Toxic Toys, a Dead Giraffe & the Teamsters

So, what really killed Tweet the Giraffe?

The Teamsters are ramping up their campaign aimed at taking down Toys R Us.  The union famous for its horses’ head logo and thuggish tactics is teaming up with “environmental justice organizations, consumer advocates, public health professionals, parents, children’s health activists” to use the Holiday Season to attack giant retailer Toys R Us and Babies R Us for allegedly selling toxic toys.  However, despite their shaky allegations, what may be really driving the union attack is the fact that Toys R Us is owned by private equity Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts (more commonly known as KKR).


It’s not the toys the Teamsters care about…

As far back as last April, Teamster boss James P. Hoffa was opining on KKR in the Huffington Post:

The Teamsters have had plenty of experience with private equity firms, and it hasn’t been pretty. Time and again, private equity firms have bought good, profitable Teamster employers only to devour their cash.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.’s history with Teamster employers is one of underinvestment, stretching workers and equipment to the breaking point. KKR’s pattern has been to kick to the curb the carcasses of what were once productive enterprises.

After doing drive-bys at KKR-owned U.S. Foodservice and trying to muck up the opening of Toy Story 3 earlier this year, FoxBusiness notes ironically that the Teamsters and the group “are not going after Walmart, Sears, Target or other toy retailers.

A Toys R Us source says it could be because of prior activities between the union and the retailer’s co-owner, Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, a private equity concern with $54.4 billion in assets under management.

KKR is moving to take the Toys R Us public in an $800 million IPO next year.

The Teamsters union has long battled KKR for various labor practices at companies KKR owns stakes in, and for business practices the union feels will hurt its investments in its $100 billion pension and benefits fund.

The Teamsters didn’t return calls for comment. KKR didn’t returns calls for comment.

For example, KKR has been fighting the Teamsters’ attacks over its business practices at Dollar General stores, one of its biggest investments, as well as the union’s efforts to organize the U.S. Foodservice center in Tampa, reports indicate.

KKR co-owns U.S. Foodservice with Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, another private equity concern.

KKR has also been attempting to modify a Teamster labor agreement at a U.S. Foodservice location in Streator, Ill., reports note.


Meanwhile, Tweet the Giraffe is dead. Of mysterious causes.

That’s right, Toys R Us’ famously iconic giraffe tragically died last year on the Massachusetts set of “The Zookeeper.”  According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Tweet’s death may have been caused by an overdose of blue tarp.

Just a month after PETA wrote to the cast and producers of The Zookeeper to warn them that the company supplying animals for the movie’s production has a long list of USDA citations, we have heartbreaking news to report. Tweet, a giraffe on the set who had also been forced to perform in Ace Ventura and a slew of Toys “R” Us commercials, has died.

Tweet collapsed in his pen while being fed on Friday. While giraffes in the wild can live into their mid 20s, Tweet was only 18 years old.

The results of Tweet’s necropsy haven’t been released yet, but according to awhistleblower who contacted PETA, Tweet’s premature death may have resulted from his eating pieces of the blue tarp that covered his enclosure. The whistleblower alleges that Tweet’s owner and trainers were notified that the giraffe had been eating the tarp but that they did nothing about it.

It is interesting to note that (according to this charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board [in PDF] the notorious Teamsters Local 25 was also on the set “The Zookeeper.”

A decade ago, Teamsters Local 25, with a tough reputation, including allegedly beating a woman, had all but driven the film industry from Massachusetts.


Much of the state’s poor reputation has to do with the controversies surrounding Teamsters Local 25, the union that provides transportation for the film and television industry. The union has been under federal investigation on a number of charges and has the reputation of driving up costs. Union member John Murray has been convicted of racketeering and extortion, and Teamsters officials have been sued for corruption and intimidation tactics. “Massachusetts has a terrible reputation in the industry — we’ve been fighting that for decades, for at least 15, maybe 20 years — and it came to a head recently with the Teamsters situation… a couple years ago,” says Moos. During the production of “Housesitter,” “stuff got broken, stuff went missing.” The situation was so bad that even the disappearance of a camera truck, probably not connected to the local Teamsters at all, became a Teamster issue in the eyes of Hollywood.

“A lot of people don’t want to have to come into the state and have to deal with the Teamsters,” says Kleiler. “And independent producers who get too high on the radar screen don’t want to have their tires slashed and things like that and have their windows broken, so people will go elsewhere to get their films made.”

While we can’t say for sure whether or not it was the blue tarp that did the giraffe in, one thing we do know for sure: The Teamsters’ targeting of Toys R Us has nothing to do with toys.

Footnote: No toys or giraffes were hurt in the writing of this post.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”  Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776


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