Union Ranks at All-Time Low, Local Leader Says Labor Must Target Corporations

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Two Pennsylvania-based Teamsters officials campaign in 2008. Unions' ability to provide ground troops to candidates magnifies their power. But recent figures showing a mere 6.6 percent of workers are unionized suggest that labor's electoral power faces new, real limits.

Molly Theobald

Two Pennsylvania-based Teamsters officials campaign in 2008. Unions' ability to provide ground troops to candidates magnifies their power. But recent figures showing a mere 6.6 percent of workers are unionized suggest that labor's electoral power faces new, real limits.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this year that unionization of the private sector workforce has dropped to an all-time low of 6.6 percent, a precipitous drop from a peak membership of almost 35 percent in 1954. The president of Teamsters Local 804 in Long Island City, who wants to be the national Teamsters’ union president in next year’s election, says the only way that organized labor is going to regain its strength is to fight back against corporate America.

Tim Sylvester is running on the Teamsters United ticket, a coalition of Teamster officers and members who want to take over the leadership from the current president, James P. Hoffa, who has the headed the union since 1998.

Sylvester has been critical of Hoffa’s tenure, arguing that Hoffa and his leadership team agreed to significant healthcare concessions during contract negotiations with UPS two years ago and did little to prevent Congress from passing the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MEPRA) that some Teamster rank-and-file members say could significantly reduce their annual pensions from $36,000 to just over $14,000.

There are about 100,000 Teamsters throughout the five boroughs working in a range of industries including UPS (which is Teamsters’ biggest private sector employer), dairy and beverage companies such as Pepsi, Coke and Tropicana, as well as private sanitation, freight transportation such as Yellow Transportation and the 24,000 members working in the public-sector in the city and Long Island towns.

In the video interviews below, Sylvester explains why he’s running and the steps organized labor can take to increase its national representation of the private sector workforce.

Question 1: What’s the rationale behind your candidacy?

Question 2: How does the broader public benefit from labor unions?

Question 3: How can unions counter anti-union sentiment?

Question 4: Is there a way to end fractionalization in the union movement?

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