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State of the Union

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

First we had to stop the bleeding. When we took office, the IBT was hemorrhaging money. Financial controls were laughable, budgeting more fiction than fact, and the cupboard just about bare. We rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

We cleaned house and installed a financial control system that is the tightest and most efficient in the whole labor movement. Our auditors are now skilled professionals. We have real budgets that set real limits and have real consequences. This has been critical, the foundation for everything else we have done and everything we hope to do.

Obviously it is important to have a clean, reputable budget process. The money we entrust to our union is hard won - on the picket lines, at the bargaining tables, and by the sweat of our brows. I do not take lightly my responsibility for safeguarding it.

Building for Power
But beyond simple fiscal responsibility, the IBT’s finances must be solid for another reason. Much of our organizing, bargaining, and contract enforcement power derives from a clean, robust balance sheet. You cannot get something for nothing. If we are to contend with the organized wealth of the bosses and the corporations, we must do it with financial strength and power. We can’t do it if we’re teetering on the brink of bankruptcy or spending millions on boondoggles and perks.

Our next big fiscal challenge is to extend our financial renaissance. We are well on our way. We’re putting the finishing touches on a financial policy and procedure manual that will make it easy for Locals to adopt the budgetary and fiscal management tools that have turned things around at the International. We’re also looking at a three-year auditing cycle instead of the current five. This will make it easier to deal with challenges before they turn into serious problems.

About IBT auditors: they are there to help you. Our goal is not to trip people up on minor matters, and it’s surely not to oppress local leadership. Our auditors are there to help you improve your operations. IBT auditors are not FBI agents trolling for an easy headline. If they run across genuine wrongdoing, they will, of course, take proper action. But that is not what they generally find. What they generally find is decent books that need some t’s crossed or i’s dotted. At the end of an auditor’s visit, you get a full written report. It should highlight the strengths and weaknesses and make suggestions for areas that need improvement.

Meeting the Challenges
Another big challenge we face concerns future spending. We have balanced the budget and even run a surplus for the first time in eleven years. But 2001 presents two sets of extraordinary expenses that will add at least $20 million to the expenditure side of our ledger.

First there is the cost of the two sets of elections and the International Convention that will fill our 2001 calendar. Every penny we spend there will be worth it; at the end of the day we will have conducted the strictest, fairest election cycle of any union in history. But it will cost money and you deserve to be let in on that fact from the beginning.

Another extraordinary expense that will kick in during fiscal 2001 relates to pensions for employees of the IBT. For eight years, our union neglected its responsibilities to its own employees, leading to a dreadfully under-funded pension plan. In my view, this is scandalous. The IBT has long enjoyed the efforts of a dedicated, impressive core of staffers. We need to do right by them. I’m not talking about a gold-plated benefit package, I’m talking about what simple decency requires. I continue to work with actuaries and accountants on this issue, but correcting years of mismanagement and neglect will require us to expend some resources. I am committed to making these corrections. Teamsters take care of our own.

The problem is similar to one we confronted and solved when we returned to Teamsters headquarters in 1998. I do not have sufficient words to describe how disheartening it was to see what had become of the IBT building and annex. It had been a place that generations of Teamsters could look at with pride, but it had become a pigsty. I was amazed and appalled. The place was falling down around our ankles. Maintenance had been deferred for so long that "deferred" was really just a euphemism for "ignored." We undertook a program of comprehensive repair and upkeep. Doors are open again, light is streaming in, people are smiling and morale has finally returned.

Change is also coming to another part of our basic infrastructure. It is long past time that the TITAN system be upgraded. The world has moved from a mainframe computer environment to a PC-based one, and we must move with it or be left in the dust. TITAN IV will be a state-of-the-art communications array that will link the International to the Locals, Joint Councils, Conferences and Divisions in true 21st century fashion. It will take a year to phase in fully, but by Summer 2001, no union will have a more dynamic, forward-looking internal communications system than the IBT.

Running a Clean Union
Before I close, there is one more Teamsters initiative to highlight. It is so crucial to our future that any discussion of the state of the union would be incomplete without it. Here I speak of General President Hoffa’s signature anti-corruption program, Project RISE.

Respect, Integrity, Strength and Ethics. Without these, we are nothing. With them, we are unbeatable. Teamsters should now be responsible for supervising our own affairs. RISE has two components. In one, former FBI racketeering expert Jim Kossler is investigating whether and to what extent vestiges of organized crime still lurk in dark corners. He will help us finally close the book on that sad chapter of Teamster history.

The development of a Teamsters Code of Conduct is the other component of Project RISE. The Code will be drafted, adopted and enforced by Teamsters. It will assure that systemic corruption never again darkens our door. The process we have created for drafting our Code will serve the labor movement for generations as a model for how this critical task should be accomplished. I urge you to participate in Project RISE. It will only work if we all pull in the same direction.

In everything we do, Teamsters unity is crucial. From my travels around the country and my conversations with Teamsters throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, I know our strength stands at an all time high. Bosses take advantage when Teamsters divide internally. It is no accident that we are winning more organizing campaigns, contract negotiations, and arbitration awards. It is a direct result of renewed Teamsters unity and pride.

Thank you for affording me the opportunity to serve our brother and sister Teamsters. It is a privilege and an honor.

C. Thomas Keegel


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