With his seemingly revitalized union embroiled once again in controversy and allegations of corruption, Teamster President Ron Carey faced a demand Sunday from his defeated rival that he abandon his post.
Two days after a federal monitor said the union’s 1996 presidential election must be rerun because the Carey campaign received illegal contributions, challenger James P. Hoffa said Carey should be disqualified and that an independent counsel should be appointed to investigate. Carey denied knowing about the financing irregularities and indicated that he will not step aside.
Offering Sunday television viewers the rhetorical equivalent of Mike Tyson versus Evander Holyfield, Hoffa and Carey angrily, and heavy-handedly, attacked each other’s leadership at a time when the Teamsters are on the cutting edge of efforts to recapture the power and prestige organized labor had lost in recent decades.
But even though their arguments centered on the union election and this month’s successful strike against the United Parcel Service, the underlying struggle remains shadowed by the past, by the era when Hoffa’s father made the International Brotherhood of Teamsters synonymous with iron-fisted control and unrepentant corruption.
The younger Hoffa, appearing on three news interviews, said on “Fox News Sunday": “Carey should step aside--be removed and disqualified from the race because this is a burgeoning scandal and right now he is an illegitimate person in the position of president. He has not been elected by the members. The election has been thrown out. His term is over.”
“This is the most egregious conduct we’ve ever seen--wide-scale, broad scheme of embezzlement that was intentional to put this money in his campaign,” Hoffa said in another appearance, on ABC-TV’s “This Week.”
Carey, on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” said Hoffa is “a real pro in terms of smear and distortion.”
And, Carey said, Hoffa, a union lawyer, has “never negotiated a contract, he has never walked a picket line, he’s never been elected to any position in this union.”
As for the allegation of money-laundering and illegal contributions, Carey said: “You have people you trust and in every organization you have those that step over the line.”
Hoffa said his opponent should have been more on top of the union’s operations, if he indeed was not aware.
Carey, running for reelection after his upset victory as a reform candidate in 1991, defeated Hoffa by fewer than 4 percentage points in balloting concluded in November. His spokesman said he had no intention of quitting.
On Friday, Barbara Zack Quindel, a court-appointed labor monitor, ruled that Carey operatives obtained $221,000 in illegal contributions, including some from union accounts, to pay for pro-Carey mailings to many of the union’s 1.4 million members. She also found that Carey’s campaign manager, Jere Nash, spent some working afternoons during the union campaign as a consultant to President Clinton’s election organization.
The report took the shine off Carey’s triumph in leading the UPS strike, gaining a company agreement to reduce its reliance on part-time workers and give up its effort to wrest the workers’ pension fund from the union.
Quindel said Carey has cooperated with investigators, and she refused to remove him from office.
That, coupled with the comparatively modest scale of the irregularities, demonstrates how much the Teamsters have changed. When Hoffa’s father ran the organization, the union’s problems centered on a long history of multimillion-dollar financial irregularities, including schemes to defraud its pension fund, as well as strong-arm tactics, ties to organized crime and murder.
Hoffa’s father, James Riddle Hoffa, disappeared in 1975. He had served prison time for jury-tampering and misusing union funds. Four of the last six union presidents have been indicted on charges of federal crimes; three have been convicted.
It was against this background that Carey, then the obscure leader of a New York local of United Parcel Service workers, won election as the national president of a union that had grown to represent not just truck drivers, but also loading-dock workers, other laborers, those in the service industries and public employees, including law enforcement officers.
The union’s members, Carey said, “don’t want to go back to the corruption and the weakness of the past.”
Carey said he would have no problem with the appointment of an independent counsel, if U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno seeks to have one named.
Federal law allows the appointment by a judicial panel of an independent counsel to avoid potential conflicts of interest in a Justice Department investigation.
Among the allegations facing the union is a report in the Washington Post that consideration was given within the Democratic National Committee to the idea that party contributors could give money to Carey’s campaign if union funds would then be passed along to the Clinton organization. Such a process could presumably help both bodies avoid federal financing restrictions.
Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who serves part-time as the Democrats’ chairman, said on “Meet the Press” that he had seen no records indicating such a plan was ever implemented.