Tainted Reformer - 1

Barring an unexpected reversal on appeal, Ron Carey's career as a reformist union chief is over. A federally appointed overseer concluded this week that Mr. Carey knew of illegal schemes to use union funds to generate contributions to his campaign for reelection as Teamsters president.

Last year's Carey victory had already been invalidated. And now the sitting union president will be barred from new balloting, scheduled to be completed next March.

In its best light, this turn of events can be seen as part of the continuing effort to free the largest US labor union of persistent corruption. That effort began in earnest in 1989 when a Justice Department suit against the Teamsters resulted in a settlement allowing federal monitoring of the union's administration.

Carey was first elected in 1991 on an anticorruption platform. He was widely credited with getting rid of local Teamsters bosses known for raiding the union's treasuries and keeping company with mobsters. Now his reform record is getting closer scrutiny. Some recent reports question whether, in a number of cases, he simply shifted the old strong-arm, undemocratic methods around, rather than cleaning them out.

The methods used by Carey campaign aides to round up dollars for their boss last year were more akin to the circumventions of national political fund-raisers, than to old-fashioned Teamsters coercion. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds were donated to political advocacy groups outside the union, which in turn generated contributions back into the Carey campaign.

With Carey probably out of the picture, the worst fear of his supporters could be realized: election of James P. Hoffa, son of the longtime Teamsters leader known for mob connections, as president. But how did Mr. Hoffa come by the $1.8 million that financed his narrow loss to Carey last year? The same federal monitor who disqualified Carey has ordered an investigation into those funds.

Let that probe and others go forward. A truly reformed Teamsters union would be a credit to organized labor. A tainted one is an albatross around its neck.

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