Sandy Pope is quick to acknowledge that she faces an uphill battle -- she is the first woman to run for the presidency of the very macho Teamsters union, and she is running against a three-term incumbent, James P. Hoffa, who has one of the most famous last names in American labor.
But Ms. Pope, president of Teamsters Local 805 in Queens, N.Y., since 2005, insists that she can pull off an upset. She argues that the rank and file are tired of Mr. Hoffa and fed up with contracts packed with concessions.
"The anger among the membership is at an all-time high," said Ms. Pope, who ran unsuccessfully for the union's No. 2 spot, secretary-treasurer, in 2006 as part of a dissident slate that lost by a ratio of nearly 2-1. "The members are much more willing to look for change than five years ago."
Although the mob influence that once pervaded the Teamsters has been largely rooted out thanks to two decades of federal supervision and scores of indictments and expulsions, the union and its 1.4 million members face other problems.
Membership has steadily declined as nonunion trucking companies have taken over much of the market, and the economic downturn has made it hard to negotiate sizable wage increases or, in some cases, to avoid contract concessions.
A third candidate, Fred Gegare, a former supporter of Mr. Hoffa and leader of a local in Wisconsin, also is seeking the union presidency.
Ms. Pope hopes to capitalize on an anti-incumbent fever that has been fueled by the weak economy, and she said she thinks the three-person race will give her an edge as the one least identified with the old guard and a problem-plagued status quo.
Ms. Pope, who is affiliated with Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a powerful faction that has long opposed Mr. Hoffa, said that even if she loses, she is confident that her campaign will improve the union by propagating her vision and prodding Mr. Hoffa to adopt some of it.
She said she would have the locals do far more organizing and would move money from headquarters to the locals to pay for it. She also intends to push locals to cooperate more to increase their clout when negotiating with regional employers.
Ms. Pope, 54, is far from the traditional image of a Teamsters president. She is 5-foot-6, weighs 135 pounds, and has blond-streaked sandy brown hair that falls past her shoulders. A member of the union since 1978, she drove trucks in the Midwest for years, hauling steel and delivering auto parts, and obtained a black belt in tae kwon do to help protect herself.
Supporters say she is a smart, savvy operator and a charismatic speaker.
Teamsters President James P. Hoffa
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Mr. Hoffa's forces say they are hardly worried about her.
"She's very critical, but she doesn't offer any solutions," said John Murphy, a Teamsters vice president for the Eastern Region who is a member of Mr. Hoffa's slate.
He said Mr. Hoffa -- who has led the union since 1999, after Ron Carey was forced out from the presidency in a campaign-finance scandal -- has "unified the organization. He's restructured the finances. He's built up a solid strike fund, and he's stepped up our organizing efforts."
Under Mr. Hoffa, the union has organized 30,000 private-school bus drivers, monitors, and mechanics, and 7,500 ramp workers at Continental Airlines.