Magazine article The Nation

Teamster Reform: Carey Challenges the Porkchoppers

Magazine article The Nation

Teamster Reform: Carey Challenges the Porkchoppers

Article excerpt


Carey Challenges

The Porkchoppers

It is possible, just possible, that democracy may be about to come to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Dissidents, if they work hard and imaginatively, may very well elect as the union's next president an intense, wiry man named Ron Carey, they 53-year-old leader of Local 804 in New York City. This much seems certain: Carey's vigorous reform campaign, buoyed by the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (T.D.U.) and other backers, is likely to be the U.S. labor movement's biggest story in the next two years.

Already it is too big for the teamsters porkchoppers, the entrenched officials ranging from local business agents to current president William McCarthy, who are seeing their cozy (and often corrupt) control jeopardized. At the T.D.U. annual convention in Pittsburgh this past November, enthusiasm for reform seemed almost contagious after Carey told nearly 600 delegates and visitors that together they could make "a strong and democratic union."

Carey's rousing speech was the highlight of a convention marked throughout by determination. It was the rank and file, not the pie-carders (the old Wobbly term for union bureaucrats), who greeted Carey's words with loud applause. Their energy and seriousness were in marked contrast to the usual teamsters conclave in Miami or Las Vegas, where eating and drinking at the brotherhood's expense and paying obeisance to the aged, pasty-faced union godfathers are the main order of business.

The T.D.U. delegates paid their own way, and about a third were newcomers, suggesting that the thirteen-year-old organization, which has had to work hard just to maintain its membership (now 10,000), has begun to attract increasing support. Moreover, the men and women came from every region of the country, a positive development for Carey, who, if he is to win, must establish campaign staffs and supporters wherever the teamsters are strong.

In a speech at the convention, Michael Ruscigno, a T.D.U. leader at Local 138 in New York City, made it clear that the dissidents were expected to match their enthusiasm for reform with a minimum contribution of $200 apiece. After an hour and a half, $22,200 had been raised.

There are other signs that Carey and the T.D.U. are riding a progressive tide. In Atlanta the Federal Labor Department has ordered a rerun of a Local election after T.D.U. poll watching helped uncover widespread ballot fraud in the bailiwick of Weldon Mathis, secretary-treasurer of the International. In an election for president of Local 283 in Detroit last October, Don Stone, a T.D.U. member, defeated George Vitale, a vice president of the International, by sixteen votes. Vitale had held his job since February 1989.

Moreover, unprecedented Federal intervention in teamsters affairs continues as part of the consent order signed last march in which the government and union agreed to settle a racketeering lawsuit brought by the government against the union and its principal officers. The T.D.U. played a major role in formulating the order's provisions to bring democracy to the teamsters.

Federal District Judge David Edelstein has appointed three officers to oversee teamsters operations: Frederick Lacey as the administrator, Charles Carberry as investigations officer and Michael Holland as elections officer. Each month Lacey runs an open letter to union members in International Teamster, the house organ that once fawned over the leadership and kept its pages closed to opposing views. Union members are also getting better information these days because of Teamster Convoy Dispatch, the T.D.U.'s monthly, which now has a circulation of 60,000.

Meanwhile, Carberry has filed charges against six teamsters officers. He is seeking to discipline them or have them removed from office, and is believed to be readying charges against at least thirty other officials. …

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