Teamsters, Feds, and “The State of Today’s
Trade Union Movement”—Some Factual Points
by Charles Walker
1. How Teamster Convention Delegates Are Chosen
In the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
the “Regional Councils” (actually, the IBT calls them Joint Councils) are
limited to only one convention delegate, who is “selected,” not elected,
by each Joint Council. Former Teamster President Ron Carey dismantled the
major “Area Conferences,” which were also allowed to select one delegate
each. All international officers and certain paid staff are ex officio
delegates to a Teamster convention, but may not nominate or vote for officers,
unless they are also delegates from a local union or Joint Council. All other
delegates must be directly elected by the members of local unions.
At the most recent Teamsters Convention (1996),
Joint Councils and the remaining Area Conferences were entitled to a combined
55 delegates. The international union officers and staff sent 99 delegates.
There were also 1,343 delegates representing 731 local unions. Each local
union elected one delegate for its first 1,000 members and one delegate for
each remaining 750 members or major fraction thereof. In short, the
overwhelming majority of convention delegates were elected by local unions on
a one-member, one-vote basis. However, the majority of delegates were
full-time officers or their close supporters. As Brother Sheppard correctly
notes, there’s no provision for proportional representation.
The federal election officer, imposed on the
union as part of the 1989 Consent Decree, requires that the international
union provide limited space for all candidates in the union’s magazine
(so-called battle pages). That doesn’t obviate the need for expensive
mailings, but even underfinanced candidates and slates do get their message
mailed out to each member’s home.
2. The Feds’ Power over the Union under the
When the feds/courts impose a trusteeship on a
union, the appointed trustee is (or trustees are) in power, period. The 1989
Consent Decree, then, is not precisely the same as a trusteeship. TDU opposed
the feds’ proposed trusteeship of the IBT. TDU argued that the union’s
corruption was due to the ranks not having the right to vote for the IBT’s
top officials. Instead of a trusteeship, the feds persuaded the 1989 IBT
Executive Board to agree to the Consent Decree. Their leverage was a
threatened court case against the individual members of the E-Board. It was
thought at the time that the E-Board members finally signed the Consent Decree
because otherwise they, as individuals, would have had to pay for their own legal
defense (perhaps $100,000 or more each), not the IBT’s treasury.
TDU could not have stopped the feds from
threatening the E-Board, nor have stopped the E-Board from signing the Consent
Decree. TDU could have campaigned against the Consent Decree, but didn’t.
Neither did the union’s officialdom, the “Old Guard.” TDUers and Carey
slate members at the 1991 IBT Convention spoke out against the feds' deal with
the E-Board, as did the “Old Guard.” But, unlike the leadership of the
convention, Carey and TDU defended the ranks’ newly gained right to vote for
After his election, Carey had several disputes
with the federal government’s monitors (Carey lost), and called on them to
tear up the Consent Decree. Carey argued that the election results meant that
the union could clean itself up. TDU did not oppose Carey’s position.
However, neither TDU nor Carey campaigned to rouse the membership to bring its
weight to bear on the issue.
There’s no evidence that the monitors ever intervened in the union’s
collective bargaining struggles while they were going on. (One might of course
argue that they punished Carey for his successful collective bargaining by
ousting him after he led and won the UPS strike, using his aides’
election-financing scam as a pretext.)
At one point, the monitors did begin reviewing IBT expenditures, but they
never went on to limit what the union was spending. So, despite the Consent
Decree, the Carey leadership was able to carry out two major strikes, national
freight and UPS, and have the entire IBT treasury at its command during those
Of course, the monitors made up for lost time
when they managed to oust Carey, demoralizing many good folks. TDU, like
Carey, failed, for different reasons, to go to the members and urge a
fightback against the monitors’ undemocratic action.