Eve of Teamsters Convention
Big Shot Goes Scot-Free, TDU Silent on Feds’ Responsibility
Back in 1997, a longtime Detroit Teamsters chieftain was charged by a federal court-appointed Independent Review Board (IRB) with granting bonuses and raises to some local union officers, so that they would have $30,000 to finance his slate’s local union reelection campaign.
four years later the IRB has dropped its charges against the accused, Larry
Brennan, president of Detroit Local 337 and Joint Council 43. The Independent
Review Board now says that the evidence “falls short of the convincing quality
we would want before finding that it should be held as implicating Brennan and
other respondents in all aspects of the scheme shown.” If Brennan had been
found guilty, all the relevant IRB precedents would dictate that Brennan be
removed from the Teamsters union for life.
Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), an internal union reform caucus, has a
long history of opposition to Brennan, who in nepotistic fashion followed his
father into the powerful offices he now holds down. When Brennan was charged,
TDU publicized Brennan’s scam, obviously (and justifiably) believing that the
charges were unquestionably true. Despite the IRB’s findings a recent TDU
statement indicates no less obviously that TDU still believes (justifiably) that
Brennan is guilty as charged.
the official TDU response to the IRB’s findings fails to say what conclusions
the ordinary rank and file Teamster should draw from the IRB’s disputed
verdict, which leaves Brennan’s pricey privileges and potent power intact. To
some it might seem out of character that the outspoken TDU caucus would fail to
explicitly criticize the IRB for concluding that the issue of
TDU has a responsibility as a champion of rank and file power to take the IRB to
task for letting Brennan get away with a serious violation of union democracy.
TDU could point out that the identical three-person IRB in 1997 ousted former
Teamsters President Ron Carey, not on the basis of stronger evidence, but merely
on the basis that Carey should have known about a money-laundering scheme
that was carried out behind Carey’s back by trusted aides who violated that
trust—and therefore Carey was wrongly judged guilty of violating his fiduciary
at the time, TDU failed to say much to the union’s rank and file about the
IRB’s ouster of Carey — shortly after he led the widely popular strike against
the mega-giant United Parcel Service (UPS). Since then Carey has been mentioned
only infrequently in TDU’s publications. Though some TDUers have pressed the
caucus’s leadership to attack the IRB’s ouster of Carey and take the issue
to the union’s ranks, they have been told that the ranks are not interested in
what happened to Carey, and that it was not fruitful to “rehash” the Carey
TDU, the Hoffa administration’s strategy is to keep the spurious charges
against Carey fresh, as though Carey were still a candidate that Hoffa needed to
of Federal Trusteeship
1989, TDU opposed the threatened federal trusteeship of the Teamsters. TDU
argued that the union’s well-documented corruption could be eliminated by
giving the ranks the right to directly elect their top officers. The government
forced the union’s chief officials to agree to give the membership the vote.
However, the feds also forced the union heads to agree to accept the feds’
presence inside the union for an indefinite time, even after the members elected
a new leadership. Ron Carey spoke out against the feds’ intervention, both
before and after he was elected. TDU never opposed Carey’s stand. However,
neither Carey nor TDU attempted to organize the ranks to put pressure on the
government to withdraw.
1998, the IRB could have expelled Hoffa, after he was caught red-handed
seriously violating the feds’ election rules. Instead, the IRB fined
Hoffa — merely a slap on the wrist. The IRB’s partiality to Hoffa was
demonstrated by the same judges who okayed Carey’s ouster, despite their
knowing that the forces who historically have opposed the ranks’ democratic
right to run the union would therefore be returned to power.
then, Hoffa has set about reuniting the union’s bureaucracy, split since the
1991 election. Hoffa has been successful; no challenger has emerged to take on
Hoffa, except Tom Leedham, a close ally of TDU. More than just reuniting the
officialdom, Hoffa has attracted to his side some union activists who once stood
with Carey and TDU. In part, Hoffa’s progress is due to the demoralization
that followed when Carey and TDU failed to take Carey’s case to the ranks for
their judgment. In any event the government’s record since its intervention
into the union has confirmed the judgment of those militants who say that only
the ranks can and will create a Teamsters union in the image of the membership.
TDU will not make the same mistake again. Hopefully, TDU will not let the IRB
get away with its flagrantly rubbery standards of justice, its clear violation
of its declared mission to free the ranks from Teamsters misleaders’
corruption. But that remains to be seen.
should TDU seriously act to expose the IRB’s violations of the ranks’ right
to a corruption-free leadership, at the same time TDU should also remind the
ranks that in 1997 the court-appointed overseers violated the ranks’ right to
elect any Teamster in good standing to any Teamsters office — when they barred
Carey from the rerun ballot. TDU (and Carey) failed to try to organize the
union’s rank and file in opposition to the court appointees’ undemocratic
they had, perhaps Brennan wouldn’t be laughing up his sleeve today, as he
makes his way to the June Teamsters Convention, where his protégé, James P.
Hoffa will once again be nominated to head up the Teamsters, potentially the
country’s pivotal union.