Tim Sylvester to Run for Teamster General President
Chicago, IL – While much of the media is focused on Hilary and Donald, many Teamsters are focused on another election. Tim Sylvester will challenge current Teamster General President James Hoffa in the 2016 International Union elections. New York Teamsters Local 804 President Tim Sylvester, a former UPS driver, turned in 60,000 signatures for himself and his Teamsters United Slate. These signatures are almost double the number required to become an accredited candidate.
Sylvester and Teamsters United Slate VP candidate Fred Zuckerman, have been the main opponents of Hoffa’s concessionary contract with its largest employer, United Parcel Service (UPS). While UPS made $3.92 billion in profits last year, the Hoffa Team negotiated a national master contract with major givebacks. Despite strong opposition from rank and file workers across the country, “Hoffa rammed it down our throats in repeated votes,” said Local 344 UPS Feeder Driver Andrew May. Some local supplemental agreements still have not been ratified by the Teamster members, but Hoffa signed that sellout agreement anyway. “After the contract was forced onto the last three remaining locals, I knew it was time for change,” May said. “That is why I am supporting Tim Sylvester and the Teamsters United Slate. Hoffa and the current leaders are not fighting for what Teamsters want.”
In New York, Tim Sylvester negotiated the Local 804 supplemental agreement. He led his members in a struggle that resulted in the best UPS contract in the country. This included a $400 pension increase, more full-time jobs and grievance procedure reform. In Louisville, Fred Zuckerman mobilized Local 89 members to vote against contract givebacks at UPS, UPS Freight and elsewhere in the freight industry.
Tim Sylvester and Fred Zuckerman represent the unity of two different opposition slates that both ran against Hoffa in 2011. Sylvester is seen as part the reform movement that includes the influential group Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). TDU fought for, and in 1991 won, the right of Teamster members to directly elect their International President and International Executive Board. TDU endorsed and help elect Ron Carey in the first such election. Sylvester has been a regular speaker at recent TDU conventions.
Sylvester and Carey were both elected president of the same Teamsters Local 804 in Queens, New York. As a UPS driver, Sylvester supported Carey, who led the historic 1997 nationwide strike against UPS. Carey was reelected when he ran against Hoffa in 1996. After the strike the federal government removed Carey from office, paving the way for Hoffa to be elected in 1999.
Zuckerman, in contrast, was a former Hoffa supporter. He served as the Carhaul Division Director under Hoffa, but broke with Hoffa in the last election to run for VP along with other former Hoffa supporters.
Gina Alvarez thinks that the Sylvester/Zuckerman Teamster United Slate is the best chance that working Teamsters have had to take control of their union in almost 20 years, since Ron Carey was General President. “We have strong candidates, but more importantly, we have the organization and enthusiasm to defeat the Hoffa machine.”
Alvarez should know. She has been involved with the Teamsters for more than 35 years. “I started working at the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund in 1980. That is how I became a member of Teamsters Local 743.” She rose to become Secretary Treasurer of the 13,000 member local union. Presumably because she was a strong voice for rank-and-file power in the Teamsters, she was forced out of office by Hoffa and his executive board in 2010. Since then she has served on the International Steering Committee of TDU.
“It is not just UPS. Under Hoffa’s watch, hardworking Teamsters in manufacturing, freight and other industries have seen their wages and benefits shrink or disappear without a fight,” said Alvarez. “Hoffa sees himself as a deal maker. His deals keep taking us backwards. Tim Sylvester understands that we need to mobilize the rank-and-file workers to fight for better wages, health insurance, pensions and working conditions. That is the legacy of Ron Carey that he enthusiastically embraces.”
The signatures that Sylvester and Zuckerman turned in are just the start of their difficult journey to unseat an incumbent Teamster General President. They need to elect at least 5% of the delegates to the Teamster Convention next summer. If successful, they will then need to get a majority of the votes cast in the autumn 2016 election. The Hoffa slate promises to be well financed. Teamsters United will need to respond with people power. All Teamsters are eligible to vote.
“Hoffa thinks this is his union that he inherited from his father. He runs off to capitol hill and makes deals that are in the interests of his friends,” said Teamster Local 705 activist Benjamin Cline, “but this is our union. We are the Teamsters! Sylvester and Zuckerman are not our saviors, we are our saviors. After we elect the Teamster United Slate we are going to hold them accountable.”
It promises to be an interesting year in the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters!