Hoffa campaigns in Baltimore Renewed growth, restoration of local autonomy promised


March 12, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

James Hoffa Jr. -- the son of the Teamsters leader whose disappearance 21 years ago remains one of this century's great mysteries -- came to Baltimore yesterday in his yearlong quest to land his father's former job.

Mr. Hoffa, 54, is challenging Teamsters President Ron Carey, credited in some quarters with cleaning corruption and fiscal mismanagement out of the 1.4 million member-union, in what is shaping up as a spirited, if not contentious, race.

Ballotting, which will have government oversight, will take place by mail in November. Mr. Hoffa says he can win the race if his campaign can stir at least 400,000 members to send in ballots.

Sporting a baseball-type jacket with his name embroidered on the front and an 18-wheeler truck with the logo "Friends of Hoffa" on the back, Mr. Hoffa met with local members, including truck drivers at the United Parcel Service plant in Hunt Valley, textile cleaners at Coyne Textile Services in Southwest Baltimore and workers at a Toyota parts supply warehouse in Glen Burnie.

Mr. Hoffa trumpeted a double-barreled platform theme: Mr. Carey has not lived up to his promises and only James Hoffa can bring unity and growth to a union in decline.

Mr. Hoffa vowed that, if elected, he would restore financial health to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters without a union dues increase in his first term and that he would restore control of union shops to local officers.

But much of his pitch focused on denouncing Mr. Carey, Teamsters president since 1991. Mr. Carey was elected in a government-controlled election, the first to allow one vote to each member.

"I decided to run because I didn't want to sit back and watch the greatest union this country has ever known be destroyed," Mr. Hoffa said.

"Under Mr. Carey, the Teamsters has lost 100,000 members, and is now a union divided. There are what Mr. Carey calls the new Teamsters and what he calls the old guard. The labels have divided us. I want to focus on unity and opportunities for organizing new memberships," he said.

Mr. Hoffa, who has spent the last two years working as executive assistant to the president of Michigan Teamsters Joint Council 43, also contended that Mr. Carey has driven the union's national finances into the ground by depleting it of more than $100 million.

The Detroit resident downplays his 27-year career as a lawyer and plays up being a "card-carrying Teamsters member for 26 years."

Mr. Hoffa vowed yesterday that if elected his priorities would be:

* Getting Teamsters leaders more involved in "organizing" new members. Mr. Hoffa says there is particularly strong opportunity for membership growth in the food and beverage industries.

* Trimming unnecessary spending, including "perks" Mr. Hoffa contends Mr. Carey has set up for his supporters.

* Improving national contract negotiations by culling top talent from within the Teamsters to be on the negotiating team.

Denis Taylor, president of Teamsters Local No. 355 in Baltimore, said he is supporting Mr. Hoffa mainly because he favors Mr. Hoffa's pledge to return control to local unions. Mr. Taylor said that, under Mr. Carey, the international office in Washington has gotten too involved in how local leaders run their shops.

"The way it should work is that when we need help we go to them," Mr. Taylor said. "Otherwise let us run our own councils."

Meanwhile, Mr. Carey's supporters have their election spin in high gear, too. They contend that much of Mr. Hoffa's support is to be found among union officials who lost extra salaries and pensions when Mr. Carey abolished what were known as area councils, regional union offices the elder Mr. Hoffa is alleged to have established as a patronage system for cronies. The Carey camp contends Hoffa's son plans to re-establish the councils, and in campaign literature Carey supporters make much of the elder Hoffa's connections to organized crime and his abuse of union funds.

James Hoffa's campaign literature includes a flier proclaiming, "Let's Clear the Air. The Mob Killed My Father." The flier goes on to proclaim that Mr. Hoffa will ensure that mobsters "will be run out of this union."

Meanwhile, Mr. Hoffa contends he's not running on his father's name, though yesterday he did work in his father's name and loyalty to the Teamsters during campaign speeches and when speaking with a reporter.

"Name recognition obviously gets us in the door," said Thomas M. Pazzi, Mr. Hoffa's campaign manager. "But once you get in there, you've got to tell them what you are going to do. This election is not about name recognition. It's about the future of the Teamsters."

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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