Teamsters Notebook

Hoffa Sues Carey for $9 Million

For three years Teamsters President James P. Hoffa has proclaimed that he is going to sue his predecessor, Ron Carey, and return to the membership the money that Hoffa claims Carey stole from the union.

On April 17, the union filed a civil lawsuit in a New York federal court. The suit charges Carey and several other individuals and groups with racketeering, embezzlement, and legal malpractice in carrying out a scheme that caused the union to make wrongful donations of $885,000 to political advocacy groups (Citizen Action, Project Vote, and others), who in return made lesser donations to a Carey campaign committee.

The suit says that the Teamsters spent $2.2 million to rerun the 1996 union election overturned by the government, and wants the court to order the defendants to pay for the cost of the election. (The applicable law provides for a tripling of damages, hence the possible $9 million liability.)

Five of the individuals named in the suit have pled guilty, admitting their participation in the scheme; and another, William Hamilton, was recently sentenced to three years in jail after a jury trial. Although the Feds ousted Carey, they never were able to turn up evidence that he had a hand in the scheme that lined the pockets of several Carey campaign aides. Carey has denied that he knew what was going on.

Hamilton had plenty of incentive (a lighter sentence) to finger Carey, but the Feds got nothing from him that incriminated Carey. Carey’s lawyer said that holding Carey responsible for what was going on behind Carey’s back was like holding a bank president responsible for the larceny of a bank teller. To some it was more like holding Jesus accountable for Judas’s betrayal.

Carey has never had his day in court. Ironically, Hoffa’s suit gives Carey the first opportunity publicly to defend himself, though not necessarily before a jury of his peers, nor with an unbiased judge.

Hoffa’s legal attack on Carey comes just as the Teamsters are entering the first stages of next year’s union elections. No doubt Hoffa again plans to attack his opponents in the reform wing of the union as beneficiaries of Carey’s supposed crimes, as he did in the last election.

Unfortunately, Hoffa’s unproven accusations are likely not to be met with a vigorous defense. Carey has been ordered with court approval to stay away from the union and its members, including the rank and file. So Carey can’t answer Hoffa’s attacks.

In the 1997 election both the Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the candidate they backed, Tom Leedham, campaigned as though the ranks were not concerned with Hoffa’s charges. (The reformers also failed to point out that the government’s action was a flat out denial of the ranks’ right to elect the candidate of their choice.)

One result of the reformers’ silence, perhaps, was to reinforce the ranks’ natural cynicism about the union officialdom. Under the circumstances, a “they’re all crooks” attitude seems especially understandable. That cynicism seems likely to cost the reformers more votes than Hoffa.

Another obstacle for the reformers is the reunification of the bureaucracy -Hoffa’s most notable achievement to date. Despite Hoffa’s selling out of the Budweiser Teamsters, his failed attempt to put over an inferior contract on the Northwest Airlines flight attendants, and his obvious political bias in his taking over of union locals, it’s clear that the reformers need every vote they can get if they are to topple the union’s bureaucracy.

What isn’t clear is why the reformers continue to ignore Hoffa’s attacks on Carey and by extension themselves. In a close race, Hoffa’s unrefuted charges could deny the reformers the opportunity to have a positive impact on the entire labor movement, as did Carey when he led the 1997 strike against UPS.



Amtrak Workers Derail Privatization



BOSTON-In a magnificent demonstration of union solidarity, 600 Boston area commuter railroad workers are on the verge of defeating a furious attempt to privatize the rail system and eliminate more than 200 jobs.

Last fall the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) contracted with a company called Bay State Transit Services to perform the mechanical inspection and repair of the authority’s commuter rail fleet of locomotives and coaches. Bay State was the low bidder on the contract, claiming it could duplicate the services provided by Amtrak employees over the last 12 years, at a savings of $116 million over the life of the five-year contract.

This represented the first ever attempt by the MBTA to “unbundle” the various aspects of the commuter rail contract. Shortly after the Bay State award, the “T,” as the MBTA is commonly called, announced that it was soliciting bids from “qualified bidders” for the system’s engineering division (buildings, bridges, track, and communications and signals) as well as its operating division (dispatching and train and engine movement, etc.).

The workers, represented by seven different labor unions, stood 100 percent together against the privatization scheme.

Threatened with the loss of their jobs, all 600 employees refused to submit applications to Bay State, in spite of being told that they would forfeit any consideration for future employment and possibly their protective rights under federal law. Not one worker scabbed.

This created a monumental road block to the privatization plan, as Bay State Transit had no employees to fulfill the terms of the contract with “the T.” Despite numerous threats from MBTA Chairman Robert Prince, the Amtrak workers at risk refused to buckle. Their response was to return all 600 blank job application packets to Bay State.

Under the guise of “saving the taxpayers millions of dollars,” the privatization attempt was nothing more than a union-busting ploy by “the T” and its minions at the State House. Thanks to the unwavering solidarity of all the workers, the privatization scam has been derailed, at least for the time being.

In an article published in the Boston Globe, according to transportation sources close to the scene, the MBTA is now negotiating with Amtrak to extend the existing contract, which expires on June 30, for three years. That is what union officials, headed by Transport Workers Union international representative Charlie Moneypenny, have been calling for from the outset of this attack.

Already some workers have declared victory and are calling for a public celebration. That might be premature, however. State Transportation Secretary Kevin J. Sullivan says that he remains confident of saving the taxpayers money despite the setback.

Jon Carlisle, a spokesman for Sullivan told the Boston Globe that the state still hopes to match the $116 million savings promised by Bay State. “We’re continuing to work with the federal government as well as with the various contractors involved, Bay State and Amtrak,” Carlisle said.

So clearly the plan now is to regain some of the projected cost-cutting via a renegotiated contract with Amtrak. Exactly what role Bay State Transit will play in this drama is as yet undetermined. So don’t schedule the victory parade yet.

Only by demanding concessions from the same workforce, including laying some of them off, can the much heralded “taxpayer relief” promised by the MBTA and State House officials be realized. Will Amtrak-which union officials have worked hand in hand with to “save the contract,” and which represented the “good guys” as opposed to the bogey men at “the T”-now be forced to swing the ax formerly held by Bay State?

This would pose an entirely new set of problems for union officials involved in the campaign to defend the threatened workers. The primary thrust of this defense was an all-out lobbying effort with municipal, state, and national elected officials.

In fact, one of the workers faced with losing his job referred to all of the so-called inter-craft meetings held in the course of this fight as “Democratic Party caucuses.” The idea was to have somebody else do the fighting-a savior, if you will.

Does this strategy of petitioning politicians, the “friends of labor,” to do our fighting for us make the unions stronger or weaker? What will these “friends” do if Amtrak opts to carry out the cutbacks rather than Bay State? They were, after all, prevailed upon by union officials to “save it for Amtrak!”

It now appears extremely likely that they accomplished what they were asked to do. This may not be the “victory” anybody was looking for.

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