Teamsters Reform Movement Stalled

Campaign Tactics Under Fire

IPSN August 28, 1997

These are trying days for International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Ron Carey. In the last few years, the Service Employees International Union has eclipsed the Teamsters as the nation’s largest collective bargaining union. According to official estimates, there are 2-million dues paying SEIU members compared to a withering membership base of 1.4 million Teamsters. Between 1979 and 1994, the union lost roughly 500,000 rank-and-file members. Financial losses topped $58 million in 1992, the year Carey took office. In June, 1994, the Teamster strike fund went broke leaving the union weak in bargaining situations.

Since he was elected to the Teamster top post in 1991, Carey has been assailed by the “old guard” of corrupt officials linked to organized crime, and tarred by allegations of mob ties in the national media. The Carey people insist that the print attacks were vicious smears engineered by reporters sympathetic to the “old guard.”

Now, through stupidity, or arrogance, or both, Carey has provided the corrupt, mobbed-up ”old guard” cabal a fresh window of opportunity to seize back the union and reverse the course of reform his regime embarked upon in 1992.

In December of last year, Carey and his regime won a narrow 4-percentage-point re-election victory over James P. Hoffa, Jr., son of the legendary – and presumed dead – James Riddle Hoffa. It was the first direct election for a Teamsters president in the long and often sordid history of this union following the settlement of an epic racketeering suit in 1989 in which the IBT agreed to allow all members a voice in the selection process .

But the election outcome fell well short of a solid mandate of approval for the embattled Carey, and now, because of campaign financing irregularities, the government has ordered a new election for President to take place within a 112-day window period after a federally appointed Teamsters election officer, a Milwaukee labor attorney named Barbara Zack Quindel, refused to certify the Carey victory.

The problem began with a 30-year-old campaign hustler named Martin Davis who has been charged with fraud in connection with the Carey re-election bid. It is alleged that Davis was at the center of a dubious agreement between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Teamsters. who promised to donate union funds to various state Democratic parties in return for supporting Carey. According to a published 1996 memo emanating out of Democratic Party circles, nearly $1 million in Teamster action-committee contributions was earmarked to union-friendly, nationwide DNC affiliates.

In a separate memorandum, Davis, who heads a political consulting firm known as the November Group, mentions a DNC “commitment” to helping the Teamsters in return for this money. The Carey people blame “old guard” gangster tactics and the desire of Hoffa Junior to wrest the presidency away from their man for purely self-serving motives.

Carey supporters argue that if wrong doing occurred, the president was “unaware” of the actions of his slick fund raiser who has done work for a number of Democratic politicians over the years including former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley in his failed gubernatorial bid.

The Carey-Davis connection began after the July 1996 Teamster convention in Philadelphia, when supporters of Hoffa Junior staged a raucous demonstration on behalf of their candidate, which indicated to the worried Ron Carey strategists that their man was vulnerable to attacks from the “old guard” and his re-election was not cut in stone, as previously thought.

Shortly after Carey received his Philadelphia wake-up call, Davis rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He contacted a Boston telemarketing firm called the Share Group, and contracted with them to place cold calls to prospective Democratic voters in advance of the November congressional elections. The Share Group is headed by Michael Ansara, a former 1960s activist in the Students For a Democratic Society (SDS) .

The scheme Davis allegedly cooked up involved the awarding of a $97,000 Teamster contract to Share Group, but with the proviso that a portion of this money be set aside for the Carey campaign. Davis insisted that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters “wanted it done this way.”

Michael Ansara has since pleaded guilty to fraud and is presently awaiting sentencing. Martin Davis was arraigned in June, but the affair does not end right there. Prosecutors have issued subpoenas to the Teamsters and the DNC seeking the financial records of all the involved parties.

Meanwhile, with Davis’ help, Ron Carey defeated Hoffa by the narrowest of margins, after pulling out all the stops. In Chicago, two powerhouse Locals, 714, and 710 (the former placed into trusteeship by the Independent Review Board several months before the election), voted for the losing Hoffa ticket.

The Midwest remains a stronghold of the “old guard,” and Ron Carey knows that if his reform movement is to be successful, he must shore up his support in this region of the country. To do so, he must maintain his reformer image – increasingly difficult when the press keeps dredging up allegations of mob ties and financial improprieties.

The Carey camp countered the incriminating charges leveled against them by accusing the Hoffa people of raising $200,000 of improper campaign contributions – all of which leaves the Teamsters union in the hot seat at a pivotal moment in labor history.

With his luster fading fast, Ron Carey must also counteract old rumors that he was friendly with the mob in his former life. Carey, a former UPS truck driver out of New York, has been accused of mob ties by Alfonso “Little Al” D’Arco, a former acting boss of the Luchesse crime family who became an effective government witness in 1991. D’Arco alleged that Carey was linked to the Luccheses through the late Joseph “Joe Shrugs” Trerotola, a powerful East Coast Teamster boss who stepped down in 1991 amid allegations that he allowed the mob a free hand in the union. Trerotola served as chairman of the Irish American Teamsters. Ron Carey was a committee member within that organization, which he has since denied.

Now, in a more important battle that finally tested his abilities as a union leader and not as a Teamster apologist for the sins of the past, Carey has claimed victory for 190,000 UPS workers over management in a historic make-or-break 15-day strike that will likely determine his future and the future of the Teamsters Union.

Ms. Quindel conveniently withheld her ruling until two days after the settlement of the UPS strike, prompting angry denunciations from James Hoffa, Jr., the Michigan attorney who has demanded that Carey step down. Hoffa has called on the government to impose a national trusteeship – the same takeover tactics that drove out hundreds of mob-linked Teamster officials in the nationwide Locals where Hoffa tapped his greatest strength.

With the strike over there are grave concerns expressed for Carey’s reform movement and the continuing financial health of the union which owes about $10 million of the $13 million it has borrowed from 13 other labor unions.

The settlement of the contentious UPS strike, at first glance, bodes well for the future of the American labor movement. The big unions have been on the run and hurting since Ronald Reagan busted the PATCO strike in 1981. Public confidence in the collective bargaining process waned in the 1980s as union membership declined to record low levels.

Clear and resounding victories at the bargaining table could signal a period of revitalization and renewed confidence in the union label, but then again maybe not. The economy is chugging along nicely just now, and the perception that unions are out of touch with the changing realities of the private sector, and rife with corruption is a tough one for even the most savvy PR spin doctor to overcome.

Mr. Carey is sliding down a slippery slope these days. He has played into the hands of his opponents, and the kind of publicity he has been attracting of late, sorely compromises the modest gains of the recently concluded UPS strike.

A Hoffa victory at the eleventh hour will set the course of Teamster reform and the fondest hopes of all who are desirous of clean, efficiently-run unions free of mob control, back a hundred years.

It would be an even greater shame if the crusader for union reform turns out to be the fox in the hen house.