A Look under the Hood of Teamsters 807 UNION CLEANUP

Article excerpt

At 10 a.m. on March 8, 1995, a seven-member "strike force" descended quietly on the two-story, red-brick offices here of Local 807, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The attack team didn't consist of FBI agents or crusading New York police. Instead, it was made up of lawyers and officials from Teamsters national headquarters - armed with an order to seize control of a union branch suspected of corruption.

Team leader Joseph Padellaro quickly confronted the patriarch of the local, Joseph Mangan, and two of his top cronies. Bellowing like a drill sergeant, Mr. Padellaro ordered them to surrender their company credit cards, car keys, and officerships. His targets were stunned. Mangan, for one, had been with the local since 1924 and ruled it, his way, for 25 years.

"There was shock and confusion," recalls Gene Maney, an official who was part of the invading force.

The move was so unexpected that Mr. Mangan and the other local officials had no time to hide or destroy potentially incriminating documents. It is something that may now come back to haunt them.

Since the initial raid, a trustee appointed by the national headquarters, working with an investigator and auditor, has unearthed evidence of what they say points to corruption and mob influence in Local 807. Ron Carey, president of the Teamsters, yesterday announced internal union charges against Mr. Mangan and John Hohmann, the local's former secretary-treasurer. Among other things, Mr. Carey has demanded the pair return $170,000. Union officials expect to make additional claims against the men.

Welcome to the cleanup of unions, 1990s style. National unions are using the trustee approach to root out corruption and mafia influence within their own ranks by first taking control of renegade locals, then putting in their own leader, complete with auditors and investigators, to manage the day-to-day affairs until new elections can be held.

It's a low-key method that is perhaps fit for an era when union corruption is as likely to involve laptops as lead pipes.

"The trusteeships are a very legitimate role to make sure there is not illegal activity or corruption," says Richard Hurd, director of labor studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "The trustees are providing a useful service to the members." The alternative, he notes, is an expensive court-appointed lawyer.

Besides the Teamsters, other unions that have used trustees to replace a local's leaders include the Service Employees International and the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union (which used one to replace inept local management).

Mr. Hurd says older unions that are more decentralized, rather than nationally coordinated ones like the United Auto Workers, are more likely to have problems.

Few unions, however, have used the approach as frequently as the Teamsters. Since 1992, Carey, the union's reform-minded president, has appointed 61 trustees to manage the day-to-day affairs of locals. In New York City alone, 39 percent of the Teamster locals are in trusteeships.

Local 807 is thus far from alone. But its story provides a rare inside look at the problems the Teamsters face - and the challenges confronting trustees as they try to eliminate them.

Perhaps the tale should begin a year ago, when New York Gov. George Pataki (R) charged mob influence at the Javits Center, New York's main convention house, which counted on the Local 807 to move trade shows in and out.

The Pataki charges followed a report by the Independent Review Board (IRB), set up by the US Department of Justice to monitor Teamster activities. In a long report sent to Carey last March, the IRB documented organized crime activity in the local.

'Like a candy store'

These events culminated in the strike force seizure of 807's building and the appointment of trustee Johnnie Brown. …