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Teamster Elections Ahead: Interview with VP Candidate Richard Berg

By staff

Fight Back! interviewed Richard Berg, a candidate for vice-president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on the Tom Leedham Strong Contracts, Good Pensions Slate. Berg is also a key rank-and-file leader who has spearheaded the fight against corruption in Chicago’s Teamster Local 743. The outcome of the Teamsters election is vital for all working Teamsters and will impact the direction of the labor movement as a whole.

Fight Back!: Why does Hoffa have to go?

Richard Berg: Teamsters originally supported Hoffa, Jr. because they associated his name with strength. Teamsters across the country know that the bosses are not respecting us. They are beating down workers while our standard of living falls.

When Hoffa ran for office he promised to not raise union dues, to end corruption and improve the Teamster pension plans. He has failed on all three promises.

First, shortly after the election in 2001 he held a special convention and instituted the largest dues increase in Teamster history. He has not used this money to restore Teamster power as promised. Instead we have witnessed a steady rise in salaries and special perks for Teamster officials.

Secondly, Hoffa hired former federal prosecutor Edward Steir to investigate and rid the Teamsters of organized crime influences. This was supposed to set the stage to end government oversight of the Teamsters. Instead, when Steir found evidence of corruption and mob ties in Chicago, Hoffa ordered him to not pursue his investigation of Hoffa allies. Steir and his entire staff resigned in protest. Hoffa no longer talks about how he will rid the Teamsters of corruption.

Finally, after negotiating insufficient employer contributions to maintain current benefit levels in Teamster pension funds with United Parcel Service (UPS), Hoffa declared that he had negotiated the best contract ever. The same was repeated with truck drivers in the master freight agreement. Now, as the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund and other Teamsters funds make major benefit cuts, it is apparent that Hoffa lied to us.

Fight Back!: Why is the Tom Leedham Slate such an improvement over Hoffa?

Berg: The Tom Leedham Strong Contracts, Good Pensions slate understands that we need a fighting union again. We understand that our power comes from the rank-and-file workers and not a famous name. The bosses from UPS to University of Chicago Hospitals, where I work, are interested increased profits, not improving the lot of their workers.

The Tom Leedham slate is committed to using the resources of the union to fight to improve the condition of all workers. Instead of raising officers’ salaries, we will use that money to organized new members in core industries. We will use that money to research Teamster companies and organize the rank and file to fight for better wages and working conditions.

The famous abolitionist Frederick Douglas told us that, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” We have learned this lesson in the Teamsters as well. The Tom Leedham slate is committed to build a fighting Teamsters union that is up to the challenges of the most hardnosed employers.

Fight Back!: How are working Teamsters reacting to your campaign?

Berg: I have traveled extensively and the response has been wonderful. Teamsters know that Hoffa lied to them. They want to hear what we have to say. They listen, they ask questions and they respond positively. The Leedham slate has a plan to get us out of the hole that Hoffa put us in. When working Teamsters hear it, they approve. Teamsters can see that our plan could lead not only to a new Teamsters union, but a new and stronger labor movement.

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