There is a certain irony: To win reelection 10 months ago, Teamsters president Ron Carey established a committee called "Teamsters for a Corruption Free Union." Now, federal authorities have determined that committee itself was corrupt in accepting illegal campaign contributions.
Last Friday, the taint of illegal contributions was sufficient for a federal overseer to throw out Mr. Carey's reelection. Now Carey and his rival, James Hoffa Jr., will square off in another election for the presidency of the 1.4 million-member Teamsters Union. Last December, Carey narrowly defeated Mr. Hoffa, whose father ran the Teamsters with an iron fist in the 1950s and early 1960s.
This time, however, Carey is fresh from victory in the United Parcel Service strike. That victory, says Bob Machado of the Detroit-based Teamsters for a Democratic Union, should help Carey win election once again. "I have been around organized labor for 30 years, and I can't remember a slam-dunk like this," he says.
But other labor observers say the battle will be a hard one. "My sense is this will be a very tough, bitter, and costly fight," says Harley Shaiken, labor specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. But, he adds, "I think Carey is still the clear favorite."
Despite the disruption of another election, labor observers think the decision is good for the labor movement. "The whole rigor is healthy," says Dan Swinney, head of the Midwest Center for Labor Research in Chicago. "People need to know that you can't get away with this kind of thing."
Hoffa has already promised another donnybrook. "The issue this time is going to be Ron Carey's corruption," says Richard Leebove, a Detroit-based spokesman for Hoffa.
Federal overseer Barbara Zack Quindel, however, said she found no evidence that Carey was aware of the illicit contributions. Instead, the government pointed its finger at Carey's campaign officials. A federal grand jury is now listening to evidence about the alleged corruption and is expected to return indictments soon.
ACCORDING to Ms. Quindel's investigation, a consultant, Martin Davis, used his position to skim money from the Teamsters' general treasury and funnel it to Carey's coffers. Mr. Davis has been charged with fraud by the government and has pleaded innocent.
The alleged campaign abuses happened at a time when Hoffa was having great success raising funds. According to press reports, Hoffa raised $3.6 million compared with $1.6 million for Carey. Hoffa was successful, in part, because the "old guard," the leaders of powerful unions in the Midwest, threw their support to him. In fact, at the Teamsters' raucous national convention in Philadelphia last August, the delegates supported Hoffa.
Immediately after the convention, the Carey campaign began its unusual fund-raising. The government says the Carey campaign engaged in a "complex network of schemes." These included the use of false invoices, contributions by spouses to shield the true source of funds, and the use of the Teamsters' own money. Carey says he is appalled at the charges, and a spokesman says Carey is looking forward to a new election to eliminate the cloud over his head.
Ms. Quindel has proposed new rules for the election and suggests it be held four months after those rules are approved by a federal judge. If Quindel finds evidence that Carey was involved in illegal activities, she has said she will bar him from running.
Once the election begins, Carey and Hoffa will be back at truck stops and warehouses asking for votes. But as Mr. Swinney notes, "This time the candidates know you can only win if you are squeaky clean."