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Hoffa Discusses Teamsters' Role in Current Politics

Aired August 11, 2001 - 17:30   ET



Now, Robert Novak and Mark Shields.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak.

Mark Shields and I will question one of America's foremost labor leaders.

MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: He is James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.


SHIELDS (voice-over): As the House of Representatives debated President Bush's energy bill just before the August recess began, conservative Republicans rose to applaud newfound allies from the Teamsters and construction unions.

JERRY HOOD, TEAMSTERS: When you bring management and you bring labor and you bring republicans and you bring Democrats together for the common good of this country, you will succeed time and time again.

SHIELDS: Hoffa had been escorted across Capitol Hill by White House aide Mary Matalin to round up support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, leading to passage of the bill in the House.

Senate Democrats appealed to labor.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: When we have the time, over the course of the next month, to sit down with Teamsters and to sit down with other members of organized labor, I'm prepared to say that I think we could prove to them that the better interests of organized labor and their families and the long-term interests of our country are better served by opposing this.

SHIELDS: James P. Hoffa, the only son of Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, was defeated for president of the union in 1996 in an election that later was thrown out on grounds of fraud. He was elected president in 1999. The Teamsters were the last major union to endorse Al Gore for president in 2000.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SHIELDS: President Jim Hoffa, has George W. Bush, like Republicans Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon before him, succeeded in driving a wedge between organized labor and the Democratic Party?

JAMES P. HOFFA, TEAMSTERS PRESIDENT: I would say that's not true. What I think is going on is that we have issues where we do work together, and one of them is energy. We believe in the ANWR project. We believe it's going to give us jobs in America for a lot of good Americans working in Alaska, working on the pipeline. We think it makes sense to have energy policy where we have new sources of fuel, new sources of oil coming from Alaska. And I think they can work again, and we're working with the president on this issue.

NOVAK: Exit polls after the 2000 election showed that 26 percent of the voters were members of union households, and they voted by 2 to 1 for Al Gore over George W. Bush. Do you regret now the endorsement of Al Gore by your institution?

HOFFA: No, we don't. We worked very hard throughout the country, organized labor did, not only the Teamsters, all the AFL-CIO, worked very hard. We believed in him. We had a tough choice to make. Now George Bush is president, so we've got to change course. We're going to say, "OK, you're president, what do you have to offer?" We can't put our programs on ice for four years.

We're going to work with this administration just like we would with a Democratic administration. What do we have in common? What can we work together on, and what do we have problems with so we can keep a dialogue going? I think that's the way to approach this problem. ANWR and the energy program is one of those issues.

NOVAK: Is that the approach that you just mentioned, quite a part from ANWR, toward the new president? Is that the approach taken by the president of the AFL-CIO John Sweeney?

HOFFA: Well, he has worked with us with regard to ANWR. I mean, we just recently passed a letter at the building trades, a resolution saying that we're for drilling in ANWR. We also reaffirmed our position at the AFL-CIO with regard to exploration and drilling in a 1993 resolution regarding ANWR.

So I can't speak for John Sweeney. I only speak for the Teamsters Union, and when I speak for them, I say that we think this creates jobs for Teamsters.

NOVAK: I meant more the attitude toward the president.


NOVAK: You think that's John Sweeney's attitude toward the president?

HOFFA: Well, I don't know. I hope it is. I hope we're all reaching out. We have to reach out during this period of time. Listen, we have to work together over the next four years. We just can't be fighting each other all the time. NOVAK: I would like you to listen to something by one of the great friends of the Teamsters and something he said just the other day.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D). CONNECTICUT: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling proposal will be dead-on-arrival in the United States Senate. And if it begins to stir, as Senator Kerry and I have said before, we would be proud to lead a filibuster in the Senate to stop it from being adopted. It is that important.


NOVAK: And Senator Kerry, as we showed a sound byte at the beginning of this program, said he's going to try to turn around the Teamsters and organize labor on this issue. Will he succeed?

HOFFA: I don't think so. I think we've thought this out. We know what it does for the country. It makes us more independent of Saddam Hussein and other people who control our oil. It does give us an opening to national security. It creates jobs. I don't think they're going to succeed.

NOVAK: Can you change Joe Lieberman's mind on the filibuster?

HOFFA: Well, I'll talk to Joe Lieberman on this. I'll talk to everybody in the Senate. I think we've got to turn people around. You know, they said we couldn't do this in the House, and we were able to do it, and there were a lot of people -- it was a close vote -- we were able to do it in the House. We think we can do it in the Senate.

SHIELDS: Jim Hoffa, on the question of NAFTA, preferable nation's trading status with China, the free trade of the Americas. You've been very outspoken accusing big business of being in a race to the bottom for the lowest wages possible.

Tell me, is there a dime's worth of difference between Al Gore Democrats and George W. Bush Republicans on trade?

HOFFA: No there isn't, and that's what's so frustrating that in the last election that no matter how much we talked to the candidates -- we talked to Al Gore, we had a dialogue with him, we tried to talk to Bush -- they are so set in their ways with regard to NAFTA and super-NAFTA and WTO that they don't see what it's doing to this country.

It's taking a million jobs out of the United States. There is a race to the bottom to get to the Third World, to move and close plants and close factories throughout America and move those jobs to the Third World. We've got to stop that if we're going to keep the American Dream alive.

SHIELDS: Well, two years ago on this very show, you said you were a strong supporter of your law school classmate at the University of Michigan, Dick Gephardt, to be speaker of the House. Are you continuing in that support?

HOFFA: Yes. Dick Gephardt's a good man. I want to school with him. We see the same way that NAFTA is hurting this country, and he's been probably one of the best spokesmen against NAFTA we have.

NOVAK: On the other hand, Mr. Hoffa, one of the leading members of the House Workforce Committee, Congressman Hoekstra, has said that the Teamster Union is the beachhead -- he used the word beachhead -- of the Republican effort to get into the labor movement. Do you considerable yourself a beachhead for the Republicans?

HOFFA: No, we're not a beachhead. What we are, we're working with Democrats, we're working with Republicans, and maybe people in Washington aren't used to that. But we have a pragmatic approach to go about issues that what's best for the Teamsters, what's best for working families, what's best for people who work with their hands in America. That's our issue, and if we can find Republicans or Democrats that work together, that's where we're going. There are no beachheads, but we look for common ground.

NOVAK: Doug McCarron, president of the Carpenter's Union, recently took his union out of the AFL-CIO, because he didn't like their positions on social issues and the environment. Does he have a point?

HOFFA: Well, I think there's a lot of talk. I'm not going to speak for Doug McCarron. We talk about our issues. We talk about them openly, in closed sessions. We talk about these things. And there isn't unanimity amongst all the local unions and all the international unions in the AFL-CIO.

But we do have a point, with regard to ANWR. We have a point with regard to being opposed to NAFTA. We're opposed to a lot of issues that hurt Americans and this country. And I think there's unanimity on that issue.

NOVAK: I didn't quite get your answer, sir. I was asking if you agreed that there was some problems with the AFL-CIO position social issues and the environment.

HOFFA: Well, there are problems between the carpenters in the AFL-CIO.

NOVAK: How about the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO?

HOFFA: Well, if we have differences, we try and work them out. We're working within the system. Amongst friends, they don't always agree. I think that's common. Everybody knows that.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to take a break.

HOFFA: Oh, thank you.

NOVAK: And when we come back, we'll talk to James Hoffa about truck drivers, trucks and Mexico.


SHIELDS: Recently, the United States Senate, 70 senators voted with the Teamsters to keep Mexican trucks off the U.S. highways without being tested. But Republican leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, had something else to say.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: It bothers that there's sort of an anti-Mexican or anti-Hispanic, anti-NAFTA attitude, that we really don't want to allow Mexican trucks to come into this country. If they meet safety standards and inspection insurance standards, why not?


SHIELDS: You've admitted your opposition to NAFTA. Are you also -- and your opponents and people on your side anti-Mexican and anti- Hispanic?

HOFFA: Absolutely not. We have so many Hispanic members in our union, and we're so proud of them. This is about raising the standard of living of our brothers in Mexico. It's about giving them safer trucks, making sure that their trained. Only 1 percent of the trucks coming across are inspected.

When you talk about that, does that mean the Sierra Club is anti- Hispanic? Does that mean the Friends of the Earth?

There is a broad coalition that says this is the wrong time, that this hasn't been thought out. We don't have safety on American highways. We're only inspecting 1 percent of the trucks. And the trucks coming across, 40 percent, are failing. No one wants a catastrophe on American highways.

And the answer is: Let's slow this thing down. Let's get some inspection stations. Let's raise the standards for our brothers of Mexico. Let's get better trucks, better training, and then let's move on from there. We're not there yet.

SHIELDS: Highway safety argument, there's no question about it has been very persuasive with a lot of people. But at the core, even after talking about no insurance and no training and no driver restrictions and safety standards, aren't we really talking about saving Teamsters' jobs?

HOFFA: Not really. We're talking about the whole idea of raising standards. See, we don't have a problem with Canada; they come across all the time. We don't have a problem if our brothers come across on their train. But the answers is, the highway issue -- the highway safety issue has resonated in both the House and the Senate. It's a big issue. People are talking about it. And we cannot have some catastrophe because somebody didn't want to inspect a Mexican truck.

NOVAK: Mr. Hoffa, Democratic senators have told me that when they worked with you on the restrictions on Mexican trucks, they thought you were pulling your -- pulling the punches on the severity of the restrictions because you didn't want to get into a confrontational mode with the Bush administration, you wanted to keep on the good terms with President Bush. Is that true?

HOFFA: No, absolutely not true. I think that President Bush is probably very upset with the Teamsters, because he wanted to present this as something done by him for President Fox when he comes to visit in September.

This is a key issue. Highway safety is important. We're not going to sacrifice it. We're not going to compromise it. And we didn't pull any punches. We want 100 percent. And we were the ones -- we're very proud to have worked with a lot of other great Americans, highlighting this issue. We worked our tails off, and we think we were successful. And we're proud of what we did.

NOVAK: Mr. Hoffa, if you had to make a choice, as the leader of this great union, on what you were going to have, a restriction on Mexican trucks or ANWR drilling with 700,000 new jobs, what would your choice be?

HOFFA: That's not a choice. We want them both. We think we -- we've already got -- we think ANWR is done. They're both up there. They're both important for America. I'm not going to say that one is better than the other. What we've got to do is to make sure we're successful on both.

Let's have more energy. Let's go out and make sure we have safe highways. And the two of them is a win-win for America.

SHIELDS: "Fortune" magazine has call the Teamsters Union you head one of the 25 most powerful institutions in Washington, and you showed great muscle on both the trucks issue and ANWR drilling in Alaska. But you've talked an awful lot about American jobs going to China, the exploitation of Chinese workers -- 13 cents an hour, big business race -- when are you going to show the same kind of political muscle on trade and show that you can stop this hemorrhaging of jobs you describe?

HOFFA: It's probably the biggest challenge we face. I mean, we were at the battle in Seattle -- WTO. I lead 5,000 Teamsters up there with 50,000 members of organized labor. I fought the battle with PNTR, with regard to China where they have forced abortions and they persecute their people. We're going to keep this fight up, along with a lot of good Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill that feel the way I do, that we cannot have a race to the bottom. We cannot sacrifice American jobs just so we can put people to work in China.

SHIELDS: You've spoken in the past and today about 750,000, a million jobs lost, since NAFTA. And, yet, the unemployment rate in the country has been undersized consistently in Bill Clinton and even under George W. Bush. How do we believe or how do we make the case that somehow all these jobs have been lost when the country seems to be prosperous in terms of employment? HOFFA: It's the quality of the jobs. There are a lot of stoop labor jobs in this country. There are a lot of jobs working flipping hamburgers at McDonald's, but the answer is the good jobs in manufacturing and rubber and glass and the automotive industry, and the high-tech -- I mean, you pick up a paper every day, 10,000 at IBM, 50,000 at General Motors -- there's a hemorrhaging of good jobs going out of this country, where you get good pay, where you go out and you get a good pension, you get a health care for your family. Those jobs are leaving this country.

There are a lot of places where you can be cleaning toilets somewhere. There are jobs like that everywhere. We're not talking about those jobs. We're talking about good jobs.

NOVAK: Jim Hoffa, when you were on our program last December of '99, you talked about how important it was to your union to get out from under the long time supervision of the Independent Review Board, grounds that there were mob ties between the Teamster Union and organized crime. Are you optimistic now that under the Bush administration this supervision under the Independent Review Board will be ended?

HOFFA: Well, I don't know if it's the Bush administration. We have a constant dialogue with the U.S. attorney in the southern district. We are...

NOVAK: Who works for the Bush administration, I think.

HOFFA: Well, whatever. We are working very hard to make sure that we make a case. We created ARISE (ph) program, which is a standard of ethics in the union. We've cleaned up the union. This has been 12 years and over $100 million this has cost our members.

It's time for the government to move out. We've created programs where the union is clean, and it's time for us to get from under government supervision. We're going to keep doing that. We're going to keep pressing that. And we're going to talk to everybody we can to make sure that happens.

NOVAK: We're almost out of time before our break, and I'd just ask for a quick question. Somebody in Washington, who you never hear about, is the secretary of labor, Elaine Chao. Can you tell us anything that you think she has done either positively or negatively in the six months she's been in office?

HOFFA: Well, she's come out. She's been very open with us. We have an open door to her. We've addressed a number of problems. We've talked about PLA. We've talked about the energy program with her. I think she's moving in the right direction. She's working to talk to other people in organized labor. She appeared at the AFL-CIO meeting. She's worked with John Sweeney and other programs.

I think she's going to be a good secretary of labor. I think she has to make sure that she keeps working to keep her door open to organized labor and to make sure that we worry about working families in this country. NOVAK: We're going to take another break. And when we come back, we'll have "The Big Question" for James P. Hoffa.


NOVAK: "The Big Question" for James P. Hoffa, your president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, has in his term been much more active than his predecessor in lining the merged labor federation with the Democratic party. Was this a mistake or not?

HOFFA: Well, I don't think so, because when you take all the issues, you know, it's given and take on both sides. We made a decision, the AFL-CIO voted to endorse Gore last time, and now we're past that.

They lost the election. Now we've got to work with the new administration, President Bush. And It's hard to say it was a mistake. I think we've got to explore all avenues. I don't know what's going to happen in the future. John Sweeney makes his decisions, and we go along with them.

SHIELDS: Mary Matalin, Republican operative, Vice President Cheney's counselor, said, quote, "I love Hoffa. I love the Teamster," end quote. Now is it reciprocated?

HOFFA: Well, we were working very closely with her. She's a great lady, and we had a great experience lobbying the House with regard to ANWR. We worked side by side, and we're very proud of what we did and she showed a lot of get-up-and-go with it, and we did it, too. And our lobbyists did a great job. It wasn't just me; it was all of us together. And we worked with the administration. We're proud of having passed it in the House, and we formed a very good relationship with Mary Matalin.

SHIELDS: Jim Hoffa, thank you so much, President Jim Hoffa, for being with us. Robert Novak and I will be back in a minute with a comment.


NOVAK: Mark, Jim Hoffa said he didn't want to beachhead for the Republican Party and the labor movement, but he is taking a subtle position not (inaudible) John Sweeney in the Democratic Party, but saying we have to deal with this Republican president.

SHIELDS: Bob, we saw a more polished, a more confident Jim Hoffa here today.

SHIELDS: And I haven't heard a more forceful argument made against unfettered globalization and free trade by anybody in or out of the Democratic Party than he made.

NOVAK: Mark, Mr. Hoffa said that he isn't going to be talked out of his position on ANWR by Joe Lieberman and John Kerry, two friends of the Teamsters Union. On the contrary, he's an independent person. He's going to try to talk them out of their position. That's going to be interesting to see.

SHIELDS: I'll say this: On Alaska drilling and Mexican trucks, the Teamsters under Jim Hoffa show themselves to be a very powerful, political force.

I'm Mark Shields.

NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak.

SHIELDS: Coming up in one half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES," "Talk" magazine gets the cold shoulder from the White House, and President Bush goes prime time while on vacation.

And at 7:00 p.m. on "CAPITAL GANG," President Bush compromises on stem cell funding. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the latest violence in the Middle East. And our "Newsmaker of the Week": President of the Motion Picture Association of America Jack Valenti.

NOVAK: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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