By Robert Woodrum
April 6, 1998
By Paul J. Nyden
More than 550 enthusiastic Teamsters and
other union members packed the Kanawha City Teamsters' Hall Sunday
afternoon to hear Ken Hall announce he is running for general
president of his union.
Many wore shirts with logos from Yellow Freight,
Coca-Cola or United Parcel Service. Many traveled to Charleston
from other states, including Illinois, Virginia, Ohio and Washington.
The 41-year-old Hall, who started his career
as a Pennzoil worker from Yawkey, Lincoln County, might end up
heading North America's largest union. The International Brotherhood
of Teamsters has more than 1.4 million members.
"On this historic day," said John
McCormick, "the 18,000 members of my local union are going
to be very happy to discover Ken Hall is running for general president."
McCormick traveled to Charleston from Chicago,
where he heads Local 705, the Teamsters' third-largest local union.
In 1993, Hall helped McCormick negotiate a local contract with
United Parcel Service.
Before reformers took over the Teamsters
in 1991, 12 silver Continentals routinely sat in parking spaces
in front of the Local 705's impressive marble building near downtown
Chicago. McCormick helped sell off the expensive cars once given
to union business agents.
Last summer, Hall was the union's top negotiator
200,000 workers in their successful strike against the United
"The victory against UPS reversed labor's
losses under Ronald Reagan," McCormick said. "All other
unions supported us, donating money and food. Everyone in the
labor movement was rejuvenated."
That new UPS contract Hall negotiated raised
pensions by 50 percent, created 10,000 new full-time jobs, stopped
subcontracting giving jobs to nonunion workers, improved health
and safety and won the biggest pay hikes ever.
Hall talked about his likely opponent James
P. Hoffa Jr., son of the union's most famous leader. James Hoffa
Sr. spent time in prison for misappropriating union funds and
was widely reputed to have Mafia ties. He disappeared under mysterious
circumstances and was presumed to have been killed.
Hoffa Jr., a lawyer, never made a living
as a Teamster worker, never negotiated a union contract and never
won election to any local or national union office.
Hoffa Jr. lost the 1996 election to incumbent
reformer Ron Carey. Hall declared his candidacy on Sunday, after
a federally appointed oversight board overturned that election
and barred Carey, first elected in 1991, from running again.
In throwing Carey's election out, the federal
board charged that $885,000 in Teamsters union funds was given
to third party groups, who then contributed similar amounts to
Carey's campaign. Campaign finance irregularities, however, might
also result in Hoffa's disqualification.
Hall's campaign will accept contributions
only from working members of the Teamsters union.
Hall said, "We in the Teamsters are
facing an historic challenge. The road of Hoffa leads backward
towards division and weakness. Last summer, we showed the nation
what a united Teamsters union could do."
Hall said both Carey and Hoffa backers urged
him to run for the union's top position in recent weeks.
During his speech on Sunday, Hall stressed
his own career as a oil-field roustabout, local union steward
and local union president, before he negotiated the national UPS
"To negotiate good contracts, you have
to have someone who has negotiated one before," Hall said.
"I have negotiated large and small contracts. I have negotiated
contracts for workers in the freight, construction, dairy, bakery,
laundry, petroleum, brewery and soft-drink industries."
Hall criticized the alleged mob ties of the
Hoffa family. "We need someone who has fought the mob in
our union and will keep them out of our union. And perhaps more
important, we need someone who will keep their hands out of our
members' pension funds."
Hall said the union must continue to be active
in political issues that affect working families, including federal
legislation about retirement benefits, overtime hours and fair-trade
Hoffa's name is his only chance for victory,
Hall said. "If his name was Smith or Jones, and he never
worked as a Teamster, and was never elected to a union office,
he would be laughed out of the race."
If Hall wins later this year, it will not
be the first time a rank-and-file union member from West Virginia
became the top officer of a major union.
Twenty-six years ago, in May 1972, nearly
400 rank-and-file reformers in United Mine Workers met at Wheeling
College. They nominated Arnold Miller, from Cabin Creek, to run
for president of the UMW.
In a federally ordered and supervised election,
Miller beat incumbent Tony Boyle. After his election loss, Boyle
was convicted of conspiring to assassinate Joseph "Jock"
Yablonski and spent the rest of his life in federal prison.
In December 1969, Boyle defeated Yablonski
for international UMW president. The U.S. Department of Labor
later determined Boyle stole that election and successfully fought
to have it overturned, paving the way for Miller's victory in
Hall served as an elected member of the Lincoln
County School Board between 1986 and 1992. He lives in Yawkey
with his wife, Shirley, and daughter Jenna.