National Secretary, the Transport Workers' Union
Born in: Sydney
Foes: John Robertson | Derrick Belan | Alan Joyce
Home Town: Sydney
You can accuse Tony Sheldon of many things – from indulging in overblown class war rhetoric to bleeding the national carrier to death. But you'll never hear the Transport Workers Union boss bagged for being gutless.
Over the past year, the former garbage collector has waged war on Qantas, made a failed run for the ALP presidency and arm-wrestled the Gillard government into overhauling pay rates for truck drivers.
"Everywhere you look, Tony's always fighting somebody," says a senior player in the NSW Right. "He's a crash or crash through kind of guy."
Sheldon, distinctive for his gruff voice and silver sideburns, delighted the Coalition last year by describing Julia Gillard's carbon price as a "death tax" for truckies. He went on to lambast then-workplace relations minister Chris Evans as incompetent and unfit for office, comparing him to the "dead guy" in Weekend at Bernies.
And don't even get him started on Alan Joyce.
"He's a person with a very short tenure as CEO -- I expect him to be gone by the end of the year," Sheldon tells The Power Index.
Joyce's decision to accept a 70% pay rise while shifting jobs offshore, Sheldon says, is as an example of "excessive greed" that "makes the HSU scandal look insignificant".
However, despite his bluff and bluster, it's impossible to construe the year-long dispute as a triumph for the TWU, which represents Qantas baggage handlers and ground crews.
Following Joyce's dramatic decision to ground the airline's entire fleet last September, Fair Work Australia terminated all industrial action and sent the dispute to compulsory arbitration. A decision isn't expected until August, but arbitration usually works out in the employers' favour.
Indeed, during his interview with The Power Index, Sheldon sounds far from confident the TWU will get everything on its wishlist -- which includes a 5% pay rise and a new 'job security' clause that would limit Qantas' ability to use contract labour.
To make matters worse, the union has been ordered to pay Qantas $750,000 in compensation over illegal strikes at four Australian airports in 2009.
There's no doubt, however, that Sheldon has knocked it out of the park with his "safe rates" campaign – a 20-year crusade to ensure that financial pressure doesn't endanger truck drivers' lives.
Sheldon was relentless in his efforts to get the government onside. He became a tabloid TV regular with lurid tales of speeding and drug use. He showed up at press conferences with crosses and model coffins. He organised protests of TWU members dressed up as cows (the message: you care about live cattle exports more than us). And his criticism of the carbon price wasn't really about the carbon price at all – it was a tactic to intimidate the government into acting on safe rates.
It may not have been subtle, but it was effective. In March, legislation passed the senate to create a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal with the power to set minimum pay rates and conditions, resolve disputes and inquire into industry practices.
According to the trucking industry, it's a trojan horse for increased wages that will do nothing to improve road safety.
"It will be proved to be a failure – and an expensive one," says Steve Shearer, Executive Director of the South Australian Road Transport Association. "The whole thing is a sham – but it was very cleverly done by Tony Sheldon and the union to get it up. They played the politics well."
Sheldon's other big achievement has been turning the long-divided TWU into a more cohesive unit.
"The public perception of Tony is that he's a tough-talking, forceful character and that's true," says AWU national secretary Paul Howes. "But he's also a thoughtful person; a compelling person to talk to ... He's turned the TWU from a loose federation into a powerful national force. That's a big deal."
Especially when you look back on his colourful, at times downright scandalous, career.
The son of an industrial chemist and a nurse, Sheldon grew up in a passionate Labor family in Sydney's Sutherland shire. After finishing a degree in industrial law at the University of NSW, he moved to Queensland to work at the state branch of Liquor Trades Union and quickly landed in controversy. In 1990 he and other officials were found guilty of ballot rigging a union election – though Sheldon maintains that a conviction for the offence was never entered.
By 1999 he had become secretary of the TWU's powerful NSW branch, one of the ALP's biggest donors. Sheldon's sway within Labor was bolstered by a close alliance with Health Services Union boss Michael Williamson, with the two unions voting in lockstep at party conferences.
Williamson also supported Sheldon in his ill-fated bid to become head of the NSW Labor Council in 2001. John Robertson, who now leads the NSW Labor party, prevailed and the pair remains far from chummy. Williamson and Sheldon have also since fallen out.
In 2007, Sheldon was accused of running a secret slush fund for Labor candidates which received $2.5 million from employers over five and a half years. A review by Deloitte found the fund had no governance arrangements or financial management processes.
And no-one who attended the 2009 ALP conference will forget his physical scuffle with delegates from the National Union of Workers, which competes with the TWU for representation.
Sheldon, who was attending Mass when the Qantas grounding was announced, is nominally a Catholic right winger. Yet within Labor circles, he's seen as a progressive. He's a gay marriage supporter who believes people "should be able to form their own families free from any discrimination or judgement by the state". He's also called on the federal government to adopt an obligatory 90-day limit for processing the claims of asylum seekers who are in mandatory detention.
This pitch wasn't enough to convince the ALP faithful to elect him president last November, with the delegates opting for the Left's Jenny McAllister.
Despite the disappointment, he got a warning for Alan Joyce and his other foes: I'm not going anywhere.
"Achieving safe rates legislation isn't enough," he says. "I want to see drivers able to access their rights ... And I want to keep taking on the unbridled behaviour of Qantas.
"While the members will have me, I'll continue to stand for positions in the TWU. If they say, 'Tony, it's time to pass the baton on,' I'll leave."