BY: DAVID MOBERG
November 28, 1997
were gloomy here last weekend, and there was every reason to think
the climate indoors would be just as gray.
From all parts of the
country, union-reform activists from Teamsters for a Democratic
Union were gathering for their 22nd convention.
A few days earlier a
federal election overseer had ruled that their standard-bearer,
Teamsters president Ron Carey,could not take part in a rerun of
last year's union election because he knowingly participated in
the misuse of $735,000 in union funds in a complex scheme to help
his campaign beat back the challenge of James Hoffa Jr., son of
the notorious former Teamsters president.
(On Tuesday, two days
after the convention ended, Carey announced he was taking a "temporary
unpaid leave of absence" pending the outcome of his appeal
of his disqualification.
When they'd first heard
the news of Carey's disqualification, these activists some of
whom have endured years of threats, beatings and worse in pursuit
of a more democratic union-were both angry and profoundly sad.
Carey's victory in 1991
seemed to have inaugurated a new era for the Teamsters: He cleaned
up around 70 corrupt local unions, ended multiple salaries and
wasteful official indulgences, and let loose an imaginative staff
that involved the members more in their union and found new ways
to organize, win contracts and make workers' voices heard in politics.
Now it appeared that
the path to power was open for Junior Hoffa, a lawyer who had
worked for some of the Teamsters' most corrupt officials but had
never negotiated a union contract.
Yet the mood of the
gathering was anything but glum. It was the biggest TDU convention
ever-over 600 rank-and-file members, local and international union
officials, and staff, with a record number of newcomers- and a
surprisingly upbeat one.
There was a celebration
of last summer's UPS strike, a testament to the power unions gain
when they educate and mobilize their members.
There was a rousing
hero's reception for Carey. And in a straightforward fashion,
TDU militants also planned for the rerun election, even though
they did not know who their candidate would be.
It was a difficult situation.
To a person, the TDU activists admired and respected Carey, but
they were all over the map in judging his role in the election
Some saw a plot by corporations
and politicians against a standup labor leader. "Hey, it's
the big companies saying, 'Here's a guy who's kicking our ass,'"
Darrell Hall of Louisville concluded. "It just stinks of
Others saw him as a
victim of self-serving campaign consultants. A few blamed Carey
himself for turning to such consultants and away from grassroots
efforts like their own.
Even among those who
thought Carey might have known about the illegal plans, there
was still a difference of opinion. "If he was corrupt, it
was in our favor," rationalized Bill Slater, a retired car
hauler from the Bay Area who'd been with TDU from nearly the
Unlike old Teamsters
officials who had misused union funds, Carey wasn't lining his
pocket or joining in business deals with mobsters such as Allen
Dorfman (a business partner of Junior Hoffa back in the late '60s).
But Boston trucker Greg
Gigg argued for a single standard: "If he betrayed our reform
program and dipped into the members' coffers to finance his campaign,
then the responsible thing is to ask for his resignation."
Speaking to the convention
on Saturday night, Carey again asserted his innocence and warned
against writing him off, though he obliquely acknowledged he might
not be the candidate.
(Carey may now be hoping
that by accepting a new outside monitor of union finances, which
he did on Monday, and by taking a temporary leave, he can head
off possible moves to force him to resign.)
For better or worse,
there is a strong working-class ethic of loyalty, especially to
someone who has taken his licks standing up for you-even if your
support may be counterproductive in the long run.
"Carey's my brother, my friend, and I'd go to the ends of the Earth for him-but the movement has to go on," said Bob Hasegawa, the principal officer of a 6,600-
member local in Seattle as he waited to hear three of the more likely reform alternatives to Carey. "I'll do what he asks as a friend, but I have to put the good of the union ahead of that."
TDU made that point
with a resolution expressing solidarity with Carey and the direction
he had taken the union, followed by measures to find a new candidate.
Of equal concern to
TDU leaders was the reform platform in the coming rerun, which
draws from the UPS strike the lesson that democracy only makes
the union stronger, and which they believe the members will prefer
to Hoffa's top-down notion of union clout.
Hoffa has campaigned
to "restore the power," invoking the myth of his father
and implying that power was transferred from father to son, possibly
through some unknown gene.
By contrast, TDU is
committed to an alternative model of power rising up from an energized
base of union members.
approach has restored the power," Hasegawa said, "and
the Hoffa plan is to turn our revolution upside down."
This battle is key to
the future of the Teamsters. If union democracy is going to triumph,
it will not be because it is ethically superior, but because members
understand it also makes their union more effective.
The three potential
reform candidates all acknowledged the importance of TDU, at least
by showing up, although none is a member. They also have demonstrated,
to varying degrees, support for the bottom-up model of union power.
West Virginian Ken Hall's
main claim to fame is having served, with Carey, as head of the
UPS negotiating team.
Richard Nelson of Oklahoma
now heads up negotiation of the major national trucking contract,
which expires next March.
Neither supported Carey
initially in 1991, but both became important members of his team.
Tom Leedham, the Portland-based
director of the union's biggest division, covering 250,000 warehouse
workers, has been a Carey supporter and friend of TDU longer than
they. He also boasts a long record as an innovator at getting
members involved in union struggles, most notably in a successful
strike against the Fred Meyer grocery warehouses.
Along with other TDU
leaders, organizer Ken Paff did not want an immediate TDU endorsement
of any one of these (or anyone else). He sought instead to convey
the image of a strong reform team that shared common goals.
On simple name recognition,
none of these leaders holds a candle to Hoffa, but TDU activists
hope that, given a choice between Hoffa's bluster and the reformers'
good contracts at UPS, the freight companies and the warehouses,
Teamsters will pick their team and their strategy.
Hoffa's star was already
fading with the success of the UPS strike. Now the federal election
officer has been ordered to investigate Hoffa's campaign finances,
including the sources of the $2 million that has no identifiable
donor, since the campaign claims it all arrived in contributions
of less than $100.
Evidence is accumulating
of employers (including UPS) directly aiding or financing his
campaign, of mob funding and support, and of substantial misuse
of union funds for his electioneering.Hoffa could be disqualified.
That would make it easier
for the reform slate, but it could also lead to a shake-up in
alliances, with the possibility of some moderates from both Hoffa
and Carey slates trying to team up, perhaps behind Hoffa's Northern
California running mate, Chuck Mack.
Despite the licks they've
taken, the reformers around TDU are ready for a fight and confident
they can still win. "I like to think our members elected
a direction for this movement-change, reform," said TDU co-chair
Michael Savwoir. "I like to think Grandma Moses could oppose
Jimmy Hoffa and be successful if running on a reform platform."
The potential reform candidates are certainly less well-known, if more qualified (and more alive), than Grandma Moses. Savwoir, however, is betting that after the taste of democracy some members got during the Carey years and the taste of power they experienced with the UPS strike, Teamsters will vote once more for reform, just as they did six years ago when it was promised by a little-known local union leader from Long Island named Ron Carey.
ANTI-LABOR WITCH-HUNTERS SLANDER AND ATTACK TDU
see story below
Bulletin Broadfaxing Network, Inc.
The Bulletin's Frontrunner
November 21, 1997, Friday
SECTION: WASHINGTON NEWS
LENGTH: 680 words
HEADLINE: Investigators Target
Teamsters For A Democratic
Newspapers and Wires.
The Washington Times
(11/21, A1, Sammon) reported the FBI and the Senate Governmental
Affairs Committee believe the pro-Carey group, Teamsters for
a Democratic Union, "may be the missing link in an illegal
money-laundering scheme between the reelection campaigns of President
Clinton and Teamsters President Ron Carey."
The group "was
asked by Senate investigators Wednesday to turn over documents
on campaign contributions," and FBI agents "have also
begun inquiries in recent days." The TDU link "is important
to investigators because it would shatter the defense that Democrats
have invoked for months-that they never went through with the
scheme to funnel funds into the Carey campaign."
suspect the Democrats funneled the money to TDU, which passed
it along to the Carey campaign."