Jimmy Hoffa

From Academic Kids

See also: James R. Hoffa's son and current Teamster union president James P. Hoffa

James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa (14 February, 1913 - 30 July, 1975?) was a noted American labor leader who is also well-known in popular culture for the mysterious circumstances surrounding his still-unexplained disappearance and presumed death.

Hoffa was born in Brazil, Indiana and was the son of a poor coal miner. His father died when he was young and Hoffa could not stay in school. Hoffa moved to Detroit to work in a warehouse. He was a natural leader who was annoyed at the mistreatment of workers, and in 1933, at the age of twenty, he helped organize his first strike of "swampers," the workers who unloaded strawberries and other produce.


Union activities

Hoffa rapidly advanced through the ranks of the Teamsters union, which organized truckers throughout the Midwest and then nationwide through skillful use of quickie strikes, secondary boycotts and other means of leveraging union strength at one company to organize workers and win contract demands at others. The union also used less lawful means to bring some employers into line, creating the image of Teamsters as thugs that remains today.

Hoffa took over the presidency of the Teamsters in 1957, when his predecessor, Dave Beck, was convicted on bribery charges and imprisoned. Hoffa worked tirelessly to expand the union and in 1964 succeeded in bringing virtually all American over-the-road truck drivers under a single national master freight agreement. Hoffa then pushed to try to bring the airlines and other transport employees into the union, greatly worrying the American government and business which saw how devastating a strike of all transportation systems could be for the national economy. For all the benefits that Hoffa and some Teamsters delivered for over-the-road drivers, other Teamsters locals did little more than sign sweetheart deals that made union officers rich and left workers poor. In industries such as garment delivery, organized crime took over locals, then used their power to strike to bring an entire industry either under the Mafia's control or at least vulnerable to blackmail.

Hoffa had a working relation with these racketeers, some of whom had played an important part in getting him elected General President of the Teamsters. Several Teamster chapter presidents were convicted for mob related crimes, and often would continue serving as union leaders, including Antonio 'Tony Pro' Provenzano, in New Jersey. Moe Dalitz and Allen Dorfman funded many mob casinos, hotels, and other construction from the Teamsters pension fund.

Another group Hoffa allegedly had close ties to was the Republican Party. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson both put pressure on Hoffa, attempting to investigate his activities and disrupt his ever-growing union. The Kennedys especially were sure that Hoffa had pocketed a great deal of union money. The AFL-CIO also disliked Hoffa, having expelled the Teamsters in the 1950s, and aided the Democrats against him.

Conviction and disappearance

In 1967 he was convicted of attempted bribery of a grand juror and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In 1971, however, President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence on the condition that he not participate in union activities for 10 years. Hoffa was planning to sue to invalidate that restriction in order to reassert his power over the Teamsters when he disappeared on 30 July 1975 from Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, at about 2:30 p.m. He was meeting two Mafia leaders, Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone of Detroit and Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano of Union City, New Jersey.

His fate is a mystery that continues to this day and there are many guesses as to what happened to him. Among these are that Hoffa is buried in northern Michigan, under the New Jersey Turnpike, in an abandoned shaft of a coal mine near Pittston, Pennsylvania, under the end zone at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, or at the PJP Landfill in Jersey City underneath the Pulaski Skyway. Another hypothesis is that Hoffa's corpse was actually put in a cement-making machine and turned into cement, dissolved in an acid tank used to rechrome car bumpers, and rendered into fat at a rendering plant. No theory has been proven and his body has never been found, and on30 July 1982 he was declared legally dead and a death certificate was formally issued. Recently, the Discovery Channel show MythBusters arranged to have the locations in Giants Stadium where Hoffa was rumored to be buried scanned with a ground penetrating radar to see if any disturbances were present that would indicate a human body had been buried there. No trace of any human remains was found.

In 2001, DNA evidence placed Hoffa in the car of longtime Teamster associate Charles O'Brien who claimed Hoffa was never in his car. However, new police interviews that year failed to produce any indictments.

In 2004, Charles Brandt, a former prosecutor and Chief Deputy Attorney General of Delaware, published a book, I Hear You Paint Houses, in which he recounts a series of confessions by Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran, who claimed to have killed Hoffa. Sheeran, a World War II veteran, Mafia hitman, truck driver, Teamsters official, and close friend of Hoffa's, began contacting Brandt with the intention of assuaging his guilt over his murderous past. Over the course of several years, Sheeran and Brandt had numerous phone calls (recorded by Brandt) during which Sheeran confirmed his role as Hoffa's killer. According to Sheeran, he had been ordered by the Mafia to murder Hoffa in 1975. Claiming to have used his friendship and influence with the former Teamsters leader, he lured him to a bogus mob meeting in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. Once there, Sheeran shot Hoffa twice and fled, leaving the body behind. "I Hear You Paint Houses" is a euphemistic term for murder, alluding to the splatter of blood on the walls.

In the end, Hoffa was not nearly as beholden to the mob as his successor and longtime crony Frank Fitzsimmons, who avoided imprisonment by dying of cancer. While Hoffa was a brilliant tactician who knew how to play one employer off against another and who used the union's power to rationalize the industry by driving out weaker employers, "Fitz" was content to play golf (he always won when playing other Teamster officials) and take in other benefits of high office. The deregulation of the trucking industry pushed by Edward Kennedy and others in the late 1970s during Fitzsimmons' tenure eventually destroyed much of what Hoffa had won for his members under the National Master Freight Agreement by making it much harder to maintain the high standards that Hoffa had achieved.

Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa currently leads the Teamsters.

Representation in the arts

A semifactual motion picture of Hoffa's life entitled Hoffa was released in 1992 starring Jack Nicholson in the title role and Danny DeVito—also the film's director—as his right-hand man.

In 1983, the television mini-series Blood Feud dramatized the conflict between Hoffa (portrayed by Robert Blake) and Bobby Kennedy (portrayed by Cotter Smith).

The 1978 movie F.I.S.T. was based loosely on the life of Hoffa. It starred Sylvester Stallone as a young trucker who rises through the ranks of organized labor.

The book The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa by Walter Sheridan is a noted guide to the trials in Tennessee of Hoffa, although biased as Mr. Sheridan was one of RFK's lawyers. The book Contract Killer by William Hoffman and Lake Headley goes into great detail about Hoffa's murder.

Because of the notorious circumstances of Hoffa's disappearance, many films and television series such as The Simpsons and Bruce Almighty have used Jimmy Hoffa's body (or the discovery thereof) to humorous effect.

External links


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