James Hoffa, Teamsters President, Says Romney 'Wants To Annihilate Organized Labor'


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The way Teamsters President James P. Hoffa sees it, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would be happy if an already weakened American labor movement ceased to exist altogether.

"He wants to annihilate organized labor as we know it," Hoffa told HuffPost outside the Democratic National Convention this week. "It's on his website. I'm not making this up. He's for a national right-to-work law. The Republican Party has veered dangerously to the right. It's rather incredible, in 2012, if you think about it."

Indeed, Romney's official stance on labor isn't kind to unions. His campaign website suggests that unions have outlasted their significance, "driv[ing] up costs and introduc[ing] rigidities that harm competitiveness and frustrate innovation." He supports states pursuing right-to-work laws, which weaken the clout of unions, and his party last week approved a platform pushing for national right-to-work legislation. He'd also like to prohibit automatic union dues-deduction from employee paychecks.

Hoffa isn’t the only labor leader who visited Charlotte this week and sees a hostility toward unions in Romney's positions. Mary Kay Henry, head of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, told HuffPost earlier this week that Romney "wants to take us out."

The Romney campaign didn't respond to Hoffa or Henry's comments.

Rank-and-file union members said they often feel taken for granted by Democrats in office. Among many labor activists, the enthusiasm for the Obama-Biden ticket appears to stem in large part from a loathing and distrust of the alternative. But Hoffa, like other labor figures who headed to Charlotte, insisted the current White House has been good to unions over the past four years.

Rather than dwell on disappointments -- like Obama's failure to push the Employee Free Choice Act through Congress when Democrats held both chambers, or to pass a raise in the minimum wage -- Hoffa touted the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus bill, the rescue of the auto industry and the actions of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces labor law.

The NLRB has issued decisions and rules during Obama's tenure that conservatives have decried as too friendly to unions, such as a rule that would require businesses to hang placards in the workplace informing workers of their right to unionize. By contrast, during the George W. Bush presidency, union members believed the NLRB catered to businesses.

"The NLRB has gotten civilized again," said Hoffa, the Teamsters president since 1998 whose famous father, Jimmy Hoffa, was president throughout the 1960s. "People aren’t afraid to go there anymore. They're getting good results from the NLRB. And when I say good, I mean fair. Fairness is all we want.

"These are things that are meaningful to us, that make it easier for us to organize," Hoffa added.

One place where it's extremely difficult for unions to organize is North Carolina, a fact that created some awkwardness between the Democratic Party and organized labor, given the selection of Charlotte as the DNC's host city. (North Carolina has the lowest unionization rate in the nation.) Hoffa was one of the few union heads who appeared willing to knock the party for the choice, albeit lightly.

"I think that the Democratic Party, the DNC, could have consulted us," Hoffa said. "I would have thought there were much better venues, like St. Louis, like Detroit, but they have their own thinking and obviously they didn’t talk to us."

The Teamsters are currently locked in a high-profile battle with the wholesale baker Hostess Brands, maker of iconic American foodstuffs Wonder Bread and Twinkies. Hostess, going through bankruptcy proceedings for the second time in a decade, has said that if the Teamsters make good on their strike threat it could bury the company.

Hostess' latest offer to Teamster workers is believed to include significant concessions. A recent letter from the company's CEO estimated wage cuts of 8 percent, health care givebacks and the loss of large pension contributions.

Hostess management loathes the pension plans currently enjoyed by its union workers, arguing that they're overly generous and antiquated. Hoffa, however, said it was the duty of his union to maintain those pensions as best they could, especially in an age when pensions are being attacked and phased out.

"Our job is to keep pensions," Hoffa said. "That’s the job of all of labor, because that’s what makes us different. The problem is the right wing hates unions, hates pensions -- they don’t want to be obligated to anybody ... and we stand for the opposite."

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