YAWKEY, W.Va. -- With the backing of a Teamsters reform group and the prominence he earned in last year's strike against United Parcel Service, Ken Hall is taking on a legend.
A onetime oilfield roustabout from West Virginia, Hall, 41, is running for general president of the Teamsters against Detroit labor lawyer James P. Hoffa, the son and namesake of the union's best-known president.
"Some people say I'm young, but I've got 22 years in this union," Hall said Friday. "I've come up through the ranks. I'm a working Teamster."
Hall launched his campaign Sunday after weeks of maneuvering among the supporters of incumbent president Ron Carey, whose 1996 re-election was thrown out because of an illegal fund-raising scheme that used union money for the Carey campaign.
Carey, who has denied any wrongdoing, was barred from taking part in the new election. Sources close to Carey say in recent weeks he has begun lobbying for Hall, his confidant and right-hand man during last year's UPS strike.
Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a 22-year-old reform caucus, announced Wednesday that it would back Hall. The support of the group's 8,000 activists is considered crucial to anyone running against Hoffa.
"Ken Hall has united the reform movement," said Diana Kilmury, co-chair of Teamsters for a Democratic Union. "We'll be working overtime to help build support for him from coast to coast."
Hall joined the union in 1976 at the age of 19, when he took a job with Pennzoil in Yawkey, where his father had worked for many years.
"I hadn't even finished my probationary period at Pennzoil when we had a contract strike," Hall said. "And going through that strike, I got to see firsthand how big corporations can treat working people.
"I learned that if you don't fight for what's yours, nobody's going to give it to you. And so I became active in the union."
In 1978, at the age of 21, Hall was elected shop steward by his 300 co-workers at Pennzoil. Two years after that, he was asked to help negotiate a contract with Pennzoil. He went on to become a Teamsters business agent.
Hall was elected president in 1990 of the 3,500-member Teamsters Local 175 in Charleston, W.Va. Hall has negotiated more than 300 contracts for workers in a wide range of jobs.
"We're not just freight and UPS," he said. "To be president of the Teamsters, you have to work with a lot of different businesses, because we represent all kinds of workers, from newspapers to bottling plants."
After Carey was elected president in 1991 in the Teamsters' first-ever rank-and-file presidential vote, Hall became his confidant.
Carey named Hall to head the international's small package division, representing 220,000 workers. As head of that division, Hall was thrust into the national spotlight last summer, when 185,000 Teamsters struck UPS for three weeks.
Soft-spoken and slight in build, Hall is a long way from the table-thumping presidents of the Teamsters' past.
"The old style is to beat your fist and scream," he said. "I've never subscribed to that. If you get that angry, you lose control. And when you lose control, you make mistakes."