- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2001

The Teamsters union is trying to "find common ground" for agreement with the Bush administration despite the president's policies that conflict with organized labor, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said yesterday.

Mr. Hoffa said he has "great respect" for President Bush. The Teamsters supported Democrat Al Gore for president, as did most of organized labor.

"More than ever, we believe that there are no permanent friends, just permanent interests," Mr. Hoffa said during his "State of the Union" speech at the National Press Club.

The Teamsters were one of 18 unions invited to the White House this week as President Bush sought organized labor's support for his energy policy. Mr. Hoffa agreed with Mr. Bush's energy policy, which includes controversial oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Mr. Hoffa called Mr. Bush's policy of promoting oil exploration "a decision that will create more than 25,000 Teamster jobs."

He downplayed environmental concerns that have turned oil drilling into a hands-off policy for most political leaders.

"This is not an epic struggle between environmentalists and Big Oil," Mr. Hoffa said. "Every 30-cent-per-gallon increase in gas prices takes $38 billion out of the pockets of American consumers. Some 600,000 of our members turn a key in their vehicles every day, as do tens of millions of Americans. The Teamsters are working to achieve a responsible balance between the economy and the environment."

In addition to winning support for his energy policy, Mr. Bush appears to have been trying to soothe animosity with organized labor. Shortly after taking office, Mr. Bush helped eliminate new workplace safety rules unions wanted and pushed international free-trade agreements unions oppose.

Subsequently, the AFL-CIO, a federation of national labor unions, pledged to campaign against any politicians who supported similar policies.

Mr. Hoffa sidestepped a question about whether his support for Mr. Bush's energy policy was in exchange for federal oversight of the union being lifted.

"We continue to talk with them. We're not making much progress, but we're continuing to talk to them," he said.

The union agreed to the oversight in a consent decree 12 years ago to avoid federal racketeering charges after the government claimed the union was corrupted by organized crime.

Mr. Hoffa said the Teamsters are emerging from their troubled past. He called on the federal government to lift the consent-decree restrictions, which included paying about $100 million in sanctions.

"There is universal agreement that the consent decree has successfully removed organized crime influence from the union," Mr. Hoffa said. "And there is universal agreement that it is now time for the Teamsters to run the Teamsters union."

Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, said the consent decree was not mentioned during Mr. Hoffa's visit with Vice President Richard B. Cheney.

"What was discussed yesterday was the president's energy plan and how we can work together to help families that are hit hardest by energy prices," Mr. McClellan said. "That was the purpose of the meeting."

Mr. Hoffa also railed against Overnite Transportation Co., the trucking company he accused of having "the worst record of labor-law violations in the country."

The company and union have failed to reach a collective-bargaining agreement since the Teamsters began an organizing campaign in 1995. Overnite has 13,000 employees at 168 U.S. service centers, including a hub center in Richmond. The strike affects only about 21 of the locations.

Last month, a U.S. appeals court ordered Overnite to bargain with the striking union and pay at least $3 million in back wages. Last week, a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge ordered the trucking company to stop trying to bribe workers to circulate anti-union petitions.

"The Teamsters are engaged in an extraordinary labor war, to determine whether the Overnite workers, or any workers in America, have the fundamental right to organize," Mr. Hoffa said. "Or, can companies such as Overnite and Union Pacific spend millions to subvert that right, and in essence, erase it."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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