SBJ/July 7 - 13, 2003/Labor Agents

Rival organizers spar over boxers union

Teamsters officials say they are on their way toward creating a first-ever boxers union, but the way it has been organized has caused a major rift in the boxing community.

Members of the Boxers Organizing Committee, a group that has been trying to form a boxers union for years, have accused the Teamsters group of taking over their plan to organize fighters. The BOC met with the Teamsters last year, asking for help in organizing, but talks broke down when the Teamsters wanted too much control of the union, said Paul Johnson, BOC president.

The Teamsters’ efforts have created a rift with another group trying to form a union.
"We came to [the Teamsters] after years of trying to start a boxers union, and they took it away and did it for themselves," Johnson said.

Dan Kane, president of Teamsters Local 202, said that with the help of the Teamsters, the new boxers' group, the Joint Association of Boxers (JAB), has gone further in organizing a union than the BOC ever did.

The Teamsters announced their affiliation with JAB at a news conference in Las Vegas in May and have been gathering union authorization cards for months.

"We have enough that we can demand recognition from at least three promoters," Kane said. "They are not the biggest promoters, but they are in the game."

JAB needs approval by a majority of the boxers under contract to a single promoter in order to form a collective-bargaining unit.

Kane, however, admits that JAB's organizing efforts have been hurt by the rift with the BOC. He said the disagreement started because Johnson insisted on being executive director, a claim Johnson denies.

Johnson said talks between the Teamsters and the BOC were derailed after the Teamsters provided them with a letter stating the executive director would be "someone in the first two or three years appointed by the Teamsters." Johnson said the boxers should choose the executive director.

Teamster officials have tried to recruit former heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon and former light heavyweight champion Jose Torres to lead the JAB effort. Both former champs, who are BOC members, turned the Teamsters down.

"They stole that [the boxers union] from us," Torres said. "They asked me, 'Do you want to lead this?' I said, 'No,' because the leader of this is Paul Johnson.'"

Witherspoon said the Teamsters offered him a $60,000-a-year job, which he declined. Although Witherspoon supports the idea of unionizing boxers, he said, "I turned it down because I didn't know what I was getting into and I didn't know what I would get the rest of the boxing world into."

Former boxer Eddie Mustafa Mohammad has agreed to lead the effort, Kane said, .

"Can the rift be fixed? I think so, but it is not up to me," he said.

Johnson, meanwhile, said he will continue to try to organize boxers into a different union.

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