Teamster Scandals and Republicans
or why the Republicans should just shut up
-- Nathan Newman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's talk about scandals involving Teamster political fundraising and the
corruption of relations between the President and the unions' top
No, not scandals involving Clinton and the present Teamsters. If the
Democratic National Committee had anything to do with helping Ron Carey
defeat Jimmy Hoffa Jr. and his mob-affiliated allies over control of the
Teamsters Union, I say two cheers for the Dems.
But what is amazing about Republicans tskk-tssking the irregular
donations to Carey's election is that they don't have the decency to keep
their mouths shut. What the Democrats are accused of doing is backing
the pro-democracy and anti-corruption faction of the Teamsters in exchange
for political support Carey's members overwhelmingly supported in the
On the other hand, for two decades, the Republicans supported the corrupt,
mob-backed leadership of the Teamsters union and protected them from
serious government investigation. In exchange, the Teamsters were the only
major union that supported Republicans for the Presidency and would donate
millions to the Republican party.
It is worth remembering that is was Robert Kennedy back in the 1950s who
led the Congressional investigations into Teamster corruption,
investigations that led to the AFL-CIO expelling the Teamsters from the
labor federation. It was under Democrats in the 1960s that Jimmy Hoffa
Sr. (the father of the man Carey defeated last year for leadership of the
Teamsters) was indicted and imprisoned for fraud and looting the pensions
of his unions' retirees.
And then Richard Nixon pardoned Jimmy Hoffa in 1971 in exchange for the
Teamsters endorsing Nixon for President in 1972. Hoffa would not survive
the internal mob crossfire in the union, but the bond between the corrupt
Teamster leadership and the Republican Party would become only stronger.
In the late 70s, the corrupt Teamster leadership began a massive public
relations and political donation campaign to whitewash their image. Part
of this campaign involved hiring F. C. Duke Zeller, a Virginian Republican
operator who had been an unsuccessful Republican nominee for state
government and had turned to PR as a career. Hired by the Teamsters, he
detailed over a decade of the Teamster-Republican Party dealings in his
recent memoir, DEVIL'S PACT: INSIDE THE WORLD OF THE TEAMSTERS (1996).
Zeller recounts how the Teamsters ponied up millions of dollars to support
Ronald Reagan and his Republicans in 1980, but did even more yeoman work
for the Republicans in propaganda that union and working class voters
really wanted Reagan. The Teamsters conducted a mail ballot poll of their
members' preferences for President. When the results showed a strong
preference for Carter, Zeller was ordered to throw away ballots and rig
the poll and announce that Teamster members favored Ronald Reagan. As the
only major union supporting Reagan, the Teamsters were crucial for Reagan
in campaigning not just as a candidate of the wealthy but as someone who
related to blue-collar concerns.
When Reagan was elected President, the Teamsters were rewarded handsomely
and directly for their support. Within days of his inauguration, Reagan
made a public visit to the DC Teamster "Marble Palace" headquarters, the
first President ever to do so. Reagan also chose as labor secretary Ray
Donovan, the hand-picked choice of the top leadership of the Teamsters.
Donovan was a contractor involved with many of the same corrupt business
deals that many Teamster leaders had in New Jersey. (Donovan was indicted
but not convicted for his association with those deals.)
But most importantly, the Reagan White House agreed to pull back
investigations into corruption among the Teamster leadership. Individual
leaders might get indicted, but a full-scale housecleaning was no longer
in the cards. Just as Nixon's deal with the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa's
pardon had lessened the pressure for the 1970s, the Republican-Teamster
deal of 1980 would let mob-connected officials loot the dues of union
members for most of the 1980s.
In 1984, the Teamsters dutifully rigged another poll of its members to
fake rank-and-file support for Reagan and poured millions more into
Republican races. The Teamsters endorsed Ronald Reagan and he basked in
the image of blue-collar "Reagan Democrats" supporting him and his
Soon then-Teamster President Jackie Presser was indicted and as he turned
government informant, more and more of the dirt on the Teamsters went
public. Yet, the Reagan White House, while distancing themselves from the
Teamsters, did little to pursue comprehenisve reform in the union.
Instead, the legal impetus for change came from a maverick, show-boating
U.S. Attorney in New York named Rudolph Giuliani (now mayor) who had been
pursuing corruption in local New York Teamster locals; in 1988 he filed
a lawsuit against the International Teamster union demanding that the
whole union be put into trusteeship by the government in order to clean
out the corruption.
Rank-and-file Teamster reformers in the 10,000-strong Teamsters for a
Democratic Union pushed Giuliani to avoid trusteeship in favor of open
elections by the membership. In 1989, Giuliani offered the Teamster
leadership a deal; if they agreed to direct elections of top officers by
the membership under federal supervision, no trusteeship.
Now why was direct elections such a big deal?
Well, throughout the 1980s (and in earlier years), local delegates to
national Teamster conventions had little chance of getting elected if they
opposed union corruption. Thomas Geoghegan, a labor lawyer and writer,
described a large part of his job in the 1980s: "I represent Teamster
dissidents who get beaten up at the Union hall. Oh yes, really beaten
up...the client is really bleeding. He is really at the hospital. His
wife, hysterical, is really calling on the phone."
As the Reagan administration accepted Teamster leadership money and
endorsements while protecting them from investigation, rank-and-file
dissidents were organizing and pushing for reform and often bleeding in
the hospital at the end of the day. Many were members of Teamsters for a
Democratic Union, but they faced the problem that it was possible to clean
up an a local union (and there were many honest Teamster locals despite
the national corruption) but nearly impossible to gain the critical mass
to penetrate giant locals firmly in the hands of corruption.
So direct elections gave Teamsters for a Democratic Union a chance, one
that the corrupt leadership discounted when they accepted elections, but
one the TDU was prepared to take advantage of. The old corrupt leadership
divided into two warring camps while TDU built a campaign around the
leadership of Ron Carey. Carey had been famous for almost two decades for
running a corruption-free UPS local in New York City--he was profiled in a
1976 book on the Teamsters by writer Steve Brill. He had led
rank-and-file campaigns for fairer national UPS contracts and he rallied
reform elements to win a plurality of 48% of the vote, despite the hold of
the old guard on information and propaganda in large areas of the country.
Once elected with his reform slate of officers, Carey set-out to clean up
corrupt locals around the country but ran into resistance of the old-guard
who fought to preserve the privileges and corruption of their positions.
The divided old-guard began to regroup around Jimmy Hoffa's son, Jimmy
Hoffa Jr., who had his own ties to the corrupt old guard. In a true fit
of chutzpah, Hoffa Junior began accusing Carey of corruption, ironically
arguing that inherited UPS stock from his father's profit-sharing at the
company would make him too weak in facing down the company.
Republicans and business magazines rushed to repeat these unsubstantiated
charges of corruption against Carey (all of which were later refuted) but
the intended damage to Carey's reputation had been done, as Hoffa
loyalists reprinted business press articles attacking Carey.
When the new union election came in 1996, Hoffa Junior was able to draw on
the deep pockets of the corrupt, overpaid old guard who outspent Carey
forces $3.7 million to $1.6 million, using phone banks to repeat lies
about Carey's supposed corruption in order to overshadow Hoffa's own
corrupt forces. But Carey managed to squeak through with a 52-48%
As it turns out, part of that squeak may have been due to illegal
contribution funneled through progressive activists from national union
funds. There is also some evidence that the Democratic Party may have
covertly supported Carey.
Now, such actions are not the best thing in the long-run for union
democracy, but there is a stench of hypocrisy and worse when Republicans,
including Senator Fred Thompson (a former lawyer for the Teamster
pension fund in the days of top union leadeship corruption) attack the
Democrats for their possible support of Carey.
For two decades, Republicans exchanged protection of corrupt Teamster
leaders for campaign cash and endorsements. Now that Carey and his
democratic reformers have begun to bring back honest union leadership and
a challenge to corprate greed, it is rank sanctimonious hypocrisy for them
to condem the Democrats for possibly aiding the good guys in cleaning up
the corruption the Republicans supported for two decades.
The legal process is moving forward, indictments are being made against
the guilty, and a new election is being held.
Beyond that, maybe the Republicans should just shut up.
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