Teamsters chief faces long haul

Q&A

September 07, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

In the year and a half since he was elected to the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Ron Carey has been on a crusade to clean up and revitalize one of the nation's biggest and most corrupt unions.

And now that crusade is coming to Maryland. The union's new Ethical Practices Committee is investigating a Maryland local on suspicion of fraud. And Mr. Carey will restart negotiations today for a national contract with the United Parcel Service in an effort to prevent a nationwide strike that would involve 3,000 Maryland drivers.

The 57-year-old former UPS driver from Queens, N.Y., has done much to revive faith in the Teamsters' leadership. He got rid of the multimillion-dollar pensions and other perks for the union leadership, sold the union's two planes, cut his own salary by $50,000 to $175,000, and kicked off the international's payroll members of the old guard who were collecting as many as three six-figure salaries from different branches of the union.

But he also is battling charges that he is soft on corruption and that he has been associated with organized-crime figures.

Q: Federal Judge David Edelstein, who oversees the Teamsters, has described your attempts to clean up the union's corruption as "anemic" and "pathetic."

A: I don't agree with that. I mean it's a 1.5 million-member union. His whole life is spent crime fighting. That isn't only what this union is about. It's about negotiating contracts. It's about fighting for things that are important for working people. We are trying to rebuild our image. And we are trying to rebuild this union.

4 Q: What have you done to clean up the Teamsters?

A: We have established the Ethical Practices Committee to look into wrongdoing. We are trying to change the bylaws so that it is a self-cleansing kind of thing. And we are putting corrupt locals into trusteeship.

Local 237 [in New York] is a prime example of this. We went in there, and we found out that there were abuses of the members' dues money. Money was being paid to consultants who weren't doing anything. Lawyers were not handling any cases. Press people were there for only one purpose: to protect the leadership.

We eliminated all those things and put the money back to work. I must say it was a very rewarding experience when 500 people came to a meeting and stood up and applauded what we had done.

Q: Are you investigating any Maryland locals?

A: Yes.

Q: Which one?

A: I'm not going to tell you.

Q: Can you tell me what you are investigating the Maryland local for? Corruption?

A: I don't have all the facts yet. But it is being looked at. I'm not going to give you an answer on that.

Q: In June, the New York Times ran a story saying a former boss of the Lucchese crime family told federal investigators he dealt with you several years ago, when you were head of Local 804 (a Queens, N.Y., local of UPS drivers.)

A: It was absolutely nonsense. Look at who is making the charges.

Look, I am making changes [to the union] and a story comes out. I was investigated up and down all during the campaign. I presume it is folks looking to stop our forward progress.

One of the issues that I raise is how do you question somebody [such as his accuser] who is in the Federal Witness Protection program?

Q: A number of unions, including the United Auto Workers and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, have entered into cooperative agreements with employers to try to reform workplaces, improve quality. I've gotten the impression you don't agree with this.

A: There is some merit in some of these programs. But I haven't found one that really works. We've got a few on board, at Anheuser-Busch, for example. Some of them work well. Some of them don't work.

Q: Is what annoys you the fact that often, the rhetoric is so different from the reality?

A: I did it back when it was a sin to do so, with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and UPS. We went through a series of very difficult negotiations and a 26-week strike. It was a very bad, adversarial relationship. We started something called "Results by Objective."

But as soon as it got to turf, as soon as it got to costing the company money, it went down the tubes.

I just wish they were true to their word. These people say: "We need a partnership here. We need your energies. We need the insights. We need your skills." And yet they say: "Yeah, but we don't have any full-time jobs. Only part-time jobs."

There is absolutely no commitment to the workers. The only commitment is to the dollar and the shareholder.

Q: What do you see for the future of the labor movement?

A: The reality is part-time jobs, marginal jobs. The next fad we'll see in this country is, for us to survive, we've got to compete with Mexican workers who make $4 a day.

In the UPS negotiations right now, they are talking about more part-time jobs with lesser wages.

So American workers are going backward, and it is a sin. It is a betrayal of the things that are so important, like the great American Dream.

That is what Labor Day is about -- trying to capture the American Dream. Americans want a little bit of that dream, hopefully sending their kids to school and buying a home.

But they don't have the money to do that with part-time jobs.

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