PHIL PONCE: Last January Teamster President Ron Carey was officially named the winner in a narrow re-election over challenger James Hoffa, son of the legendary Teamster leader.
But in August the election results were set aside by a federal monitor because of an alleged illegal fund-raising scheme. Then in September a top Carey aide and two consultants pleaded guilty to conspiring to raise illegal funds. And today another federally-appointed monitor disqualified Carey, himself, from running again, finding that he too had been involved in the illegal fund-raising scheme.
Here with more is Michael Belzer, who currently specializes in industrial and labor management relations at the University of Michigan and is himself a former Teamster, and Don Gonyea, who has been covering this story for National Public Radio. Gentlemen, welcome. And Don Gonyea, what did the court-appointed monitor conclude that Ron Carey had actually done?
DON GONYEA, National Public Radio: This gets to those charges that led to the nullification of the results that you referred to--you know, the results that came in January of this year, and when the election was thrown out, the election officer at the time said that there was no evidence that Ron Carey, himself, knew anything about any of this or was involved in any wrongdoing, the theory being that there was this rogue operation within the Carey camp that had done all of this on its own.
But the election officer in subsequent months said that there is some new information that we must look at to see if Ron Carey perhaps was more involved than initially suspected. In the interim we had a new election officer. It all gets very complicated, but Kenneth Comboy, a former federal judge, has reviewing this for several months now, and he says that Ron Carey did, indeed, have some involvement and certainly awareness of the improper use of hundreds of thousands, as much as $735,000, in general Teamsters treasury money, money that was used to kind of leverage donations from outside groups or money that was actually laundered through outside organizations and came back into his campaign.
Judge Comboy said Carey knew about it, Carey had some involvement in it, and he said these are egregious violations of the election rules, and he has no choice but to disqualify Ron Carey from running in the re-running of this election.
PHIL PONCE: And Don Gonyea, who else is implicated in this report?
DON GONYEA: Well, you know, there are three people who have already pleaded guilty to -- Carey's supporters, people who had contributed funds, one who had done some consulting work and his campaign manager, they are all mentioned in this report, but the report goes on to say that there were ties between Carey and his supporters and other officials and other unions, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, official of the Service Employees International Union, and that there were even some contacts made with AFSCME, and that these contacts were all part of a scheme that was never actually carried out to have those other unions and those other labor organizations figure out ways to get money into the Carey campaign, which would also be a violation of labor law and the election rules. And there will certainly be more investigation along those lines as the subsequent months roll on here.
PHIL PONCE: Michael Belzer, how big of a blow is this to the reform movement in the Teamsters?
MICHAEL BELZER, University of Michigan: Well, I think it certainly is an unwelcome sort of setback. But I think that the reform movement consists of rank and file members around the country who have been fighting for democratic rights in the union and for a stronger union and so forth for several years and they'll be around. In fact, very recently, I just today got notice that there was an election, Local 2000, of the Northwest flight attendants, which has 10,000 members, and 70 percent of them voted. And the pro-reform group won by 75 percent to 25 percent. And that would strongly send a message, I think, that the reform movement exists independent of these charges.
PHIL PONCE: And yet Ron Carey had taken personal credit for some reform steps within the Teamsters Union. What kinds of things had he been taking credit for?
MICHAEL BELZER: Well, there's no question that he's responsible for opening up the union and getting rid of a certain number of crooks. That's partly the job of the independent review board. Most importantly, he's responsible for turning the union in an outward direction, that in the national union to start acting as a national union and not as a federation, a local union--to get the union out there organizing, to fight for stronger contracts. Certainly mobilizing the members in this most recent campaign with UPS was a historic milestone in the activity of the union.
PHIL PONCE: Don Gonyea, what are you hearing from the Teamsters as far as the strength of James Hoffa now?
DON GONYEA: What you hear is that he is now the very clear front runner, now for a couple of reasons, but I guess obviously the name Hoffa still is magic among many circles within the Teamsters union, but he's also at this particular point in time, as we sit here today, the only candidate on the ballot. It will be up to, you know, the reformers, who have relied on Ron Carey being at the top of their slate for so long to come up with somebody else, and they are scrambling to do that now.
They didn't expect the decision today, but I think many of them were preparing for it, nonetheless. So they've got to come up with somebody who can go up against what is a very well-funded and a very well-organized Hoffa machine that's already in place. A new election, as it stands right now, is only a couple of months away--February 16th the ballots go out--so it's not a lot of time to really get a solid organization up and running.
PHIL PONCE: Michael Belzer, once upon a time the Teamsters had--for want of a better term--a really awful reputation in terms of corruption. How are the Teamsters perceived now within the labor movement?
MICHAEL BELZER: I think the Teamsters have really transformed their reputation. They used to have a reputation for corruption. They used to have a reputation for raiding other unions. They had a reputation for sort of taking care of themselves at the expense of others, and, in fact, on the last five years they totally turned that around. They're now out there organizing.
They are out there supporting other unions in the AFL-CIO. They no longer raid anybody in other unions in the AFL-CIO. They actively are at the forefront of the change in the AFL-CIO to emphasize organizing an outward orientation, rather than a kind of parochial, special interest organization that characterized AFL-CIO unions in the past.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Belzer, would you expect those trends to continue even if down the line James Hoffa were to become the new president?
MICHAEL BELZER: I think that the door is closed on the old way of doing things, and to a significant extent, just like in that Northwest flight attendants union local I just talked about there has been a sea change within the union. There is a strong sense of activism.
There's a strong sense of taking responsibility for your own affairs, and I think that it no longer is the case that anybody is going to be able to have a stranglehold on the politics of the union like they have in the past. I think that the union is without a doubt moving down a new path, and the question remains to be seen who will lead that way down that new path.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Gonyea, have you talked to any of Carey's supporters, and are they expressing any, what, sense of dismay, sense of betrayal, or are they sticking with him?
DON GONYEA: They support him still. A lot of them were just stunned by this because they expected their man to be vindicated. But what they also say--and they're very, very emphatic about this--is that the reform movement within this union is not just one man or one woman.
They say that they have been working at this even before Ron Carey came along, and they--they assure us that someone will step forward and that the strength of the reform movement is again not in one person, even though they certainly like to have their hands on the presidency of this union, but in the, you know, tens of thousands of rank and file Teamsters who want to see the reform process continue.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Gonyea, today Ron Carey said--continued to assert his innocence and vowed to keep on fighting. Is it still too early to write his political union obituary?
DON GONYEA: Perhaps yet, though this is a serious blow today. I mean, he says he will appeal, but it's not really clear how the appeal goes forward now in this kind of odd government oversight of the union that we have, but this is clearly a very, very serious setback. The other thing he says, though, he has said leading up to this, even if he's not on the ballot, he will even be out there fighting and campaigning and working for whoever does run as the reformer in the upcoming election.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Gonyea, Mr. Belzer, thank you both.