Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Scandal Set Back Teamsters Reforms? President's Fall Raises Questions about What Path the Union Will Take

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Scandal Set Back Teamsters Reforms? President's Fall Raises Questions about What Path the Union Will Take

Article excerpt

It looked as if the Teamsters were setting an example for organized labor.

The nation's largest union had staunched the loss of members. In August, it won a bruising battle against United Parcel Service. Then, this autumn, the union flexed its muscles to help defeat President Clinton's request for "fast-track" authority for international trade pacts.

But now the 1.4-million-member union is staggering. The news Nov. 17 that president Ron Carey is disqualified from running against James Hoffa Jr. in a special rerun of their 1996 election because of illegal campaign financing now places the union at a crossroads: Will the Teamsters continue to set an example for organized labor, or will they revert to the bad old days of corruption? Reformers believe there is no way the union can backpedal - to return to the 1950s when Mr. Hoffa's father ran the union with an iron hand, and when corrupt local bosses took bribes from management and used goons to beat up their own members. The reform-oriented Detroit-based Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) vows it will continue the reform process. Mr. Carey declared, "Reform has never depended on one man." One example of the major changes that have taken place within the Teamsters is the way the union goes about organizing. It now counts on the rank and file to recruit new members instead of hiring professional organizers. Members use the Internet to keep prospective union members informed. One of Carey's goals was to get 10,000 volunteers to try to add new members. "Regardless of who gets elected there's been a change within the union that is not easily going to be reversed," says Michael Belzer, a research scientist at the University of Michigan and a former Teamsters member. For example, Carey allowed the members to have a greater influence in their own affairs. "It will be likely to continue to demand that," Mr. Belzer adds. Many Teamsters, however, are still rocked by the decision to disqualify Carey. As a reformer, Carey inspired hope in many union members that corruption among Teamsters leaders was a thing of the past. …

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