It’s been nearly 40 years since Jimmy Hoffa disappeared mysteriously, after leading the Teamsters in a run distinguished by being widely reviled as a mobbed-up crook. Even though his legacy is a name that remains synonymous with union corruption, Hoffa is still beloved by current Teamsters’ leadership. To this day, they honor his memory with college scholarships given in his name to the children of hardworking Teamsters — a scholarship that was established in 1999, the same year his son, James P. Hoffa, became the union’s president.
The leaders of Hollywood Teamsters Local 399 recently posted a notice on their website about the $1 million Jimmy Hoffa scholarship fund, urging its members’ kids to sign up for it. I think it’s high time they changed its name. Whatever good Hoffa did in bringing the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to national prominence during the turbulent ’60s, they are overshadowed by his well-documented misdeeds that make him an inappropriate figurehead for a stipend that should be associated with noble things like higher education, hard work and getting ahead honestly.
Hoffa, whose self-dealing may have done more to disgrace and damage the labor movement than anyone else in American history, was once described by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as the embodiment of “absolute evilness.” His crimes are legendary. Not only was he closely affiliated with many known organized crime figures, he also stole from his own union. In 1964, Hoffa and six of his cronies were convicted of defrauding the Teamsters’ pension plan of $1.7 million, a good chunk of which went into Hoffa’s own pockets. That same year, he was convicted on two counts of jury tampering stemming from a 1962 case in which he was charged with extorting $1 million from a company that employed Teamster drivers.
In 1971, after serving nearly five years of his 13-year prison sentence, Hoffa was pardoned by President Nixon, and quickly set about to regain control of the union. In the end, he died as he lived, vanishing on the afternoon of July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of a restaurant in the suburbs of Detroit, never to be seen again. While it seems clear he was murdered, Hoffa’s body has not been found. His 102nd birthday falls next week.