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Hoffa paves the way for union decertification in Pasco, Wash.
Tyson ousts Teamsters

By Lee Sustar | February 18, 2005 | Page 11

PASCO, Wash.--The union-busting meatpacking company Tyson has won a decertification vote against the Teamsters--but International union President James Hoffa paved the way for this defeat.

Tyson was able to hold a second decertification election against Teamsters Local 556 in less than a year thanks to the pro-business National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), whose officials ruled that the union had "interfered" in a previous vote that the union won last June. This time, the vote on whether to decertify the union was 690 in favor to 586 against.

But the company's assault on the union was abetted every step of the way by Hoffa's Teamster machine, which has been out to destroy the reform leadership of Local 556 President Maria Martinez.

Martinez was among the leaders of a wildcat strike in 1999 that won gains for the workers at the plant, which was then owned by Iowa Beef Processors. Hoffa responded by placing the local under trusteeship--but Martinez's slate won the eventual vote.

In an industry in which giant corporations like Tyson have turned once-decent jobs into hellish, injury-plagued work, the fightback in Local 556 was an inspiration. The local built solidarity among a workforce that is 80 percent immigrants--most of them Latino--from 21 different countries.

Local 556's leaders had been aligned with former Teamster President Ron Carey--who was driven from office on bogus corruption charges later proved false--and were involved with Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).

Hoffa's personal representative to the local, Eddie Rodriguez, had a very different agenda, however. His handpicked candidate to challenge Martinez--Carlos Perez--became the front man for Tyson management's efforts to decertify the union in the 2004 vote.

Despite this, Local 556 narrowly prevailed. But when the NLRB ordered another vote, Hoffa again took aim at Martinez and other reform leaders.

Thus, as Tyson suspended dues checkoff, laid off 400 workers and refused to bargain for a new contract, Hoffa's new representative, Fred Gegare wrote letters and reports attacking Martinez, and leaked two internal documents. One worker who Gegare had encouraged to run for union office, Rodolfo Moreno, published in a local newspaper an attack on Local 556--and backed the decertification vote.

"This is not the first time that the IBT [International Brotherhood of Teamsters] has put a political grudge with reformers ahead of our union's interests," TDU leaders wrote following the Tyson vote. "More than 10,000 Northwest Airlines flight attendants voted to leave the Teamsters in 2003 to form an independent union after the Hoffa administration put their local union in trusteeship after years of undermining the flight attendants at the bargaining table. Rather than learning from this history, the Hoffa administration repeated it, using the same formula. Personal representatives assigned to undermine local reformers. IBT reps undercutting local officers and members at the bargaining table.

In the fight against union-busting at Tyson Foods, Local 556 leaders and members were up to the task. So were Teamster local leaders from all sides of the political fence. It was the IBT that was the weak link in this fight. For all its talk about 'unity,' the Hoffa administration once again put politics ahead of our union and its members. This victory for the union-busters should be a wake-up call for all Teamsters who care about the future of our union."

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