Jimmy Hoffa’s plans for a Canadian empire
The much-feared and much-investigated czar of the world's biggest labour union boasts he'll control a quarter of a million key canadian workers in ten years. He rules 40,000 now-from candy stuffers to disk jockeys -and he's reaching for the Seaway and "everything that moves"
PETER C. NEWMAN
We're going to spend whatever dollars are necessary for this job.”
The speaker was James Riddle Hoffa, the chunky potentate of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters—the largest and most powerful union in the world. The job which Hoffa promised during my recent interview with him in Washington to accomplish could become the largest organizing campaign in Canadian labor history.
HofTa’s ambition is to enlist a quarter of a million Canadians in his Brotherhood within the next ten years. He is prepared to pay three million dollars to get them.
In the U. S., Senate investigations have squarely charged HofTa continued over page with running a hoodlum empire dangerous to the country, accusing his union of being thoroughly stained by corruption, extortion and gangsterism. One of the things that have made it toughest for those fighting Hoffa is the willingness of other unions and some employers to go along with him. There is increasing evidence that this will be the case here as his ambitious plans for a Canadian empire take shape.
Jimmy Hoft'a’s plans for a Canadian empire: continued
Forging a chain of alliances across Canada, Hoffa’s machine is geared for an all-out drive next spring. The Teamsters, with fifty million dollars in their treasury, are prepared to spend "whatever it costs’7
■;TEAMSTERS’ expansion in Canada
will be directed by I. M. (Casey) Dodds, in hat, and his aide, I. J. (Duke) Thompson.
If those who fear Hoffa are right, the drive he is now mounting in Canada could paralyze the whole country. “The Teamsters as presently constituted at the top level can destroy the economies of both Canada and the U. S.,” I was told by Robert Kennedy, chief counsel of the congressional committee that has spent the last year investigating the union.
The sweep of Hoffa’s influence on this side of the border is already very much greater than most Canadians realize. The Teamsters’ Brotherhood is the sixth largest union in Canada, with forty locals between Botwood, Nfid., and Kelowna, B.C. Its more than forty thousand members drive most of Canada’s intercity transports, include more than half of the country’s eight thousand breadmen, the majority of the milkmen, and nearly all of the Brink’s Express Company employees who guard and transport the nation’s payrolls. Teamster organizers in Montreal are extending the union’s influence into a new sphere: they’re signing up the city’s hearse drivers.
The Brotherhood’s strength is based more on its crucial economic position than its size. Long strikes of other powerful international unions like the United Auto Workers and the United Steel Workers can create havoc in their industries and cause severe reverberations in allied fields, but their impact on the consumer is seldom immediate. Truck transportation, on the other hand, carts the goods essential to our daily existence the final distance from the plane, ship or train to the store or the home. Those last few miles are the nub of Teamster power. When the wheels which deliver our bread, milk, clothing, fuel oil. coal, laundry, newspapers and construction materials are stopped, everybody suffers within a shockingly short time.
Canada is a high priority target in Hoffa’s organizational offensive. “The continued growth of our union in Canada in both size and strength is of vital importance to our international Brotherhood,” he says.
This is how Hoffa has mapped out the Teamsters’ Canadian strategy:
• A massive drive for more Canadian members will be started next March. In partnership with other unions which have signed mutual security treaties with them, the Teamsters will try to enlist warehouse and transport workers along both sides of the new St. Lawrence Seaway and inside the Great Lakes. “Our drive,” says Teamster vice-president Thomas Flynn, “will stretch from Halifax to the Lakehead.” Canadian shipowners insist that Teamster control of the Seaway would be ruinous for the country. “We might just as well tie up the fleet, or give it to them.” says Captain Scott Misener, who heads Colonial Steamships Limited, of Port Colborne, Ont., a large inland shipping firm.
• The Teamster Brotherhood’s recruiting limits will gradually be extended far beyond transportation. “This business of jurisdiction,” I was told by Hoffa. “is a very flexible question. We reserve the right to organize anything that’s not organized, regardless what it’s in.” The girls who fill the chocolates at the Moirs Limited plant in Halifax already have been signed up by the Teamsters, as have the disk jockeys at CFCO in Chatham, Ont. “To Jimmy Hoffa, a Teamster is anybody who sleeps on a bed with movable casters,” says one unionist.
• Such base-broadening will be emphasized in 1959 when the Teamsters will try to sign up the twelve thousand employees of three hundred Simpsons-Sears Limited mail-order offices in the country. “We’ve already assigned fulltime people to this,” says Hoffa.
• The ultimate plan of the Teamster Brotherhood is to establish a U. S.-Canadian power bloc of fifty transportation union alliances. That would give Hoffa effective control over the movement of everything on wheels, in a continent that moves on wheels.
The forthcoming push by the Teamsters will confront the executives of many Canadian business firms with a radically new type of union: one that is run as—and is in fact—a multi-million-dollar business. The Brotherhood's discipline over its rank and file is so absolute that it can offer managements who sign its contracts guarantees against work slowdowns and wildcat strikes. When opposed, it can fight with a violence of purpose quite foreign to organized labor in this country, backed by financial resources which exceed the dollar reserves of all but the largest Canadian business firms. The 1.6-million-member Brotherhood currently has fifty million dollars in its treasury.
To mastermind his Canadian operations, Hoffa has chosen I. M. (Casey) Dodds, a deceptively mild-mannered former Windsor bus driver who, as the Brotherhood's Central Conference director in Canada, has been mainly responsible for doubling the number of Canadian Teamsters in five years. Dodds will spend this winter setting up a press-gang brigade of a hundred full-time Teamster organizers across the country. “By next spring,” he told me, “we'll launch a campaign that will make a lot of employers lose a lot of pounds.”
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Continued from page 15
Jimmy Hoffa’s plans for a Canadian empire
“Teamster activity here intimidation, brutality, mi
has brought charges of smanagement. But . .
Canada’s threc-billion-dollar trucking industry, already operated largely by Teamster drivers, now moves nearly one fifth of Canada’s inter-city freight traffic. Community growth once hinged on the railways; now it follows the highways. Three out of every five Ontario towns, for instance, depend entirely on road transport. The vital uranium deposits at Elliot Lake and the RCAE jet station at North Bay are serviced only by truck.
Through half a century of shrewd and sometimes violent organizing, Hoffa’s union has acquired impressive strength in Canada. The membership of true teamsters—men who drive teams of horses—is limited now to a few yet unmotorized Winnipeg milkmen, but the Brotherhood has enlisted fish-processing plant workers in Halifax, foundrymen at St. John’s, taxi drivers in Vancouver, the toll-takers on the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, four hundred automobile salesmen in Toronto, all concrete-mix drivers at Calgary, and employees in a dozen other industrial categories. Fully one tenth of the certification applications currently being heard by the Ontario Labor Relations Board are from the Teamster Brotherhood. "We’re on the move,” says Dodds, the Canadian Teamster chief. “We expect to have sixty thousand members by the end of 1959.”
The Teamsters are now recruiting vending-machine operators in Montreal and driving-school teachers and cab drivers in Winnipeg, but the major emphasis is on a more complete organization of the trucking industry.
“Without the city cartage and the road operations organized, you can't organize the rest of the city,” Hoffa recently told a meeting of Teamster executives in Windsor. “Any employer who wants to fight you in any other branch of our business can whip the strongest local, unless you have the support of the road and city cartage, and I don't care what kind of strike you’ve got. But once you organize the road, the city, and the warehouse, nobody can whip the Teamsters. Nobody.”
Hoffa plans to help guarantee the Brotherhood’s invincibility through the federation of fifty Canadian and American labor unions concerned with the transportation industries into a body called the Conference on Transportation Unity. Each union will retain its independence but sign pacts with the Teamsters to co-ordinate negotiations, strikes and employer boycotts. Hoffa would become conference president.
The first Canadian mutual security pact was signed between Hoffa’s union and the International Longshoremen’s Association during a ninety-five-minute session in a Mount Royal Hotel room at Montreal last summer. The ILA. which has about three thousand Canadian members, was expelled from the American Federation of Labor in 1953 for using gangster tactics on the New York waterfront. It has agreed to join the Teamsters in a mutual drive to enlist unorganized Canadian port workers. "We're going to toughen up on the waterfront, tie up a few loose ends, then organize the Seaway,” says Captain William Bradley, the American boss of the Longshoremen.
Also committed (but less directly) to the alliance is the Seafarers’ International Union, whose Canadian president, Hal Banks, is the country’s most controversial labor leader. Charged with several major crimes in the U. S. before he came to Canada in 1949, and in 1930 sentenced to fourteen years in San Quentin prison for writing a bad cheque while on probation, Banks was recently denied Canadian citizenship. His record here has included a conviction on a charge of possessing smuggled cigarettes.
When they begin recruiting along the Seaway next spring. Teamster organizers will be opposed by at least three rivals. District 50 of John L. Lewis’ United Mine Workers claims to have already signed up nearly two hundred tugboatmen in the Great Lakes and is going after fifty thousand harbor workers. “We are making medicine to do something about the Mine Workers,” says Casey Dodds. "We’ll knock them out anywhere we run across them.”
No broken rules
Even more serious opposition will come from Frank Hall's Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, which represents most of the already unionized labor at Canadian inland ports. Also opposing the Teamsters is the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees and General Workers, the largest union in Canada without international affiliations, which aims not oniy to recruit canal workers along the Seaway, but also Canadian truck drivers. “We will not back down before the Teamsters or anyone else,” says William J. Smith, the Brotherhood’s president. “That outfit,” replies Dodds, “is fired up by the verbosity of its own exuberance.”
Although Teamster activity in this country has brought charges of intimidation, brutality, mismanagement of union funds and violence during strikes and organizational campaigns, some leading Canadian labor leaders insist that the union here is free from gangsterism. "So far.” says Claude Jodoin. the head of the Canadian Labor Congress, “the Canadian Teamsters have not broken our rules. As long as they follow our constitution, they will remain in the congress.”
John Watson, chairman of the Individual Dump-Truck Owners’ Association, recently told a royal commission investigating allegations of Teamster hoodlumism in Ontario that during the union’s attempts to sign up gravel haulers around Toronto, many of the drivers who objected had the radiators of their trucks poked in with iron rods, flexible brake linings severed, sugar poured into their gas tanks, and tires drilled and slashed. He charged also that the wives of gravel-pit owners received anonymous telephone threats that their husbands’ plants would be blown up if they did not sign union contracts. “For about two weeks, anarchy prevailed,” concluded Mr. Justice W. D. Roach of the Ontario Court of Appeal, who headed the enquiry. He accused the Teamsters of violating every section in the Criminal Code dealing with intimidation.
Despite such condemnation many of the management representatives who deal daily with the union say that while the Brotherhood is tough at the negotiating table, it is usually dependable in adhering to agreements. “Generally speaking, the Teamsters keep their word once a contract has been hammered out,” says Bill Murray, manager of the Motor Transport Industrial Relations Bureau, which negotiates for ninety-five Ontario trucking firms. Robert Scott, business manager of Teamster local 987 in Calgary, says that the six hundred and fifty contracts negotiated during the local’s fiftyyear history have resulted in only one strike.
Jn their organizational battles, the essential function of the Teamsters gives them a strategic advantage. They can weaken another union’s strike by ignoring its pickets, or they can grant it most effective support by refusing to supply a struck plant. L.ast year, for instance, the Windsor local of the Teamsters decided to back the United Steel Workers’ strike against Canada Vitrified Products Limited, a tile-manufacturing firm in St. Thomas, Ont. They refused to deliver the company’s supplies on regular cartage runs.
During the St. Thomas dispute, strike sympathizers halted a convoy of the company’s own trucks by dipping old tires in gasoline, setting them ablaze, then rolling the doughnut torches in front of the vehicles. Rocks heaved at the driver of the lead truck shattered his teeth and lodged a piece of broken windshield into his eye.
During a 1953 strike by Teamster locals in Windsor and Hamilton, human chains were thrown across most of the major highways in southwestern Ontario; drivers who tried to run the blockade had bricks heaved at them, the tires of parked trucks were slashed, and varnish and maple syrup were poured into gas tanks. The Cope Transport Company, in Kitchener, which was operating nonunionized trucks, was surrounded one night by men, their faces blackened with burnt corks, who heaved stones at the parked fleet of vehicles and set fire to the warehouse. One Cope driver later testified that he had been threatened by a black-faced man who carried a knife in his mouth, pirate - fashion. When Kitchener Police Chief John Patrick tried to stop the rioters, his pants were torn, his nose and lips bruised, and he had his left hand cut badly enough to warrant hospital treatment.
The Hamilton and Windsor locals involved in the 1953 strike were then and remain today under trusteeship to Hoffa. This device, a sort of union martial law, is used by the Teamster executive to gain control over non-conforming locals. Under the guise of the broad term “irregularities” which can include anything from the dishonesty of a local’s officers to their asking too many questions about the finances of the International, Hoffa can place into receivership any local and appoint a trustee (sometimes himself) to administer its funds and decisions. Members and officers lose their voting rights. The trustee is answerable solely to Hoffa, and only Hoffa can lift the trusteeship. Some Teamster locals at Hamilton and Windsor were recently in trusteeship. “We hope to get rid of them by the end of the year,” Hoffa assured me when 1 talked with him at his headquarters in Washington.
The classic example in Canada of what can happen to members of the Teamster rank and file who object to their locals’ operating methods is the well-known case of John Tunney, the Winnipeg milkman who criticized the financial administration of local 119 in 1947. Edmund Houle, the secretary-treasurer, promptly suspended Tunney from the union, and Crescent Creamery, his employer, had to fire him because of the closed-shop agreement in its contract with the Teamsters. Tunney’s objections were fought up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which last year confirmed a previous Manitoba court ruling that granted him reinstatement and awarded him five thousand dol-
lars damages. Tunney has not applied to rejoin the union, still run by Houle. Now a salesman with Carter Motors in Winnipeg, he told Maclean’s: “The Teamsters will go ahead here, just so long as the workers are apathetic toward unions and are ignorant of what they’re getting into when they tie themselves down to the closed-shop principle under the dictatorship of union bosses.”
The American Teamsters direct the activities of their Canadian offspring with inflexible authority. “There just is no borderline,” says Casey Dodds. During the 1953 strike, local 299 in Detroit sent strike-fund cheques for nineteen thousand dollars to the Hamilton local and fourteen thousand dollars to the Windsor Teamsters.
The deepest involvement of the U. S. Brotherhood in Canadian corporate affairs occurred at Vancouver three years ago, when the Pacific Inland Express Company, a large transport firm whose drivers were members of the Brotherhood, was facing bankruptcy. The Western Conference of the Teamsters paid $440,000 out of the union treasury to acquire control of the company.
The U. S. congressional hearings have revealed the fantastically circuitous route used to hide the source of the funds. Frank Brewster, president of the Teamsters’ Western Conference, wrote out Seattle First National Bank cheques to Samuel Bassett, the union's attorney, who signed them over to E. G. Dobrin of Bogle, Bogle & Gates, another firm of Seattle attorneys. The money was then deposited at the Bank of California for transfer to the Canadian Bank of Commerce, in Vancouver, which credited the funds to James Richardson and Sons, the Winnipeg stockbrokers, in return for the majority mortgage and stock interest the Richardson firm held in Pacific Inland Express. To protect their investment, the Teamsters threw out the Vancouver company's existing management, substituting as president Robert Acheson, a Seattle trucking operator who often borrowed money from the union.
A much more personal financial link between Hoffa and Canada was his acquisition in 1955 of part ownership in North American Rare Metals Limited, a Canadian mineral prospecting company which through subsidiaries holds two hundred square miles of concessions in Ungava, a hundred and forty-two claims in the lithium-rich area of eastern Manitoba, and a one-hundred-and-eighty-sevenclaim property in the Temagami district of northern Ontario, where diamond drills are reported to have outlined three hundred million tons of iron ore. Hoffa purchased fifty thousand shares in the company under a special option in 1955; Owen Brennan, Hoffa's chief Detroit assistant, was until recently a North American Rare Metals director.
The investigations by the American Senate committee into the affairs of the Teamsters revealed that Hoffa had extensive personal holdings, including an oilproperty leasing firm and a camp for teen-age girls in northern Wisconsin, called Jack-O-Lantern. Hoffa claims to have since divested himself of these and other holdings. He becomes infuriated with attacks on his private investments. “Just because I'm a labor leader,” he demands, “am I expected to go around in baggy pants, drive a three-dollar car, and live in a four-dollar house?”
He drives a 1958 Cadillac, but his home in northwest Detroit is a modest story-and-a-half brick house he bought for $6,800 in 1939, three years after he married Josephine Poszywak, a fellow union organizer. He has two teen-age children.
Because his wife’s name is Josephine, and because of his stubby build and his apparently insatiable appetite for power, Hoffa is inevitably pictured as the Napoleon of the labor movement. A short (five feet five and a half inches) belligerent barrel of a man, Hoffa once walked into a Washington cocktail party and shrugged off his overcoat without looking back. It was grabbed before it hit the floor. Although he finished at the top in an intelligence test recently given some U. S. labor leaders by Princeton University, Hoffa seems to plot the advance of his ideas with jungle cunning rather than intellect. He has made his way with his fists and the fists of others, in the cynical conviction that nothing is on the level. "The union,” he says, “is not a social club.”
Hoffa likes to sport tailored silk suits and open-weave shirts in the summer; he always wears white socks, because he claims colored ones make his feet sweat. He does not smoke or drink (not even coffee) and rarely reads, except newspapers. He works in shirt sleeves. His day consists almost entirely of conferences punctuated by long-distance calls, which he ends abruptly with a barked: "That’s it!”
Aides glide in and out of his office in defensive and offensive platoons, depending on the direction of the attack being discussed.
Room 305 of the Teamster building in Washington, where Hoffa spends most of his time, is a tennis-court-sized office paneled in Honduras mahogany, with beige wall-to-wall carpeting, soundproof doors, indirect lighting and remote-controlled television. From his burnt-walnut desk, through faintly blue-tinged floorto-cciling windows, Hoffa can regard the Capitol dome a few hundred yards away. His office is the control centre of the Teamsters' five-and-a-half-million-dollar headquarters building, opened in 1955. The main bronze-framed door leads into a lobby exquisitely finished in variously shaded marbles and columns faced in mosaics of Venetian glass tile. The building has a penthouse terrace of Georgian marble, a forty-car basement garage, a hundred-seat restaurant, and an acoustically treated theatre which accommodates four hundred and seventyfour—its projection booth is equipped to show Cinemascope and Vistavision.
Hoffa was forty-four when he took over the $50,000-a-year Teamster presidency from keg-shaped Dave Beck, who has since been convicted of mishandling union funds. Although Hoffa has never driven a truck himself, his life has been a continuous training course for his present position.
He is the third child of an Indiana coal miner who died of coal poisoning when Hoffa was seven. After quitting school at the end of the ninth grade, he went to work at the Kroger departmentstore warehouse in Detroit. Only the time actually spent unloading produce cars was paid during the twelve-hour shifts. One night when a load of strawberries arrived, Hoffa, then seventeen, led a strike to demand more pay and union recognition. Threatened with the loss of its perishable cargo, management capitulated. Young Jimmy was granted the charter for a local of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, originally established in 1903 to represent the men who drove the brewery wagons.
Membership in the union did not rise above four hundred thousand before World War II. Recruiting was hampered, even more than in other industries, by the anti-union tactics of employers, Hoffa says. "They hired thugs to get us,” he recalls. "I was hit so many times with night sticks, clubs and brass knuckles that I can’t even remember where the bruises were. But I can hit back, and I did. Guys who tried to break me up, got broken up.”
His success in organizing automobile carriers led to Hoffa’s selection as contract negotiator for over-the-road agreements in twelve mid-western states. He was elected the ninth of the International’s eleven vice-presidents in 1952. “What we love about Jimmy,” says John English, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters, “is what he has done for the organization. All that cheap guff and gab doesn’t put a meal on your table. I love this little fellow.”
Although he has been arrested eighteen times on charges ranging from tiaffic offenses to shooting incidents Hoffa has been convicted on only three relatively minor counts: one assault-and-battery
charge carrying a ten-dollar fine; a case of violating anti-trust laws involving his attempts to set up a waste-paper monopoly in Detroit for which he was fined a thousand dollars; and his coercive attempts to force small shopkeepers into the union which put him on probation for two years.
The U. S. Justice Department has not been able to make any of its more serious recent accusations stick. The Teamster Brotherhood has a hundred and fifty lawyers on its full-time payroll. So that they might better co-ordinate their efforts against the Senate probers, they recently banded themselves into the National Conference of Teamster Lawyers.
Despite the continuing Senate investigations and the snowballing testimony about corruption at the top, the Teamster Brotherhood is gaining almost ten thousand new Canadian and American members a month. "We’ve learned to live and grow firm under attack,” Hoffa boasts. "We're now ready to move even more strongly ahead.”
Hoffa has been able to assume such a hold on the Brotherhood because most Teamsters take a less active interest in union affairs than other organized workers. The majority of truckers work in groups too small to press for a cleanup. Most of a driver’s time is spent jostling with traffic, leaving him little energy to worry about union affairs during his off hours. In the cab of his high-powered vehicle, he often assumes a sense of power which he does not possess in relation to the larger world—a touch of rebellion which makes him inordinately proud of belonging to the beleaguered but highly powerful Brotherhood of Teamsters.
“The Senate investigations have had very little effect,” says Casey Dodds. “The attacks have just drawn the whole family closer together.” One reason for the lack of more vocal discontent among Canada’s Teamsters is that many of the improvements in working conditions they have demanded have been gained by the union’s tough negotiating teams. Before the Teamsters grew strong in this country, truck drivers often had to hold the wheel sixty hours a week at wages considerably below manufacturing scales. Now they have shorter work schedules and some earn six thousand dollars a year and more.
The majority sentiment of Canadian Teamsters is summed up by Jean Larivière, the secretary-treasurer of local 106 in Montreal, who told me: “What we've got, we’ve got because of Hoffa. That guy must be all right.”
Such loyalty is scarcely comforting to the men who have recognized the full meaning of Hoffa’s battle orders for his Canadian offensive. Undaunted by the revelations of the American congressional investigations and unabashed by charges of personal dealings with convicted gangsters both in and out of his heavily muscled Brotherhood, he is determined to create in this country fully as stout a power grip as he already holds over the economy of the United States. ★