By Juan Garcia and Florence Oppen, 3/30/16
It seems that unless trustworthy rank & file workers regain control over their union, the Teamster’s union will never be clean. Another scandal broke into the news regarding one of the union’s worst case of bureaucratic management: Rome Aloise, the Northern California Teamster boss, a friend, appointee and slate-mate (he’s running for International Vice President) of Hoffa (Principal Officer of IBT), has been charged by the justice department (NLRB) with various acts of corruption, including racketeering and influence-peddling.
This kind of corruption is not new in the Teamsters (nor generally in unions), as neither are the efforts of numerous rank and file members who want to get rid of this corrupt and undemocratic bureaucracy, which has been using union dues for their personal benefits and negotiating subpar contracts for its members. The Teamsters For a Democratic Union (TDU) caucus, created in 1976, which is still active and growing, is just the most visible expression of the accumulated frustration and resistance of the many workers who want to rebuild a strong union, specifically a democratic and fighting one.
Who is Aloise and What is he Accused of?
- Rome Aloise, as is the sadly case in unhealthy workers’ organizations and unions, holds multiple positions in the union, including being the Vice-President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, & leader of the Northern California Joint Council 7 and Local 853. Besides accumulating union jobs and paychecks, with a total salary and allowances of $346, 000, the Independent Review Board is bringing proof that he has also been involved in a number of crimes and violations of his union duties towards the workers. These include: racketeering, requesting and accepting gifts from employers during negotiations, including admissions to Playboy’s Super Bowl Party for Hoffa’s Executive assistant and his friends, trying to leverage jobs for his relatives from employers, including UPS, Costco and others during labor negotiations and using union resources to oppose political opponents in the union and prevent fair elections.
Are Workers Doomed to be Led and Sold Out by Crooks Like Aloise?
The Teamsters union has a horrible record of having a corrupt and parasitic bureaucracy. The conviction of Jimmy Hoffa in 1964 for tampering, fraud and bribery and the links of the leadership with organized crime, which have resulted in the murder of internal political opponents is well known. Yet, for the workers represented by the union, which today still has 1.3 million members, the worst is not even the luxurious and decadent way of life of the union crooks, but the fact that their contracts get sold out & under-bargained over and over, as these bureaucrats make deals with the bosses, where they obtain private favors and gifts in exchange of “maintaining union peace” (as it has been proven many times, in particular in the 1988 indictment) or in exchange of lower wages and benefits.
These entrenched bureaucratized leaders, almost like a Hoffa monarchy, has stopped long time ago advocating for the workers and negotiating on their behalf, and now just makes money on their backs, and allows the big corporations to push health-care cuts, 2nd/3rd tier pensions, and other attacks. And of course, the union leadership has been using all of its resources to maintain its power and to crush over and over workers’ attempt to rebel: be it in a local, at a contract negotiation where they disagreed with the outcome and wanted to take action, or in a local or national election.
But this does not have to be this way. Other forms of unionism exist- they existed in the past and exist in other countries. It is true that with the rise of big corporations in the 1920’s many unions also became gigantic monsters, as they thought you can only beat corporate power with corporate-like power. But in reality, the kinds of unionism that has brought the most significant and durable changes and gains for the workers in the U.S. has been the radical and politicized unions like the CIO in the 1930’s, which organized the unorganized, believed in the mass action of workers and solidarity between locals and job sectors, fought against racism, and were initially independent of the Democratic and Republican Party. We know that we have a long way to go back to that kind of democratic, bottom-up active unionism, which is able and willing to deal with national political issues, as well as with tough bosses, but it is possible, and we need to start now.
Teamsters at the University of California
At the University of California, Local 2010 members, like other underpaid workers of the UC, have been needing an increase in their salary to meet rising inflation and living costs in their respective cities, especially the UC campuses in Berkeley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. Our members are the staff that is the core that helps the UC function and run, along with the faculty, lecturers, graduate student instructors/researchers, custodial workers, service workers and technical workers. In contrast to the highly paid upper echelons of administrators, like the UC Regents, President and Chancellors, whose salaries are in the higher six figures, many Clerical workers and Custodial workers have a hard time living in the cities they work in and are barely getting by. It is a big shame when one of the top public higher education university systems is not able to pay a majority of workforce a living wage and the benefits and healthcare they deserve.
Besides the critical salary increases, the Teamsters also have to fightback concessions in the UC’s attempt to weaken our pensions and reduce our healthcare benefits, along with better job protection and to stop increase workload that many members have been experiencing since the 2009 budget cuts period began (when the UC started initiatives to shrink its staff and combine work to “balance” their budget.).
On the pension front, the UC Regents and President Janet Napolitano have been discussing to move a lot of its workforce, especially new and recent hires, into 401 K pension plans, which are more unstable (due to being part of the stock market) and risky compared to the way current funded pension plans. However, one of the major reasons why othe UC pension plans have been put into debt is due to the UC administration’s privatization of the pension fund in 2010 (which at the time was doing fine), & that now is runned by a private multinational corporation Fidelity. This absurd decision is costing a lot of money to UC employees, which now are forced to make increasing contribution to keep their pension, and it is enriching the pockets of the financial investors and speculators.
The Combined Efforts of the Reform Slate and Rank-and-File Activism
In response to the worsening working conditions that UC Teamsters have been facing, and the current Teamster’s leadership inability to educate and organize the membership base, Team Rank and File (R&F), a new caucus of composed of rank and file activists (and also has supporters of TDU), just recently ran for the elections to be picked as delegates to the Teamsters National Convention that takes place in June 2016. Though Team R&F did not win the elections, they used the election as an opportunity to build their team’s experience in fighting the entrenched “misleadership” and to build a statewide team and supporters.
Team R&F and the members that support it, are taking the first steps needed to build the foundation to reform their union in order to prepare the fight-back needed to oppose the UC administrations continued privatization and austerity. Team R&F’s goal is to rally the membership to the need of an alternative union leadership that will seek to organize and mobilize the rank and file to fight the UC’s offensive. This coming year, Team R&F hopes to increase its size and influence through the contract fight and the fight against the UC’s next austerity policies, and will take on the bureaucratic leadership in the next leadership (i.e. officer) elections in early 2016.
We think it is important to combine union reform efforts, i.e. to replace a leadership that is not actively engaged in a democratic fashion with its members and is not pushing to stop the cutbacks, with efforts to bring the whole membership into action. First, we’ll need to educate our members on the importance of fighting for a good contract in the coming year, and then our next step is to prepare our members and allies for a contract campaign that will be able to pressure the UC to give us what we deserve. Our union will have to start with the basics – involving our rank and file in the contract campaign through educational activities, but also preparing them for all the tools and weapons our union will need to use to get the contract we need – like strikes and work-stoppages. Convincing someone to do these actions takes a lot of work and time, but is possible, and we’ve had campus workers, including our union, who have had successful contract campaigns and strikes.
In fact, we just had an important victory at UC Berkeley & it is important to highlight as a model to follow. Just this past month (March), contracted custodian and service workers won their demand to be in-sourced and unionized galvanize. This was an 8-month long campaign that was planned and organized by the contracted workers along with AFSCME 3299, students from the Student Labor Committee and received a lot of support from the other students and campus workers. This courageous team of workers and students educated and organized itself and did petitions, rallies, actions, a speaker boycott, and many other activities for 8 months and finally pressured the UC Berkeley administration to accept their demands to become permanent & unionized workers, which gave them much improved salaries and benefits that other UC workers enjoy.
Let´s fight for a living wage and no concessions in our benefits! UC staff deserves full benefits!
Let’s support and build Team Rank and File to build a stronger and more democratic union!
Down with Aloise, Hoffa and all the corrupt leadership! Teamster members need complete transparency and recall procedures for corrupt and sell-out leaders who trade off worker´s rights for perks!
 Juan is a member of IBT Local 2010
 http://apsforupte.org/apvoices/2013-07-17.html ; http://www.independent.com/news/2016/jan/18/living-wages-left-out-library-renovations/
 The current Local 2010 leadership are supporters of the Aloise & Hoffa slate. In fact, Aloise, as the top West Coast and California Teamsters was one of the main persons who engineered the transformation of Local 2010 from an independent unión in 2010, to another local that was modeled after the Hoffa business unión. In the span of 5 years, Local 2010 became another union with a highly-paid and bloated staff, and keeps its membership in the dark on how it spends its money (i.e. members dues) and makes decisions, among other mismanagement and lack of transparency.