The President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, James Hoffa, is expecting more than 700 union members from across the nation to attend the Teamsters forum in Cedar Rapids Saturday, Dec. 7.
“I don’t know where we’re going to put them all. We’ll put them outside. We’ll put a TV outside,” Hoffa said in an interview with Starting Line. “It’s an exciting thing and I’m looking forward to it.”
Members of the 1.4 million-strong union will hear from six Democratic presidential candidates at the forum: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer.
Hoffa said the forum is one of the final steps in the endorsement process for the Teamsters, although there is no set timeline for the IBT’s selection process.
Candidates have filled out questionnaires provided by the Teamsters and they have submitted videos members could view.
“Now we’re in the final process, and we’re doing a forum where they can come out and answer some questions,” Hoffa said. “But I think the real question is, as a Teamster, why should we vote for you? And that’s what we’re going to open with: Why should we vote for you? Why are you different? And are you talking about our issues?”
Candidates involved in the forum have already agreed to support a three-point pledge, which states the candidates will protect pensions and pension reform efforts and that they will support union rights and fair trade deals. The three points were picked by more than 20,000 Teamster members who responded to a questionnaire.
“One of our major issues right now is pensions. Our pensions are in trouble,” Hoffa said. “We need help from the government to basically make them continue.
“These people worked hard for their jobs and all of the sudden the rug was pulled out from under them because of manipulation, because of deregulation, because of the crash of ’08,” Hoffa continued. “So we want to talk about how can we make sure our pensions are secure and what are they going to do if they become president to help us make sure we pass laws to help our pensions.”
He said the candidates should come to the forum prepared to take questions on the trifecta of issues the Teamsters put together because the leading Democratic candidates failed to talk about the issues union members cared about most in 2016 and it didn’t end well for them.
“Trump came in and people felt he was talking about them,” Hoffa said. “He said he was going to reopen the coal mines and that he was going to do all these different things.”
In order to make sure candidates are reaching union voters this time around so as to avoid a repeat of 2016, Hoffa encourages candidates to go to union halls, join picket lines “in a sincere way” and attend monthly union meetings.
“That’s what it’s about, meeting people and having coffee with them and just talking to them,” Hoffa said. “I think that’s important.”
He’s sure the unions are going to “determine this election” and warned the candidates that “they better have a message for us” come Saturday.
The candidates will be vying for the money and manpower that comes with the Teamsters endorsement.
“We put boots on the ground. We can do that,” Hoffa said. “We make sure we’re visible every time a candidate we support shows up.
“We have some members [in Iowa], but we’ll have people coming in from all over the place,” Hoffa said. “We’ve got our big Teamster trucks coming down from Chicago and Minnesota and that’s high visibility. Visibility is very important in this visual age.”
by Paige Godden