Cheers, apprehension

The same day James Hoffa Jr. was installed as the new president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, he took steps that pleased some and troubled others. Hoffa showed his commitment to the locked-out Detroit Newspapers workers’ struggle March 22 by increasing the Workers Justice Committee fund by 50 percent. WJC is a core group of locked-out Detroit Newspaper workers who organize demonstrations and other events to inform the public that the nearly four-year-old labor dispute is not over.

Shawn Ellis, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions, says that it is good news for locked-out workers who are trying to keep their struggle in the community’s conscience.

But Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a political faction which formed in 1976 to help do away with alleged union corruption, is not impressed by Hoffa’s actions. Bob Machado says Hoffa has been absent throughout the 3 1/2-year newspaper dispute.

"He has not done anything this whole time and has spent time campaigning rather than helping the strikers," says Machado.

He also says that Hoffa has all but abolished the ethical practices committee in his first week in office. The committee, which was formed under the leadership of expelled Teamsters President Ron Carey, was intended to ensure officers acted legally and did not violate members’ rights.

Hoffa could not be reached for comment.

Hoffa originally lost the election to Ron Carey in 1996. But that vote was nullified after it was discovered that union funds were illegally used for Carey’s campaign. Carey was not allowed to run again. Hoffa then took on Oregon Teamsters official Tom Leedham, whom he defeated last December. Leedham legally challenged the election certification and Hoffa’s installation. After election officials sided with Hoffa, Leedham appealed the decision to Federal District Judge David Edelstein, who on March 19 upheld Hoffa’s installation.