By Kevin Galvin
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, September 6, 1998
ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP)
-- It's 5:25 a.m., and Tom Leedham is ironing his blue Teamsters
jersey in the dining room of a couple who support his underdog
bid for the union presidency.
Leedham's shoestring campaign has been borne
along the trail by the good will of rank-and-file members, who
organize events in their areas, bring him to greet workers at
plant gates, then drive him on to the home of the next supporter.
``I'm not spending any money, and I'm talking
to thousands of Teamsters,'' Leedham said.
Despite his late entry into the race, Leedham's
spirits have been buoyed by what he claims is a growing backlash
among Teamsters members against front-runner James P. Hoffa.
``A month ago it was, `We're not voting for
Hoffa, but who are you?''' Leedham says. ``Now it's, `We're not
voting for Hoffa. Aren't you that guy from Oregon?' Hey, it's
These are uncertain times for the 1.4 million-member
union. The election Leedham is conducting his cross-country campaign
for hasn't even been scheduled yet, because the federal government
and the union have been haggling over who should pay for it.
The union began holding direct elections
for top offices in 1991 under a consent decree signed with the
Justice Department. With only a handful of local
union leaders on his side, Ron Carey won that contest by promising
to fight corruption.
But Carey's narrow re-election over Hoffa
in 1996 was overturned after discovery of a scheme in
which more than $800,000 in union funds were used for
the Carey campaign. Carey was expelled from the union.
In the aftermath, scores of union officials
who moved to Carey's side during his administration switched to
Hoffa. Those who remain opposed to the son of the union's midcentury
president, Jimmy Hoffa, are split. A grass-roots reform group
backs Leedham, and a small band of influential union officers
support St. Louis Teamsters leader John Metz, whose campaign has
yet to get under way.
Hoffa, with superior financing and name recognition
established during two years of campaigning, tends to avoid mentioning
Leedham's name, saying his opponents are virtually ``unknown.''
Leedham, 47, has chosen to wear his lack
of local officer support as a badge of honor, saying the Teamsters
must focus on their rank and file. A former warehouse worker in
his hometown of Portland, Ore., Leedham was elected chief of his
local five times before taking over the Teamsters' international
warehouse division in 1992.
On a good day of campaigning, Leedham says,
he shakes hands with more than 1,000 Teamsters at the freight
barns and warehouses where they work.
Today is not starting out like one of those
After rushing to Ashland Chemical Corp. at
6 a.m., he finds the lot strangely quiet. Sleepy workers who begin
shuffling into the break room a half-hour later don't show much
interest in the amiable fellow in the crisp blue jersey passing
out fliers. Leaving the lot, a ``Vote Hoffa '98'' sign bids him
adieu from a utility pole.
Next comes a United Parcel Service hub, where
sorters and drivers stop to chat with Leedham before punching
``Good morning. Name's Tom Leedham,'' he
says, taking time to inquire how long the part-timers have been
working at the same site. ``I'm asking for your vote. It's an
But they refuse to rally as a group before
their shift, citing dissatisfaction with their pension plan. No
matter that its substandard benefits are the fault of local trustees,
not the international union.
Asked about the same pension fund elsewhere,
Leedham returns to his central theme: More grass-roots involvement
is the panacea for the Teamsters' woes.
He promises to include rank-and-file members
on national bargaining committees and boards that oversee
pensions and to urge local union leaders to do the
same. He has included working members on his slate.
Leedham would cut off the millions of dollars
of political donations the union gives to candidates and political
parties and instead convert its powerful DRIVE PAC into a fund
for grass-roots mobilization.
As this day wears on, it starts to take on
the appearance of the campaign tours Leedham has been bragging
about. He's warmly received by groups of workers at a plumbing
supply house and a freight dock. On the way to Hookup Inc., a
distribution point for new Mack trucks, he learns that the men
who work there have long felt slighted by the national car-haul
Drivers who cross the country are crucial
to his word-of-mouth campaign, and Leedham's host calls ahead
to make sure they don't pull out early.
The workplace is a solitary garage surrounded
by gleaming trucks. A dozen men in blue jump suits wait for him,
smoking cigarettes as they lounge about a picnic table strewn
with copies of ``Car&Driver'' and ``Penthouse.''
Leedham tells them that he's got two carhaulers
on his slate -- two of their own -- and they're all ears. He tells
the drivers he's been out on the road, too.
``I was in Phoenix the day before yesterday,
Los Angeles the day before that,'' he says, sensing that he's
finally found an attentive audience today. ``That's how we're
going to win -- and we are going to win.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press