Racketeering Case Settlement Is Seen as Moving Teamsters Toward Mainstream

Times Staff Writers

The settlement of the government’s massive racketeering case against the Teamsters Union could have a major impact on transforming the nation’s most scandal-ridden union, according to the judge who approved the settlement Tuesday and several labor experts.

“The agreement affords some hope the union will become part of the mainstream of honest unions,” said U.S. District Judge David N. Edelstein in New York. “If that happens, it will be an enormous victory for the members.”

“The settlement clearly moves the union in the right direction” toward becoming more honest and more democratic, according to Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey, who, as a Senate aide 20 years ago, drafted the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) that was used by the Justice Department in the case.

Administrative Panel

The 30-page settlement provides for changes in the union constitution so that top union officers would be elected directly by the members for the first time and imposes a three-member, court-appointed panel of administrators who could take disciplinary action against corrupt officials up until the union’s convention in 1991.

Thereafter, the union will have a three-member independent review board to deal with any corruption problems that develop. One member will be appointed by the union, one by the attorney general and the third will be mutually selected.


Some Teamster officials and labor consultants expressed skepticism that electoral reforms would have much impact on the 1.6-million-member union.

It is expected that the current leaders of the union “will be pretty much the same,” after the union’s next convention in 1991, said Victor Kamber, a Washington labor consultant who has been a spokesman for an ad hoc group called Americans Against Government Control of Unions, formed to wage a political and public relations campaign against the government suit.

But Clyde Summers, a labor law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said the electoral changes might make it easier for a dissident to establish an independent power base, though he acknowledged that even in the most honest of unions it is difficult for challengers to defeat candidates backed by the union hierarchy.

Blakey said it would be unrealistic to expect the union to be transformed in the next three years. “Atty. Gen. Thornburgh said this settlement ‘culminates’ the government’s 30-year war to remove the influence of organized crime from the Teamsters. This is not the culmination. But it is a milestone in an ongoing process,” Blakey said.

There was some debate about whether the union or the Justice Department struck the best bargain. “This time it was the government that blinked first,” Kamber said.

However, one strong sign that the union had given considerable ground was a statement issued in the name of Teamsters President William J. McCarthy late Tuesday.

“While I reluctantly accept the terms of the consent order, I believe it is not the vindication and exoneration Teamsters deserve,” McCarthy said. “The fact is this suit should never have been filed in the first place.”

Last to Sign Agreement

James T. Grady, the Teamsters’ general counsel, said McCarthy was the last of the 11 Teamster defendants to sign the agreement--at 1:30 a.m. Monday.

Summers said each side won something. “The government got about 75% of what’s worthwhile and at the same time got themselves out of what promised to be a messy, nasty fight where they would have been blasted for trying to break the union movement,” a reference to the fact that the Justice Department suit filed last June sought to impose a full trusteeship on the union and to oust its 18-member executive board.

Thirty years ago a board of court-appointed monitors looked over the shoulder of Teamsters President James R. Hoffa for three years, but Hoffa managed to thwart many of their efforts.

Under this settlement though, the three court-appointed officers “have really very significant powers to do a great deal of cleaning out,” Summers said. “They can put locals in trusteeship and oust corrupt local officers on a one-by-one basis,” as warranted, he said. And members of the executive board “now stand in jeopardy if they’re corrupt,” he added.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department proposed that Teamster Vice Presidents Joseph Trerotola of New York, Joseph W. Morgan of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Theodore R. Cozza of Pittsburgh be required to resign as a condition of settlement. The union successfully resisted this move. And a Teamster lawyer said that the three board members wouldn’t have approved the agreement if they felt there was a substantial likelihood that they be could be ousted.

Access to All Data

On the other hand, another lawyer with long ties to the union said the court-appointed administrators would have access to all the investigative data the government gathered in the case and could move against the three. “Remember,” he said, “the standard for taking action against a Teamster official under this settlement is ‘just cause,’ ” a considerably less rigorous yardstick than would be applied in court, setting a potentially dangerous precedent for the labor movement.

Nonetheless, the AFL-CIO praised the settlement. And union leaders around the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief that there will be no long trial with months of publicity recapitulating the criminal records and gangland ties of Hoffa, and other Teamster presidents who went to prison.

There would have been a substantial public relations downside for the entire labor movement if the case had been tried, said an official of one of the nation’s largest unions.

A controversy emerged Tuesday as to whether the Teamsters can change any of the agreement at their 1991 convention. George Pappy, a Los Angeles Teamster lawyer, said he thought delegates to the 1991 convention might vote down the settlement provisions amending the union’s constitution that call for direct elections.

But Assistant U.S. Atty. Randy M. Mastro cited a section of the settlement that requires the union to give prior written notice to the government if it seeks to change the agreement.

Henry Weinstein reported from Los Angeles and Bob Drogin from New York City. Staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow also contributed to this story from Washington.