Q&amp;A with Labor Leaders: Teamsters General President Hoffa

Corporate America has a new plan: to use labor contractors and staffing agencies to supply workers with no strings attached. Look no further than Taylor Farms in Tracy, California, where the company is using multiple staffing agencies to avoid any responsibility to its workers.  Taylor Farms workers are standing up for their rights and are working to pass AB 1897, sponsored by the California Labor Federation and the Teamsters Union, to hold companies accountable for labor abuses of temporary workers.

Last week, Teamster General President James Hoffa joined the Taylor Farms workers in solidarity at the Capitol and again at a rally in Tracy to support their fight for justice at Taylor Farms and advocate for the passage of AB 1897.  We asked President Hoffa a few questions about his trip to California.

Thank you for joining us in Sacramento. Can you tell us what brings you out today and why you’re lending your voice to this particular fight?

Hoffa: We’re here with regard to Taylor Farms, and the fact that we've got 900 people working there for three different employers. They're using the scam of temporary employment agencies to hide behind paying the right wages. We have one worker that's worked 10 years and he's still classified as a temp. That is wrong. What we have to do is to make sure they're treated as one company and stop this scam.

Why is this problem so egregious?

Hoffa: What it is, is a way to avoid proper payment of people, carrying workman's comp, social security and all the different things that go into what you should be getting as an employee. Worst of all, the people that have stood up for their rights are now being intimidated. They're being written up. The one guy says he went back. He's gotten 10 write-ups. He never had a write-up before he went to the union. It's obvious that there's an intimidation going on here and it's across the board. We've got to stop this.

Are these types of violations happening elsewhere in other industries?

Hoffa: It's not just in Taylor Farms. It's basically something– it's under the healthcare industry. People work side-by-side with somebody and they don't work for the hospital. They work for some temporary agency. That's wrong. What this is, it's a way to get around your responsibility as an employer. We have laws in this country that an employer has to do certain things, has to provide this health care, has to provide a pension, has to provide a good place to work, a safe place to work. This is a way to get around it and we want to end that here. The way we do that is to have a victory at Taylor Farms.

As you mentioned, this is not just happening at Taylor Farms. It's having rippling effects across many industries, across many states. With that in mind, and the election right around the corner in November, do the Teamsters have a focus on certain races that might be important for lifting up worker's rights?

Hoffa: Well, obviously there are some great candidates out there that we support. We want to win because if you win a governorship, if you win a state legislature, we can have these laws– The problem we are dealing with here is something we can deal with.

Here in California, you have a majority in both the Assembly and the Senate– you got a very progressive governor. You can do tremendous things here to help workers and for social progress. In other states where you have Republicans everywhere, they do everything else to make sure people don't get that.

When we go and talk about November in politics, you know it's about what's right for the worker, and the answer is we want to put people in office that believe like we do, that they should have an employer that cares about them, that gives them fare wages and takes care of what they should with regard to the paycheck, with regard to safety on the job and there is no intimidation. That's what our goals are, and we will support workers that do that. We support candidates that believe as we do.

This is just one campaign, but it’s obviously one that we think we can win. Do you feel like a victory with Taylor Farms and AB1897 can help to set the tone for other fights elsewhere?

Hoffa: Absolutely. California, in many ways, always leads. California is a progressive state, and so many things happen in California before they happen in other places– I'm from Michigan – it will be a long time before it gets to Michigan. We're fighting– in Michigan; we have a Republican governor, Republican House, Republican Senate. They're doing everything they can to thwart workers. If we can pass this legislation, we have something that we can look to and say, “Look what California did,” and make sure that that spreads across the country and take it to the next state. Take it to the next state. Take it to New York. Take it to Illinois. That is what we're doing. It has to start somewhere. If we're successful in California, we have a model that we can take elsewhere.

James Hoffa has been General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters since 1999. This year he passed his father as the second longest serving Teamster General President. Hoffa was elected to his third term in 2011.