After Pope finishes speaking, the men take turns posing for pictures with the candidate. Barry Lagler, a 59-year-old warehouse worker with a gray ponytail, slings one arm over her shoulder. “How can I refuse a request from a beautiful lady?” he asks, grinning for the camera.
“She’s almost a rock star,” says Phil DePietro, former president of Local 773.
“Did anyone tell them she’s a black belt?” asks John Price, a UPS driver. “You shouldn’t stand that close.”
There are 407 Teamsters locals across North America, and only sixteen of them are led by women. One of those is Local 805 in Long Island City, where Pope has been the president since 2005. She represents some 1,100 people. Meanwhile, Hoffa has been the international union’s president since 1999.
Twice he’s been reelected, but there are signs he may be more vulnerable than in the past. Last year, he named longtime ally C. Thomas Keegel, the union’s No. 2 official, as his running mate, but then Keegel pulled himself off the ticket, citing his unhappiness with how the union is being run. And in January, the court-appointed lawyer overseeing the election publicly spanked Hoffa and his campaign. Their offense: trying to buy the support of three union officials who’d split with Hoffa by promising jobs and benefits if they agreed to back him in his campaign.
Fred Gegare, a former Hoffa ally, is running for president, too, raising the strong possibility that this fall’s election will be a three-way race. Pope considers this good news: If Gegare picks off enough of Hoffa’s supporters, she figures, she has a shot. Meanwhile, Hoffa’s campaign has set up a website mocking her candidacy and accusing her of having nearly bankrupted her local by overspending. Pope admits she has indeed spent a considerable amount of Local 805’s money—on trying to organize workers. She has mounted two campaigns to unionize FreshDirect employees but has yet to prevail.
Another line of attack against Pope is the fact that she is running on her own. “She has not put together a slate of candidates,” says Richard Leebove, a Hoffa campaign consultant. “She hasn’t put forward anyone other than herself, and that alone raises serious questions about her ability to unify the union.” (Hoffa is running with a slate of 28 people.)
And although Hoffa has been a lawyer since 1968, Leebove takes a shot at Pope’s blue-collar credentials: “She portrays herself in her campaign literature as a truck driver, salt-of-the-earth true Teamster, as opposed to General President Hoffa, who grew up in the household of the most important labor leader of the twentieth century,” he says. “I think Sandy’s career—coming out of a very expensive private school in Massachusetts [Hampshire] and growing up in a very upper-middle-class family—I think that’s a little false advertising.”
After leaving the Rodeway Inn, Pope crashes at the home of a Teamster friend, then wakes at 4 a.m. The plan is to squeeze in some campaigning before speeding back to work at Local 805. First stop is a warehouse near Allentown that supplies ShopRite supermarkets. From 4:45 to 6 a.m., Pope joins four other Teamsters outside in subfreezing weather, jumping in place to stay warm, handing out flyers to workers. At 6 a.m., they set off for a UPS hub in Bethlehem.
Nationwide, more Teamsters work for UPS than for any other company—some 240,000 full-time and part-time employees—and there may be no bigger task facing the next Teamsters president than negotiating the next UPS contract. Shortly after 7 a.m., UPS’s part-time workers begin to stagger out of the building. These are the “pre-loaders.” They start around 3:30 or 4 a.m. and put in about four hours, loading up the brown package cars used to make deliveries.
This used to be considered a college kid’s job, but many of these workers are men in their forties and fifties who have been laid off from full-time jobs and are now piecing together income from multiple part-time gigs. The pay here isn’t great—the starting rate is $8.50 an hour, same as it’s been since 1997—but the job does promise benefits, if you can hang in there for a year.
“Hoffa sold you out big-time. You’re getting shit wages,” Pope says to one part-timer after another, handing each a flyer.
To one worker, she says, “You got sold out in the last contract.”
“Yes,” he says. “We did!”
By 9 a.m., Pope is back behind the wheel of her car, trying to warm her hands by rubbing them against her thighs. “I’d love to take a nap,” she says. “Just pull over to a truck stop and sleep for a few minutes.” But there’s no time to rest; she has to make one more stop before heading back to Queens. A truck driver at a frozen-food warehouse she represents in New Jersey is about to lose his job. (He allegedly smashed into a pole while backing into a supermarket’s loading dock and didnt tell his boss.) She pulls into the company’s parking lot, and an hour later she’s persuaded the worker’s boss not to fire him, at least not yet. Pope argues that every driver hits the loading dock occasionally—or, as she puts it, “All of us have backed in and said, ‘Oh shit.’ ”