Teamsters campaign to end federal supervision

Union's chief indicates support of GOP possible

September 09, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

As President Bush maneuvers to strengthen ties with the Teamsters, the union has mounted an intensive campaign to persuade the administration to end 12 years of federal supervision of the union, once considered the United States' most corrupt.

The Teamsters' campaign comes at the same time that the union's president, James P. Hoffa, has indicated that his union might support Republicans if they back the Teamsters on several crucial issues.

The Teamsters have been lobbying the White House, the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney in New York City for an end to supervision, and Hoffa has made clear that it is his No. 1 wish from the Bush administration.

Teamsters officials say the government supervision should end not as a political favor but because the union has been cleaned up extensively. Nonetheless, some Republicans acknowledge that ending supervision might help Bush and other Republican candidates win the backing of the 1.4 million-member union in 2002 and 2004.

"I know the end of supervision is very important to Jim," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who is close to Hoffa and has helped lobby the administration on the issue. "My guess is ... Jim will support those who have supported getting the federal government out of their union."

White House officials declined to give their reaction to the Teamsters' request.

But on Labor Day, in what some Teamsters' leaders took as an indication of support, Bush praised Hoffa at a Teamsters picnic in Detroit, saying: "He's running a good union. And in an aboveboard manner, in an aboveboard way. ... People are beginning to notice, particularly in Washington, D.C."

In 1989, when Bush's father was president, the Teamsters reluctantly agreed to broad government supervision in which federal monitors oversee the union's elections and conduct investigations and trials to root out corruption. The Teamsters agreed to the supervision in a consent decree that settled a federal racketeering lawsuit that asserted that the union was dominated by organized crime.

Federal monitors say the supervision has gone far to clean up the union by obtaining the expulsions or resignations of more than 250 Teamster officials or members accused of corruption.

But several former prosecutors and monitors of the union said it might be premature to end the supervision.

"There are reasons why I would take a very careful look," said Michael G. Cherkasky, a former Teamsters election monitor who is chief executive of the investigative agency Kroll Inc. "You only want to do this once, and you want to make sure you get it right. I would not rush to judgment on this."

Among the lingering problems Cherkasky pointed to was a 1996 fund-raising scandal in which several campaign aides to Ron Carey, the union's ousted president, misappropriated $885,000 in Teamster money to help re-elect him. Carey is on trial in a perjury case.

Cherkasky also pointed to charges that federal monitors have brought against a top Hoffa aide and a Hoffa political ally, accusing them of negotiating a sweetheart deal that undercut Teamster workers in Las Vegas by giving hundreds of jobs to lower-paid nonunion workers.

Randy Mastro, a former assistant U.S. attorney who helped negotiate the consent decree, said: "A union that was dominated by Cosa Nostra influences for so long doesn't come clean overnight. It takes years and years of government oversight and permanent reforms before those reforms take hold. In my view, the jury is still out on whether it's time to end the supervision."

Since Bush was inaugurated, the Teamsters have stepped up efforts to persuade the administration to end the supervision, after repeated efforts failed to persuade the Clinton administration.

The U.S. attorney in New York, Mary Jo White, is in charge of the federal supervision because her office, then led by Rudolph W. Giuliani, filed the original lawsuit that led to the supervision of the Teamsters.

White is expected to make the initial recommendation on whether it is time to end supervision. The Justice Department will make the ultimate decision.

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