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 (IBT), 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 Consent Decree

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 IBT officers.

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 strikes.

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.