the door again - the Teamsters Union - to corruption, to possible mob influence. What do you say to that?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, you know, first of all, my opponents were just beaten soundly in the election, so it shows what people think about what they're saying. They've really been discredited as being people that are dishonest and don't honestly talk about the major issues of this campaign. I do not want to decentralize power, and I think probably the most important thing that was said yesterday was election officer Michael Churkowski, who was a former prosecutor, made a statement that said the Teamsters Union is really now free of organized crime. I agree with that. I agree with Mr. Churkowski, I think that's an important statement.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the Teamsters as a union, though, is still vulnerable to that kind of influence?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, I think - I think your network is probably vulnerable to that kind of influence. We're going to be ever vigilant to make sure it doesn't come back in our union. We've had a democratic election. We've got an executive board that is really the top people in the union. The mob's not coming back in the Teamsters Union. We've gotten rid of them, and we're free to be free of government supervision.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, would you say that actually this government oversight almost government control of the union has been good for the union?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, I think to some extent it has, but now it's at the point where it's oppressive. It's cost us $80 million. We're going on 10 years. And it's time for us to have a meaningful dialogue with the Justice Department, which we're going to begin when I come to office in January, to start saying, you know, what are our goals here, what are our objectives, and the answer is let's have a diminished presence of the government. There is no other international union that has been subject to the scrutiny and to the continued oversight that the Teamsters has, and there really is no reason for it because, as Mr. Churkowski says, we're basically free of organized crime.
|The glory days.|
MARGARET WARNER: Going back to your plans for the union, can in today's economy - can any union recreate the glory days of say your father's era?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, it's very difficult. These are hard times right now. We all know that. We've got a global economy. We seem to have a death spiral to the bottom of what you read in the papers every day -- thousands of people let go every day from Boeing, from Johnson & Johnson, huge hallmark companies. What's going on in this country? Unions stand against those trends. We've got to somehow insulate the robust American economy from this global economy that seems to want to devour our standard of living. And the question is, is Americans, should we sit here and let that happen, should we see our standard of living lower - lowered, because of some idea that there's a global economy out there and we have to make sure that we have a global economy? I think we have to insulate our economy, which is robust and strong, to make sure it provides jobs and the type of benefits that come from that kind of economy.
MARGARET WARNER: But isn't part of the robustness to the American economy that we benefit from the global economy because we sell overseas?
JAMES P. HOFFA: I don't think so. I think we're seeing that like the European economy right now is turning into a balkanization, they're trading amongst themselves, what do we see in China? They're not taking our products anymore. What do we see throughout the world? We see people turning inward, saying, we're only going to buy our products, we're not going to buy American products, but we're going to export to the United States; we're going to dump tons of products, cheap products into the American economy. And as we see with Boeing, the economy can only sustain so much dumping. And what we're seeing in steel and everywhere else is it's starting to have a drastic effect. And what's happening, Americans are being laid off as the Koreans and the Japanese and the Chinese keep dumping cheaper products into our economy. So we have to have some kind of control and some - we're not saying no trade. We're saying there has to be some type of insulation to make sure that our whole economy is not destroyed by this dumping of cheap goods.
MARGARET WARNER: So what are you talking about here? Are you talking about pushing the White House, Congress for higher tariffs? What specifically?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, I think we have to do the common sense thing. We can't wink at the world. You know, we're basically - some economists who run our country evidently are worshiping at this altar of global economy and not being blind to the fact that the damage is being done. I mean, I'm reading the papers, I'm watching the news, and what do I see -- thousands of good jobs, good-paying jobs with health care, with pensions - being destroyed. Now, where are they going to go - work at McDonald's? Oh, they'll get jobs at McDonald's; they'll get jobs at the cleaners, but will they have health care? No, they won't. And what we've got to do is to slow this thing down. I just noticed that USAir, for instance, is buying 300 airplanes from Airbus. Why are they not buying those from Boeing? And if they were, you know what would happen? We wouldn't be having those layoffs with Boeing.
MARGARET WARNER: And what's the answer to your question?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, the answer is we've got to take measures to have fair trade, not free trade.
MARGARET WARNER: I know, but I mean your example of USAir, what is it, is it that Airbus had a better price?
JAMES P. HOFFA: They should be buying American right now, because what's happening over there in the European economy, do you think they're buying Boeing airplanes? Absolutely not, they're not going to buy them at all, and so what we have here is, again, a cannibalization of our own economy. We're destroying our own economy, even though it's robust, because we're buying everything else. We're buying in the world economy but no one's buying our product. That's the problem.
|Two and three jobs to survive.|
MARGARET WARNER: Is this a harder case for you to make because, despite all these layoffs, unemployment is still so low, the stock market is up, personal incomes up, people tend to feel -- if you believe these consumer surveys - they tend to feel kind of good about the economic state of their lives?
JAMES P. HOFFA: I know people that have two and three jobs to survive in America. Maybe you don't know those people, but I do. I know UPS drivers - they're Teamsters - they work at one job; they run to another job and then they run to a third job to survive in America today.
MARGARET WARNER: No, but what I mean is -
JAMES P. HOFFA: Do you think that's good? That's not good. That's a concrete example of what's going on in the country today.
MARGARET WARNER: But is it harder - I take your point - but is it harder, nonetheless, to make the case say to Congress, given the state of the economy? Are they listening to these people who have two and three jobs to keep up?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, I think what's happening is we have to - the organized labor, the AFL-CIO - have to make that point - to tell people - tell the lawmakers of what's going on in this country. Basically, all the studies show that less people today have health care than they did 10 years ago. Studies show that less people today in America have pensions that had 10 years ago. Is that good for America? No, it's not. And that's part of this cannibalization of our own workers.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, do you think that - you said earlier today in another interview - you said we've got to slow this globalization down - won't you be swimming against the tide? Can you really - given the way capital moves around the world today - given the fact that governments have limited control even on the sort of pace and intensity of globalization?
JAMES P. HOFFA: Well, don't forget, globalization has only been brought about perhaps in the last 10 years, and it's a contrived effort, by the moneyed interests of the world to move money around. They're the ones that are making the NAFTA laws; they're the ones that are making these laws that are basically knocking down the protection we used to have in our economy. You know, take NAFTA. Look at the thousands and thousands of jobs that have moved out of this country to Mexico. We're putting Mexicans to work, and we're laying off Americans. Is that a good idea? I don't think so. And that's the problem. We've got to somehow slow it down. We're not against trade, but we have to have fair trade, not free trade.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thanks, Mr. Hoffa, very much.
JAMES P. HOFFA: Thank you.