Chat Transcript: Teamsters Pres. James Hoffa

ByABC News

Aug. 15, 2000 -- Presidential candidates court many groups for votes, and the way unions vote has historically decided elections.

This year's election is no exception. The United Auto Workers and the Teamsters broke away from the AFL-CIO's endorsement of Al Gore for president, citing the loss of members and contracts, global competition and support for the North American Free Trade Agreement as reasons.

James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, has announced his group will endorse the week before Labor Day.Will Gore get the Teamsters vote, or will his support of foreign trade cost him the endorsement? Teamsters President James Hoffa joined us live from the Democratic Convention for an online chat. A transcript of the chat appears below.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:05pm ET welcomes Teamsters President James Hoffa. Thanks for joining us.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:05pm ET

Can you clarify whether you have endorsed a candidate at this point?

James Hoffa at 5:05pm ET

We have made no endorsements to date. We are looking to an endorsement just after Labor Day. We are polling our members, because it is our belief that it is the members we must listen to. We also intend to get input from local union officials and the Teamsters Executive Board, and will make an endorsement just after Labor Day.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:06pm ET

U.S.A. Today reports that the Teamsters have decided not to endorse a third-party candidate. So this means the field of candidates is down to a choice of two?

James Hoffa at 5:06pm ET

That's right. This is part of our process. We have eliminated the third-party candidates because they cannot win this race. We intend our endorsement to be very meaningful and to affect the upcoming election. That is why we are not going to endorse any of the third-party candidates.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:06pm ET

This question comes from John:

John Dobyns at 5:07pm ET

Mr. Hoffa: I can't understand why the Teamsters would want to endorse Al Gore, who for eight years has been vice president of an administration without a clear energy policy, and who thinks it is okay that gas prices as the same as those in Europe. This would cause havoc with the trucking industry and its workers.

James Hoffa at 5:08pm ET

We know that we must have good gas prices, around $1.15 to $1.30. We will have input into whatever administration we endorse, regarding fuel prices. We at the Teamsters are especially aware of the impact it has on the trucking companies that employ hundreds of thousands of Teamsters. We will work to lower gas prices.

Kevin_Local282 at 5:08pm ET

President Hoffa,

Congratulations on all your good work bringing back Teamster pride. We really appreciate it in the rank and file. But I can't understand why you went to the Republican convention. Those guys vote against striker protection laws and support "right to work" laws. I don't think they're good for Teamsters. So why did you go to their convention and endorse a union-buster like Rep. Hoekstra?

Kevin G. from Local 282.

James Hoffa at 5:10pm ET

Well, we campaigned on the promise that we would have a bipartisan approach to politics. We back people like Congressman Peter King of New York and Jack Quinn of Buffalo. We have a Republican House and a Republican Senate. We must have an approach where we have friends on both sides of the aisle if we are going to be able to pass legislation that helps working families. That is why I went to the Republican convention.

Also, with regard to Congressman Peter Hoekstra, we have talked to him, and he voted against permanent trade status with China — the only Republican in the Michigan delegation to do so. Also, because of our contact with Hoekstra, he has now taken himself out of any endorsement of national right-to-work laws. So this type of dialog is paying benefits with the Republicans.

Also with regard to Hoekstra, because of our dialog with him, he has now withdrawn his support for fast-track legislation for the President, which is a position that organized labor has supported. So those three items alone are reasons why we backed Hoekstra. Also, in reality, Hoekstra is very popular in his district and will win the next election.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:12pm ET

Let's move on to the issue of free trade. This question comes from Kurt:

Kurt from at 5:12pm ET

Mr Hoffa, as a union member I'm appalled at Gore's stance on free trade and even more upset by his pick of Lieberman. He does not get my vote this year, and unless we stand up to administrations who sell us out, we will be taken advantage of over and over. How can you even consider endorsing Gore this year? Let's not sacrifice our souls and try to win at all costs.

James Hoffa at 5:13pm ET

Well, the trade issue is one reason why we have not endorsed to date. We have fought WTO, permanent trade status for China, and other trade issues. We know the impact that these trade agreements have, because they send American jobs out of this country to the third world. Unfortunately, both Gore and Bush are free-traders.

We must have input with whoever we endorse to change their views and make them aware of the danger and impact these trade agreements are having on American workers.

Jack from at 5:13pm ET

Do you think there should be any limits on soft money in politics?

James Hoffa at 5:14pm ET

No. With regard to organized labor, we are the only persons who speak for working people. I mean the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters union. Without organized labor, working people would have no voice. So soft money contributions help articulate important issues that help working families. The best example was the campaign a few years ago regarding the minimum wage, which we raised.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:15pm ET

There are 1,500 labor delegates among the 4,300 here at the DNC. All the major labor unions have supported Gore. It seems the Teamsters are the only labor holdout. Why is that?

James Hoffa at 5:16pm ET

The Teamsters union is following its own course. We wanted to get by the two conventions to hear both parties' positions on important issues. We are on course with our polling of our membership, and with regard to our dialog with both parties. We have set a date just after Labor Day for our announcement. We think it is better to wait than to be with the other unions at this time.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:18pm ET

I'm going to paraphrase a question from Kathy on the subject of H1B visas. She says corporations are taking advantage of workers, and the Clinton/Gore administration is doing nothing about it. What is your position on that? What should this or any administration do?

James Hoffa at 5:18pm ET

I believe that we should limit the number of H-1B visas. We should have less visas rather than more. The problem is that these computer companies are paying less to these computer programmers from Pakistan and India than what they should be paying, and are discriminating against American workers. The reason why they want the immigrant workers is because they work for less, and they do not want to pay a living wage to American programmers who have the skills to do these jobs.

Every year thousands of programmers graduate, but are ignored because they want the wages that they should get because of their educational background. The computer companies are using the visas to get cheap labor, and we should oppose them.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:19pm ET

Any comments on the Clinton/Gore administration's position on it?

James Hoffa at 5:19pm ET

We are against anyone who is for the expansion of the visa program, whether it be Bush or the Gore administration. We will work very hard in Congress to make sure these programs are limited.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:19pm ET

What about the issue of amnesty for illegal immigrant workers?

James Hoffa at 5:20pm ET

I think that's something we have to look at. The AFL-CIO took a position with regard to this issue, and we are a part of the AFL-CIO. I think that we should encourage legal immigration. We should bring people to this country who have skills this country needs, and especially with regard to the Hispanic workers of the Southwest.

The Teamsters union is in the process of developing new initiatives with regard to the area of amnesty and will be putting those positions forward at a special press conference in San Jose, California.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:21pm ET

Unions support amnesty for lower-paid workers, especially the laborers' union to provide low-paid hotel and restaurant workers. But they are against increasing visas for higher skilled and better paid computer workers. Why?

James Hoffa at 5:21pm ET

The difference is that there are people, Americans, who are trained to do the high-tech jobs, but the computer companies want to use the visa program to bring in cheaper labor to discriminate against American workers. There is a difference with regard to Hispanic workers who have come to this country to do jobs that are available and that do not discriminate against American workers.

A republican from at 5:23pm ET

Are the unions ever going to include their Republican paying union members in their decisions on what issues to support?

James Hoffa at 5:23pm ET

Yes — that is why we are polling the members. We will get the views of both Republican and Democratic Teamsters when we poll the membership.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:24pm ET

We have questions from Democrats who ask the opposite — why are you flirting about endorsing Republicans?

James Hoffa at 5:25pm ET

We have a bipartisan approach to politics. We have a Republican Senate and a Republican House. We must have contact with Republicans if we are going to deliver legislation that helps working families. This is what we have done, and we have had success to date.

We will take into consideration both the views of Republican and Democratic Teamsters as we make our decision. However, it is clear that there is a broad spectrum of issues that are central to all working people, such as minimum wage, job safety, ergonomic legislation, Davis-Bacon, and other issues that form a core set of ideals that all workers agree on.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:25pm ET

Can you comment on the campaign that's been run by Bush/Cheney? What's your take on the race so far?

James Hoffa at 5:26pm ET

Well, you know, both campaigns are hitting certain issues. The Republicans are concentrating on a certain Clinton fatigue, while the Democrats are running on the record of a strong economy over the past eight years. We think the race will be very, very close, and we have to wait to see what comes out of this convention and whether the Democrats get a bounce out of Gore's final speech on Thursday night.

ABCNEWS' Bettina Gregory at 5:26pm ET

Mr. Hoffa, thank you very much.

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