August 7, 2022

In the Teamsters, a Candidate Tries to Break the Mold

But Ms. Pope, president of the Teamsters Local 805 in Queens since 2005, insists that she can pull off an upset. She argues that the rank and file are tired of Mr. Hoffa and fed up with contracts packed with concessions.

“The anger among the membership is at an all-time high,” said Ms. Pope, who ran unsuccessfully for the union’s No. 2 spot, secretary-treasurer, in 2006 as part of a dissident slate that lost by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1. “The members are much more willing to look for change than five years ago.”

Although the mob influence that once pervaded the Teamsters has been largely rooted out thanks to two decades of federal supervision and scores of indictments and expulsions, the union and its 1.4 million members face other problems. Membership has steadily declined as nonunion trucking companies have taken over much of the market, and the economic downturn has made it hard to negotiate sizable wage increases or in some cases, to avoid contract concessions.

Ms. Pope’s campaign will move into a higher gear after Thursday, when she expects to be officially nominated as a candidate for the presidency at the Teamsters convention in Las Vegas. A third candidate, Fred Gegare, a former supporter of Mr. Hoffa and leader of a Teamsters local in Wisconsin, is also expected to be nominated. The members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are scheduled to vote this fall.

Like many political candidates, Ms. Pope hopes to capitalize on an anti-incumbent fever that has been fueled by the weak economy, and she says she thinks the three-person race will give her an edge as the person least identified with the old guard and a problem-plagued status quo.

But David L. Gregory, a professor of labor law at St. John’s University, questioned Ms. Pope’s chances. “I would suspect Hoffa has a lock on the presidency,” he said. “He seems to have solidified his base.”

Ms. Pope, who is affiliated with Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a powerful faction that has long opposed Mr. Hoffa, said she wanted to make the Teamsters a more dynamic, more combative union that energizes its rank and file far more. But even if she loses, she said, she is confident that her campaign will improve the union by propagating her vision and prodding Mr. Hoffa to adopt some of it.

She said she would have the locals do far more organizing and would move money from headquarters to the locals to pay for it. She also intends to push locals to cooperate more to increase their clout when negotiating with regional employers.

Ms. Pope said that Mr. Hoffa had not been nearly aggressive or tough enough in bargaining or organizing. She criticized several contracts negotiated in recent years, especially the one with YRC Worldwide, the biggest unionized long-haul trucking company, which included a 15 percent pay cut and exempted the company from making pension contributions for nearly two years. Union leaders justified that as an effort to keep the company out of bankruptcy and save more than 25,000 jobs, and the union received some equity in YRC in exchange.

Ms. Pope, 54, is far from the traditional image of a burly male Teamsters president. She is 5-foot-6, weighs 135 pounds and has blond-streaked sandy brown hair that falls past her shoulders. A member of the union since 1978, she drove trucks in the Midwest for years, hauling steel and delivering auto parts, and obtained a black belt in tae kwan do to help protect herself.

Supporters say she is a smart, savvy operator and a charismatic speaker. And she is plenty tough, having faced sexual harassment as a driver and a lot of boos when she ran for secretary-treasurer.

“I’ve had to take a lot of guff,” Ms. Pope said. “Driving a truck is a hard job. It’s hard to drive in snow and ice in Cleveland and Buffalo, going to places you don’t know and making deliveries in the middle of the night.”

She recalled arriving covered in grease to truck stops that had only men’s showers, often asking a waitress to stand guard while she washed up.

Still, Mr. Hoffa’s forces say that they are hardly worried about Ms. Pope.

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