Bad Omen for Next National Freight Contract?

by Charles Walker

When the Teamsters second-highest official makes kissy-face with the bosses, the Teamster ranks have got to be justifiably apprehensive. The official is Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer C. Thomas Keegel. The bosses are the North American Trucking Industrial Relations Association. And in the unionized ranks are more than 100,000 truckers and inside workers.

An industry mouthpiece, Transport Topics (November 21), reported in its on-line edition, “A top Teamsters union official, in what could be a significant turning point in relations with trucking management, pledged to work with trucking companies to increase productivity, improve workplace safety and attract new employees to the industry.”

Solidarity with…the Bosses

On November 30, the Journal of Commerce reported that Keegel “invited carrier executives to next year’s Teamsters Convention…Such informal labor-management meetings were specifically outlawed when Ron Carey ran the IBT from 1991 to 1996.” Actually, such “informal labor-management” gatherings include “hospitality” suites and banquet rooms where serving tables bear lavish delicacies, likely to be washed down with some distiller’s octane, while a small combo serenades pampered union bureaucrats and their corporate hosts.

There can be no doubt that Keegel (and presumably Teamsters President James P. Hoffa) is telling the bosses that business unionism, and blatant class collaboration, once again reign supreme in the international union’s headquarters, the so-called Marble Palace. “I believe we can work in partnerships with companies signatory to our contract,” Keegel said, “and still find ways to make you productive and profitable.” Clearly, Keegel is telling the bosses not to expect a repeat of 1994’s national 24-day strike. That was the first national freight strike in 18 years, and was led by Hoffa’s arch-foe, Ron Carey.

“Our Business Is Selling Labor”

Back in 1948, Teamster kingpin Dave Beck unashamedly told the press, “Unions are big business. Why should truck drivers and bottle washers be allowed to make big decisions affecting union policy? Would any corporation allow it?” Earlier Beck told an interviewer, “I run this place just like the Standard Oil Company or the Northern Pacific Railway. Our business is selling labor. We use businesslike methods.” Five decades later, Keegel is saying the same thing: “A union is no different than running a business. We’re running it like a business. I’m proud of that.”

A Teamster official’s “pledge” to work with the bosses shouldn’t surprise freight workers who recall what happened during the 1994 strike, as reported by Labor Notes (June 1994):

“[C]ertain old guard leaders were working to undermine the strike, apparently in cooperation with the employers.

“For example, Central Conference Chairman Bill Hogan, Jr. criticized the strike on April 11, charging that the employers’ part-timer demands were not worth striking over. His comments were then sent out nationwide by the employers bargaining group.

“On April 22, the heads of the major freight companies issued nearly identical letters to their employees noting that, in the words of Robert Young, head of the employers’ group, ‘there are people inside the Teamster leadership who know that every day this strike continues means extra days of furloughs, or perhaps unemployment…’ Who Young was talking about became clear when he attacked ‘Teamster leaders who used to serve in the United Mine workers.’ Attacks on Teamster staffers who used to work for the UMW is a regular theme of Hogan and other old guard officials.”

Bagman and Stoolie

Another way to measure the threat posed to working Teamsters by Keegel’s tête-à-tête with the freight moguls is the bosses’ admission that Keegel “is the first senior Teamsters official to address the group since former Teamsters President Jackie Presser,” who spoke at their conference in 1984. Workers with a bit of seniority might want to inform the others that Presser was simultaneously a bagman for the Mob, and a stoolie for the FBI.

Older freight workers will also remember Presser’s so-called “Voluntary Laid-off Employees Relief Rider,” which was supposed to save unionized freight jobs by cutting up to 31 percent of the pay and benefits of workers rehired after a layoff. Although Presser campaigned hard for the “rider,” the members voted it down, 94,086 to 13,082.

Has Keegel decided (as did Presser and Hogan before him) to follow the old business unionism refrain, “If you can’ t beat them, join them”? Of course the bosses hope so. As one boss reportedly said at the reception for Keegel, “Don’t create problems or conflicts for us.”

Come to think of it, many Teamsters have a stake in the outcome of Keegel’s machinations with the bosses. That’s because the national freight pact is often used as a benchmark for warehouse and food industry negotiations. So undoubtedly other Teamsters also should an eye on Keegel, right?

December 2, 2000