International Viewpoint


Teamsters trouble II


Dianne Feeley

Ten years ago the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil suit against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), North America's largest trade union, with 1.4 million members, representing workers in both the United States and Canada.

The Justice Department alledged that organized crime deprived union members of their rights through a pattern of racketeering which included twenty murders, a number of shootings, bombings, beatings, bribes, extortion, theft and misuse of union funds.

Since 1957 every IBT president, except Billy McCarthy, had been convicted and sentenced for one or another federal offense.

Originally the Justice Department announced that it would indict and remove the president of the IBT and impose a trusteeship on the union under the provisions of the RICO Act.

This meant complete supervision of union affairs, including finances, until there was a free and fair union election. The IBT denounced the government action as a tactic of "fascists or communists" and said that implementation of the trusteeship would lead to the destruction of free trade unions.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a rank-and-file movement within the Teamsters, opposed trusteeship with the slogan "No mob control, No government control, Teamsters need the Right to Vote."

They launched a national right-to-vote petition that gathered 100,000 signatures and elected 275 reform delegates to the 1991 IBT convention (15% of the total).

By the time the Justice Department filed its suit in the summer of 1988, it had backed off from the trusteeship idea. Instead it indicted forty-eight IBT officials for illegal activities and ordered the election of new officers.

The 1989 consent decree--an agreement between the Justice Department and the IBT officials--created an Independent Review Board to investigate corruption in the union and provided for impartially supervised elections of all convention delegates and International union officers for the next two elections--1991 and 1996.

It didn't even ban the practice of multiple job and pension holding that brought 134 Teamster officials salaries in excess of US$100,000. Mere corruption could be tolerated as long there was no outright violation of the law or open connection to the Mafia.

The 1991 government-supervised election saw the underdog, Ron Carey, a TDU-backed candidate for president, beat the two old guard candidates despite the fact that they had far more financial resources.

The reform slate of top officers included working Teamsters as well as local union officials. It included the first woman and Latino to sit on a Teamsters executive board, and also included an African American.

It would be a big mistake to see Carey as the person who singlehandedly transformed the union. While Carey never joined Teamsters for a Democratic Union nor shared its vision of a radically restructured and democratic union, he was an effective ally.

As TDU explained it, there was now a sympathetic and militant leadership that fought for change at the same time that the rank- and-file movement continued to push for change from below.

The Teamsters, however, is quite a decentralized union and the continued domination of corrupt officials at the regional and local level impacted heavily on the life of the union. TDU ran opposition slates and won a number of important locals to a reform perspective.

In seventy cases, Carey removed corrupt officials and placed the locals in receivership. In other locals, officials who had at least gone along with the old guard began to cooperate with the Carey administration.

Carey used his presidency to utilize the resources of the union, build the union's new organizing and strategic campaigns departments, remove corrupt local officers, cut wasteful spending and eliminate the regional conferences--a whole level of parasitic bureaucracy.

He opposed union participation in various employer "team concept" programs and carried out effective mobilizations of the membership, most notably in a one-day wildcat against UPS in 1994, the 16-day UPS strike in 1997, but also a 24-day strike in 1994 to maintain full-time jobs in the freight industry.

Now Carey stands accused of improper swap schemes that donated Teamster dues money to organizations that, in turn, had individuals write checks to his campaign. These organizations have close ties to the Democratic Party.

"Donorgate" was first uncovered by a Hoffa supporter, who doggedly sifted through the Carey campaign's financial statements, then alerted the election officer of his findings. What was first unearthed suggested a kickback--the wife of political consultant Michael Ansara donated $95,000 to the Carey campaign.

As a result, the election officer ordered a thorough investigation. As a result, the election was voided and a rerun ordered.

On September 18, 1997 three political consultants*FOOTNOTE 1* with ties to the Democratic Party pled guilty to crimes:

Jere Nash, to one count of conspiracy and one count of making false statements;

Martin Davis, to one count of conspiracy, one count of embezzling union funds and one count of mail fraud;

and Michael Ansara, to one count of conspiracy.

As part of their plea agreements, each agreed to cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Carey himself has not been accused of personal corruption (taking money for his own personal gain).

Yet after months of investigation, it has been established that between October 17 and November 1, 1996 Carey authorized $885,000 from the IBT general treasury for political contributions, of which $475,000 went to Citizen Action, $175,000 went to Project Vote and $85,000 to the National Council of Senior Citizens.

He did so in a year in which the IBT was suffering a negative cash flow and its net assets had been halved.

And, as Judge Kenneth Conboy--the court-appointed election officer in charge of investigating Carey- has noted, the size of the contribution is particularly large. Conboy found that the average IBT contribution to Citizen Action had been $5,760, with total contributions for the previous four years amounting to $57,600.

Although it had been usual IBT procedure to seek General Executive Board approval for general treasury expenses in excess of $10,000, such procedures were not followed with these contributions.

Additionally, the contributions themselves were controversial-- Aaron Belk, Mr. Carey's Executive Assistant, felt that funds for political or advocacy groups should be donated from DRIVE, the Teamster' political action fund. Yet by October this fund was depleted.

Further, Belk believed it was unreasonable to makecontributions at the very end of the 1996 congressional campaigns, when the outcome would not be effected.

On November 17, 1997--nearly one year after Carey won his bid for re-election, Judge Kenneth Conboy disqualified Carey from participating in the court-ordered rerun.

In his decision to rule Carey ineligible, Judge Conboy concluded that Carey approved the expenditure of at least $735,000 "based on his understanding that those contributions would assist his campaign's fundraising efforts" and that this represented a clear and serious violation of the election rules.*FOOTNOTE TWO*

Carey took an unpaid leave of absence in order to appeal Conboy's decision, but the appeal has already been rejected. (Secretary-Treasurer Tom Sever is acting General President.) Meanwhile, the schedule for the Teamster rerun election has been suspended, to allow for an investigation into James Hoffa, Jr.'s fundraising.

The initial delay was for forty-five days, but Election Officer Michael Cherkasky has asked for, and been granted, an additional thirty days.

For its part, TDU has circulated a petition calling for a thorough investigation of Hoffa and demanding that the election officer be provided with all the necessary resources to conduct afull inquiry.

They are particularly concerned with Hoffa's ties to the Mafia and with pension fund transfers that may have aided his campaign.

Disqualification is a longshot, but if it could happen, rank-and-file Teamsters would have leveled the playing field of the elections, and would have a greatly improved chance at campaigning, and electing, a reformer.

While acknowledging the role Carey has played in helping to implement reforms, I would suggest that the reform movement is much broader than the elected officials who identify with those reforms.

In fact, this situation reconfirms the importance of a rank-and- file movement that can fight to transform the union. It's the *movement* that remains center stage.

There is no evidence that the Clinton administration or the oversight apparatus singled out Carey. Since the 1989 consent decree, the IBT election processes have been closely monitored bygovernment-appointed officers.

It's not that the federal government has suddenly become convinced of fair elections, either, but it has made a calculated decision to rid the union of the Mafia.

For its part, however, TDU *is* convinced of the importance of a free and open election process. In contrast, some on the left point to the media and right-wing attacks on Ron Carey, particularly for the role he played in the UPS strike.

They draw the conclusion that the government and the right wing are out to destroy Carey because he led militant strikes.

They denounce "government intervention," forgetting that there would not have been a procedure to elect the International officers had it not been for the consent decree--and Carey wouldn't have been elected to office in 1991.

It's clear that the *Wall Street Journal,* the right wing of the Republican Party and several corporations that employ Teamsters are delighted that Carey is now barred from re-election.

The right intends to continue their investigation through the use of Congressional hearings organized by Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra. Certainly the right has taken advantage of the situation, but they didn't create it.

Clearly Carey made the wrong political choice when he hired political consultants tied to the Democratic Party. They bring with them the sleaze of mainstream politics: "test marketing," direct mailings, and "soft money" donations to the Democratic National Committee.

Not only are they costly, but they do what union members should be doing--whether that's phoning the membership or planning the campaign.

While several of the left groups that defend Carey are *for* independent political action, they fail to understand how Carey's use of these political

consultants created a direct pipeline to the Democratic Party and its methods of operation.

As long as one accepts the "rules of the game" that the mainstream politicians set up, a union or an individual is almost inevitably led into corruption.

After all, the rules mean you have to come up with the big bucks to finance a campaign, and the only place there's money is around the mainstream parties.

A rank-and-file strategy presents the only viable alternative: it suggests that a mobilized membership can carry out an effective campaign even without the big bucks--and the 1991 IBT election is the proof.

Denouncing "government intervention" may be a quick fix for the some of the left, who were never very much involved in Teamster politics to begin with, but it doesn't mean much to workers who have been fighting for democracy inside their union.

They've won the right to honest, open and informed elections by making demands *on* the government.

The fact is that U.S. unions have to comply with government regulations all the time. (U.S. labor law is more restrictive than in most OECD countries.) Some of the laws are relatively straightforward and reasonable, some are less so.

But the issue here isn't protecting the Teamsters from the hands of the government. Rather it is to maintain and extend the gains of union democracy that made the IBT qualitatively more independent of both organized crime and the employers.

Some leftists predict that if the progressive movement doesn't unite to fight against "government intervention," unions will be transformed into little more than company unions.

That view seriously misrepresents the state of the labor movement today, where most unions readily collaborate with both government and employer.

The government report ruling Carey out of the rerun election contains serious charges against AFL-CIO Secretary- Treasurer Richard Trumka and AFSCME President Gerald McEntee. Indictments are possible.

But diverting the members' money is a serious offense against the democratic rights of the membership. How can radicals and progressives defend such practices?

Only by overlooking the actual evidence.

If they actually discuss Conboy's decision, they confine themselves to challenging Jere Nash's testimony (which is admittedly dubious, since if the government deems him to have become an uncooperative witness, Nash will face a heavier sentence).

It's as if many left-wingers don't think the actual charges, the actual evidence, matters.

I believe that's a profound misestimation--it is essential to remember that history has demonstrated that those socialists who have not consistently defended democratic rights lose their authority with the working class.

In the face of a right-wing assault, we pay a price if we do not speak the truth--even if we wish the facts were different. We simply can't gloss over the evidence.

The disqualification of Carey is a reactionary decision--though for a different reason. It deprives the membership of its hard-won right to vote for the leadership of its own choosing.

The effective democratic remedy would have been to re-run the Carey- Hoffa contest, under stringent financing rules to prevent further abuse by either campaign.

In any case, defending Carey "against government intervention" is not only a Herculean task, it is pointing in the wrong direction.

The focus needs to be on the master freight contract, which covers 100,000 workers and will expire on March 31, 1998. It may be a more difficult fight than the fight over the UPS contract because there is more than one employer, and no one made a billion dollars in profits, as UPS did.

The union has been organizing visible actions and a petition campaign, on the model of the UPS campaign.

Almost half of all freight workers submitted surveys to help fashion the Teamsters' bargaining proposals: job security that would limit subcontracting and double breasting (a company operating under another name, which would be, conveniently, non-union); increased pensions; safety issues and increased income and benefits.

The members also understood that organizing the non-union shops in the freight industry is a key priority.

For their part, the companies want to avoid a strike, but they will also attempt to take advantage of any disunity or weakness they perceive in the union.

TDU, meanwhile, is aggressively organizing itself. It is setting up regional offices and it is discussing possible reform candidates for the next election, whenever that will be.

It is continuing to challenge the old guard in local elections, and getting out the information on Hoffa's long association with Mafia figures.

It's monthly newsletter, *Convoy Dispatch* is getting out the information about the campaign for the Master Freight Agreement. The reform movement is alive and well in the Teamsters.


1. While the 1991 election campaign was more of a grassroots effort, the campaign manager brought in some political consultants, who later provided their services to the IBT in the 1992-96 period. These included political consultant Martin Davis, who was a partner in a direct mail firm, the November Group; Jere Nash, who became Carey's campaign manager in February 1996; and Share Group, Inc., a Boston area telemarketing firm that assisted with fundraising. Michael Ansara was a partner in the Share Group.

2. See decision on web site:


You've read the article: now buy the magazine!

International Viewpoint * or Inprecor (in French)

Special low rates (for new subscribers only!)

USA $35: cheques to International Viewpoint

PO Box 1824, New York NY 10009

Return to

All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.