The Teamsters have scored a powerful ally in their battle with Sotheby’s, which locked out its union art handlers last fall. A few weeks ago, Robert F, Kennedy, Jr., an environmental attorney, opted to move a charity auction for his nonprofit organization, Waterkeeper Alliance, from Sotheby’s New York “out of respect for the striking Teamsters.” (Just to be clear–they’re not, actually, striking, which would imply that they have voluntarily left their jobs; they are protesting the lockout.)
This came as a welcome surprise to the Teamsters, considering that James Hoffa, Sr.–the father of now-Teamsters general president James Hoffa–and the Kennedys had been involved in very public clashes over the years. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy pursued Hoffa in court between 1957 and 1964 on fraud and bribery charges, landing him a 13-year prison sentence.
But the latest move by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. suggests that all of that is water under the bridge. In a Feb. 13 letter to Jim Hoffa, which was quoted in the Detroit News on March 8, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. writes:
I know that our families have been at odds in the past. But you and I have spent our lifetimes fighting off the right wing attacks on the union movement and battling to making our country live up to her historical ideal as a template for justice and democracy. Our success will require a large and durable middle class that can only come from a strong union movement.
To that, Hoffa responded in a letter, excerpted on the Teamsters’ website:
Thank you for joining in with the chorus of labor unions, Occupy Wall Street and others who believe in economic justice and a strong middle class, to help the art handlers. This injustice is yet another example of the class warfare being waged by the top 1 percent.
The Teamsters also cited Mr. Hoffa’s statement: “The problems facing working families are far more serious than our fathers’ past conflicts. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s decision to stand up for the locked-out Teamsters at Sotheby’s tells me what a good man he is.”