Persistence and a heartfelt perspective on the value of unions paid off for a humble University of Calgary Student.
For just the second time, a member of Teamsters 987 has been awarded the 2023 James R Hoffa Memorial Scholarship. Kaleb Chhoa, whose father works at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Calgary, was one of just 13 Canadian recipients of this scholarship.
The award is exclusively available to children of active members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Kaleb’s application stood out among the thousands of entries from across Canada and the United States.
Covering the Rising Costs of Learning
The Hoffa Scholarship was established in 1999 and named for James (Jimmy) R Hoffa. It recognizes Hoffa’s tireless service to Teamsters and its members until his untimely and suspicious death.
In his final year of high school, Kaleb knew that if he wanted to get into university and pursue his passion for mechanical engineering, he would need financial support.
As Kaleb describes it, “I applied for any scholarship I could!” But while reviewing the list, this one jumped out at him.
“It really caught my eye because of the name. I’ve learned about Jimmy Hoffa and what he’s about. He was a very prominent figure for unions – giving workers a voice at a time that was not very worker-friendly,” Kaleb explains.
“I realized my dad is part of the same union, so I applied.”
The Surprise of a Lifetime
When Kaleb opened the letter saying he was awarded a scholarship, he was stunned.
He really didn’t think he had much of a chance, especially since he was competing against students from across North America. While his dad is a man of few words, Kaleb could sense his father’s immense pride.
Kaleb believes his essay on the benefits of a union, his volunteer experience and his extracurricular involvement in clubs helped his application to stand out.
Thanks to the scholarship, Kaleb could enroll in the engineering program at the University of Calgary. The scholarship will provide Kaleb $10,000 over four years – and cover a significant portion of his tuition fees.
“Without this scholarship, I don’t think I could have afforded it,” he smiles.
Kaleb is currently in his first year of engineering at the University of Calgary. He’s been actively involved in student clubs and competitions that pit engineering students from one university against the next. The budding mechanical engineer is excited to be part of a team that is competing to build offroad Baja buggies as part of an international competition called Baja SAE®.
According to Kaleb, it’s a thrill to move beyond the math and equations and do hands-on engineering work with real-world applications. Plus, it’s right up the alley of this admitted “car nerd.”
The son of hard-working immigrant parents who moved to Canada to create a new life, Kaleb’s appreciation for Teamsters goes beyond this scholarship.
Kaleb is incredibly grateful for everything Teamsters 987 has done for his family. He takes comfort in knowing 987 was there to look after his family in challenging times.
Kaleb’s father works at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Calgary. He says the union was instrumental in protecting the jobs and wages of his father and his coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Coke began outsourcing plant jobs to non-unionized workers in the spring of 2021, Teamsters 987 members voted to strike. The settlement was very favourable to the unionized Coke workers.
“The union was there to protect everyone, and I’m grateful for that.”
Kaleb’s mother works in a non-union job, and he has seen a notable difference in their respective workplaces. He has witnessed how the union has prevented employers from taking advantage of his father and other workers. His mother doesn’t have the same protection.
“Without a union, there is a power imbalance between management and employees. Unions create balance and give workers a chance to be heard.”
Making It Count
The James R Hoffa Memorial Scholarship is awarded annually. It is available to dependent children of active Teamsters members from any North American local. There are two types of scholarships: a $10,000 academic scholarship for those enrolling in college or university programs and a $2,0000 scholarship for those vocational programs.
The young engineering student is determined to make the most of this scholarship.
“I’m grateful to Teamsters for helping our family through challenging times. I hope in the future I can give back to the community and make a difference through the opportunities this scholarship will provide.”