Reforming the Chicago Teamsters: The Story of Local 705

Article excerpt

Reforming the Chicago Teamsters: The Story of Local 705. By Robert Bruno. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003. Pp. X, 203. Ill., notes, bib., index. Paper, $24.00).

Because of the union's dynamism and corruption, the Teamsters have long captivated Americans. Generally, however, emphases on corruption have outweighed attempts to understand the Teamsters' potential for change. Robert Bruno's penetrating analysis of one of the largest and most prominent Teamster locals, Chicago's Local 705, effectively conveys how union members were able to transform a corrupt and undemocratic organization into a more democratic and responsive one. Although Bruno's study uncovers significant evidence of a democratic transition from 1993 to 2000, he also soberly indicates tensions and problems remaining in present-day Local 705.

Bruno believes that Local 705's recent history provides a window for investigating the concept of union democracy. He defines union democracy as the "substantive outcome" (13) of labor-management struggles to define rules that govern shop-floor life. Meaningful union democracy, which Bruno says must create a just work environment that contributes to a more equitable society, goes beyond successful collective bargaining achievements. In fact, Bruno emphasizes that the Teamsters' post-World War II economic achievements, wrested primarily from the freight industry until the 1970s, had created a union culture that stifled democratic impulses and fostered corruption.

The fight against corruption in Local 705 began in the 1970s with several grassroots campaigns and by the early 1990s had revealed pervasive criminal activities, including union leaders' embezzlement of $13.5 million from Local 705's health, welfare, and pension funds. A Justice Department-filed Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) suit, Ron Carey's election to the Teamster's presidency, and, especially, the creation of a local trusteeship in 1993 all contributed to opening a wedge for democratic changes in Local 705. The bulk of Bruno's book is devoted to a detailed description and analysis of the changes manifested in the local during the trusteeship from 1993 to 2000, and then the internal split among the local's reformers that resulted in new officer elections in December 2000. …