Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ron Carey’s successor

A big, burly, bearded Brooklynite UPS worker named Tim Sylvester inherited the late Ron Carey’s prestigious mantle as the rank and file reformer of Teamsters Local 804 in an election triumph on Dec. 3 that can only be described as breathtaking.
Sylvester won the presidency of Local 804 with his Members United Slate ousting the incumbents by a vote of 2,348-1091, a margin of more than two to one. Local 804 has 8,000 members and covers UPS’ crucial New York market.
While his victory was stunning, it came not by chance, but by building a movement in Local 804 to oppose concessionary contracts and to demand the local’s officers keep the membership informed instead of in the dark about negotiations—reflecting the philosophy of rank and file participation espoused by the ever-militant Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Sylvester and Jim Reynolds, his partner in transforming Local 804 are affiliated with TDU. Reynolds was elected Local 804’s secretary-treasurer on the Members United Slate.
Carey’s career can be broken into three shining rank and file reform moments: his election to the presidency of Local 804 in 1967; his election as General President of International Brotherhood of Teamsters with crucial support from TDU in 1991; and the great victory over UPS on the picket lines and at the bargaining table in 1999, again with the backing of TDU in an era when most unions were fearful of striking.
The 52-year-old Sylvester, who has been a Teamster and a UPS worker for 30 years, matched Carey’s 1967 achievement in ousting the current administration from Local 804, now headed by Howie Redmond, a long-time an ally of Carey who transferred his allegiance wholeheartedly to James P. Hoffa when he won the general president’s seat in 1999. Hoffa came to power after Carey was dumped from office on corruption charges—later proven to be untrue. Ousting an incumbent local Teamsters administration is the equivalent of defeating a sitting Member of Congress; it can be done, but not easily.
Whether Sylvester blossoms into a candidate for General President of the Teamsters will depend on luck and his performance as the top officer of Local 804. The next election for General President of the Teamsters will be in 2011—not much time for Sylvester to jell into a star with a national reputation for leadership.
But the next candidate backed by TDU to run against Hoffa and his allies in Washington will have to be someone just like Tim Sylvester, a Teamster leader up from the rank and file with a hunger to craft an activist union.

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