Imperfect Union

To the Editors:

Kim Phillips-Fein's recent feature regarding the Teamsters
["Imperfect Union," March 12–26, 2001] presents a distorted picture of the
largest, most democratic union in America.

It's not exactly news that union membership, especially in the private sector,
is declining. But the trend has accelerated in recent years due to the rise of
multinational corporations, the U.S. economy's shift from unionized manufacturing
to largely nonunion services, and an unrelenting right-wing attack--by
legislation, by regulation, and by presidential appointment--on the 65-year-old
National Labor Relations Act.

What is newsworthy is the strong efforts by a handful of international unions,
including the Teamsters, to reverse this trend. Contrary to Phillips-Fein's
caricature, our union is in the vanguard of the labor movement's drive to sign up
new members. From school bus drivers in Missouri to tankhaul drivers in Florida,
from casino workers in Detroit and Las Vegas to county clerical staff in
Indiana, from recycling workers in California to police workers on Capitol Hill,
from warehouse workers in Chicago to attorneys in Montana, Teamsters have been
organizing workers across North America under my administration.

Phillips-Fein cites labor disputes like Northwest Airlines as legacies of the
corrupt Carey regime. Exactly. It took the work of my administration to gain
closure and fair contracts for thousands of workers stuck in perpetual limbo by
Carey's inept bargaining at Northwest, at Anheuser-Busch, and at the Detroit
newspapers, as well as to ensure enforcement of the contract with United Parcel

I am proud of the successes we have scored in two short years. Today's Teamsters
are stronger and more unified than ever before. We have laid the groundwork for
continued organizing and bargaining achievements that will lead the
revitalization of American labor.

James P. Hoffa

General President

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Washington, D.C.

To the Editors:

It's too bad that The American Prospect has allowed
itself to be drawn into a smear campaign against James P. Hoffa and the Teamsters
by a group purporting to speak on behalf of rank-and-file Teamsters but that has
virtually no base inside the union. I am speaking of Teamsters for a Democratic
Union, an organization disgraced by its uncritical defense of the previous
Teamster leadership and propped up by grants from corporate foundations and a
strong anti-Teamster bias in the mass media.

With regard to use of alleged quotations from me in her article about the
Teamsters union, I stated to Kim Phillips-Fein at the beginning of our interview
that my discussions with her were for her background and were off the record.
This is obvious from the out-of-context statement containing profanity that she
ascribes to me. It is hard to understand how your magazine would publish such a
quotation without first checking with the source.

Furthermore, Phillips-Fein's characterization of me as a Hoffa adviser who
"downplays the importance of organizing in general" is completely contrary to my
record as well as my views. Anyone who knows me or my nearly 20-year track record
working to build a stronger labor movement knows that my principal contribution
has been in advocating a dramatic shift in union resources and focus into
organizing. I was among the first to suggest that labor must "organize or die,"
long before it was an article of faith in top AFL-CIO circles.

While I have served as its executive director, the Labor Research Association's
most extensive research and advocacy has concerned the strategies required to
increase union membership. And my principal work as president of LRA Consulting
has been to assist labor unions throughout the United States in their efforts to
develop strategic organizing plans.

While you claim to support the American labor movement, you do a disservice to it
with articles like Phillips-Fein's.

Greg Tarpinian

Labor Research Association

New York City, NY

Kim Phillips-Fein Responds:

Neither James P. Hoffa (who declined to be interviewed for
my article) nor Greg Tarpinian disputes the central claims in the piece: that
organizing victories have dwindled under Hoffa's administration, resources
devoted to organizing have declined, and there is no clear plan for how to devote
increased resources to organizing in the future, given the decentralized
structure of the union.

Regarding Mr. Tarpinian's claim that I quoted him inappropriately, it was my
understanding that the taped interview was for attribution, with the exception of
comments that he asked me to keep off the record. The quotation I used was not
among these. I regret that he feels there was a miscommunication.

Bush's Trillion-Dollar Mistake

To the Editors:

What a wonderful magazine! Finally, I've found a
discussion of serious policy initiatives, such as payroll-tax cuts, that have no
currency in the mainstream media or inside the Beltway.

Barbara R. Bergmann's "Debts and Taxes" and Joshua Micah Marshall's
"Democrats Adrift" [both March 12–26, 2001] were very thoughtful. Yet the key
issue facing Democrats is whether to be New Democratic or progressive. The
answer should be obvious.

Giving half the tax cut to the wealthy is an issue made in heaven for Democrats.
Framed properly, it should resonate with the 99 percent of the voting public who
get the crumbs. Yet in opposing the tax cut the Democrats are virtually
incoherent, sometimes stammering about fiscal irresponsibility, occasionally
mumbling something about fairness. You can almost hear Bush taunting them to
unleash the demons of "class warfare," daring them to bite the rich hands that
feed them. Torn between their paymasters and their grass roots, the paralyzed
Democrats risk losing the support of both groups and continuing the party's
decline into irrelevance. Unfortunately, no one else seems in a position to
capitalize politically on the coup of the wealthy.

John Hofer

Eugene, OR


In "The Thernstroms in Black and White" [March 12–26,
2001], Adam Shatz reported that Abigail Thernstrom voted for Bill Clinton in
1992. In a letter published in our April 9 issue, the Thernstroms disputed this
fact, along with several others. Shatz responded in the same issue, standing by
his facts, and the Thernstroms subsequently requested that Shatz listen again to
the tape of his interview with them. Shatz now writes to amend his earlier

I have checked my tape again, and Stephan Thernstrom is
correct. Abigail Thernstrom told me that she did not vote against Clinton
in 1992, prompting her husband to exclaim, "Those are grounds for divorce!" Asked
whether she voted for Clinton, she said she did not. Without further ado, she
went on to explain why, as a lifelong liberal Democrat, she could not bring
herself to vote for a Republican president until 1996. I apologize for the error.
But the point I was trying to make--that Abigail Thernstrom considered herself a
Democrat until very recently--still stands.


Our April 9 issue contained an article entitled "Lead Us Not into Temptation"
by Eyal Press, in which Melissa Rogers was quoted and identified as executive
director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The quotations--drawn from
Rogers's 1999 article, "The Wrong Way to Do Right: Charitable Choice and
Churches"--reflect the views of Rogers in her capacity as the former general
counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee. They do not reflect the views of the Pew
Forum, which takes no position on President Bush's faith-based initiative.