WASHINGTON — Teamster Union president Ron Carey has another five years to continue to reform the nation's largest union and make it more relevant at a time when international market forces continue to erode the bargaining power of labor.
But Mr. Carey's task won't be easy. He has tough negotiations ahead next year and he must pull the fractious union together after beating James Hoffa Jr. by a slim margin - 52 to 48 percent of the 486,000 votes.
To Carey, his election victory was all about continuing the battle against mob bosses and corrupt union officials. "The train is moving out of the station and the train is about reform," said Carey in a victory speech on Saturday.
Mr. Hoffa, a Detroit labor lawyer who had outspent Carey and had the support of many local bosses, refused to concede. As of Sunday, he was planning to challenge the validity of some votes and may call for a recount. Hoffa had banked on the appeal of his father's name. James Hoffa Sr. ran the union in a muscular fashion until he mysteriously disappeared in 1975.
The vote was a milestone for the Teamsters. The union has a history of rigged elections and close ties to organized crime. In 1989, to avoid federal racketeering charges, the union agreed to submit to an Independent Review Board (IRB) to investigate charges of corruption and mob links. In return, the government provided about $20 million, hoping that a fair vote would give the 1.4 million members the chance to decide to continue eliminating corruption.
"This is an experiment in democracy that is succeeding, and to the extent it succeeds, it will reinvigorate the union," says Ken Paff, an organizer for the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), which has been fighting to open up the union for the past 20 years.
Now that he has been reelected, Carey faces some major challenges in 1997.
On Aug. 1, the union's contract with the United Parcel Service (UPS) expires. Almost half of the 170,000 UPS Teamster employees work part time. The part-time workers make $8 to $10 per hour and the full-time employees make about $20 per hour. The union is expected to ask for more full-time workers - a move that the company says it will fight.
Carey will also have to negotiate a new master freight agreement for the long-haul truckers. With deregulation, competition from nonunion truckers has kept financial pressure on unionized companies.
While Hoffa criticized Carey as an ineffective bargainer, Carey says getting raises is difficult in today's economic environment. "Hoffa was talking about the boom times; today, there are global companies, conglomerates, it's a whole different structure," says Carey.
Some observers say it would not have mattered who won the election from the standpoint of labor negotiations. "I am convinced on the basis of the data that market forces are undermining all labor unions in the United States and G-7," says Leo Troy, a professor at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J.
The Teamsters are also at a disadvantage because the union has a very small strike fund. Carey says he is putting together a committee to look at all aspects of the issue. One factor, he points out, is that an increasing number of new Teamster members are public-sector employees who are barred from striking.
Carey's biggest challenge, however, will be to continue to clean up the union. Since he was elected to run the Teamsters in 1991, Carey has placed 66 locals in trusteeship. The work is far from over. On Oct. 14, a trustee charged with cleaning up Local 745 in Dallas reported that an alleged organized crime figure had regular access to the 8,000 member local.
The IRB recommended the union bring disciplinary charges against four Local 745 officers, including a candidate on the Hoffa slate for vice president in the Southern region. The officer came in last place.