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Nov 2001 • Vol 1, No. 6 •

Teamsters Notebook

At Last, Fair Play for Ron Carey!

by Charles Walker

Ron Carey is free! On October 12, a New York federal jury acquitted former Teamsters president Ron Carey of all criminal charges stemming from his testimony before a grand jury. Federal prosecutors couldn’t convince twelve jurors that Carey was guilty of multiple counts of perjury. However, the press reported that the jury did conclude that one prosecution witness lied, perjuring herself. The innocent verdict was not a rush to judgment. The jurors spent two days poring over Carey’s grand jury testimony and the federal indictment.

The verdict undermines not only the credibility of the federal prosecutors but also the credibility of the federal monitors who today would have the Teamster ranks accept them as a high-minded, impartial judge and jury. The prosecution’s purported evidence hardly differed from that relied on by the government appointed “monitors” to justify their severe penalty that banned him from the Teamsters Union for life.

The ouster of Ron Carey cut short a rising new enthusiasm for trade unions by unionized and unorganized workers alike. In the days immediately following the Teamsters historic victorious strike against United Parcel Service, the nation’s largest trucking corporation, unions all over the country were reporting calls from workers eager to be organized. Some analysts saw the UPS strike as labor’s long delayed answer to President Reagan’s smashing of the air controllers’ strike and union. Workers were talking union; the Teamsters, it was said, had put the movement back in the labor movement.

Ironically, the heady verdict comes just days after Oklahoma became the 22nd state to adopt anti-worker, falsely named right-to-work legislation, and the autoworkers union lost a major unionizing drive by a humiliating, lopsided vote at the Nissan auto plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. In contrast, Ron Carey showed that U.S. workers would back a union leadership that’s not afraid to fight and knows how to win. The U.S. labor officialdom at the highest levels never learned that lesson and meekly allowed the government to oust Carey, spinelessly refusing to pick up his banner of union militancy.

Federal prosecutor Mary Jo White, a President Clinton appointee, hauled Carey before a grand jury last January. She claimed that Carey knew about a professional campaign consultant’s scheme to funnel union dues money to Carey’s 1996 reelection campaign. There’s no doubt that there was such a plot, hatched in part by Carey’s chief accuser, Jere Nash, Carey’s reelection campaign manager. Four years ago Nash pled guilty to his part in the rip-off and falsely said that Carey knew about the scam, in hopes of getting a lighter sentence. In fact, Nash has yet to be sentenced. It’s not clear if Nash still faces 20 years in prison and a $2 million fine. Investigators discovered overwhelming evidence that Nash used the kickback dodge to line his own pockets with contrived fees and commissions.

Not a scintilla of evidence against Carey

The prosecutors could never find a scintilla of evidence that Carey took part in the crime. But when Carey told a grand jury that the con job had been done behind his back by trusted aides and he had no idea what was going on—as the prosecution knew he would—the prosecutors secured a perjury indictment. A wrongful conviction could have meant that Carey, 64, would spend his remaining years imprisoned. No wonder that Carey’s three tearful daughters embraced their father as the jury left the jurors box.

The popular view of rank-and-file Teamsters and indeed of many workers is that the government’s agents who have “monitored” the union since March 1989 framed up Carey. They think that Carey paid a price because of his leadership of the unprecedented national strike against United Parcel Service, the largest trucking corporation in the nation. The ranks’ view is bolstered by the fact that the “monitor” who removed Carey from the ballot is an expensive Manhattan corporation lawyer wealthy enough to maintain offices around the country.

The “monitors” who ousted Carey from the Teamsters for life, much like the prosecutors, never said that Carey was in on the shady deal. Instead they claimed that Carey should have known what was going on. What they never explained was how Carey could have known what was going on, since it was going on behind his back. Nash pled guilty to conspiracy. The conspiracy included keeping Carey in the dark. Carey’s lawyer said that holding Carey responsible was like holding a bank president responsible for a bank teller’s embezzlement.

Carey was “out of the loop”

One of Carey’s aides who was convicted and was sentenced to three years in a penitentiary was called as a prosecution witness. Clearly he had plenty of incentive to trade his testimony against Carey for a shorter sentence, since he is a parent with children at home. But he testified that Carey did not know what the schemers were up to—that Carey was “out of the loop.”

From the courthouse steps, Carey implied that the acquittal might be the beginning of a new chapter as a Teamster leader, reported the next day’s Los Angeles Times. “It obviously opens lots of doors and possibilities, which I’ll be looking into.” The Associated Press also quoted Carey as saying, “It’s been in my blood for 40 years,” he said. “I need to really think about that. Obviously I would want to sit back and shake off what has been a tragic part of my life.”

Comments from rank and file Teamsters on the Internet indicate that some in the ranks have not forgotten him, and look forward to his union membership being restored, as these sample comments would suggest: “Carey should be reinstalled as president of the teamsters because he was elected by the members of this union;” “I agree with others who think that Ron Carey should be reinstated in our Union!” “His militancy and active leadership was causing a real resurgence in our movement! That resurgence has hit a wall since Carey’s removal and ‘Junior’s’ [Hoffa’s] presidency;” “We need that active and militant Teamsters Union back. We need active and militant leaders who will tell the membership that it’s OK to be active and militant again! We need Carey back;” “After our election there should be a campaign among all Teamsters, no matter who was supported in our election, to reinstate Ron Carey into the Teamsters Union. Simple justice demands it!”

But Teamsters president James P. Hoffa is not likely to lead a mobilization of the members to demand that the government allow Ron Carey to rejoin the union he served for four decades. “Teamsters’ spokesman Bret Caldwell said the acquittal would not change the union’s attitude toward Carey. ‘He’s banned from the union and that’s not changing,’” he told the Los Angeles Times. Further, Caldwell said, “Ron Carey’s not off the hook yet.” He meant that Hoffa intended to continue to pursue a civil racketeering suit against Carey for $3 million. That case was thrown out of court just two weeks ago, but Hoffa says he will appeal.

Hoffa has continued to campaign against Carey

Apparently, the case is frivolous on its face, but Hoffa has tried to use it to convince union voters that Carey robbed the union blind. Despite Carey’s ouster from the union, Hoffa has continued to campaign against Carey. Since 1997, Hoffa has labored to convince the Teamster ranks that Carey is guilty of the charges that the jury rejected. It’s been said that at the recent Teamsters Convention, someone might have thought at times that Carey was in the presidential race, not Tom Leedham, Hoffa’s only rival on the ballot. Some Teamsters have suggested that a write-in campaign be waged for Carey, only to be told that the election rules do not permit write-in votes and that any writing on a ballot would cause that ballot to be thrown out.

At times during the past four years, Ron Carey has seemed to many to be a forgotten Teamster. That’s ironic because he campaigned for the “Forgotten Teamster” and was recognized as a champion of the part-time worker, the marginalized cannery worker, the seldom noticed, lowly paid hospital orderly. But Carey was always on the minds of some socialists grouped in Socialist Action, the Socialist Workers Organization, or around the Labor Standard magazine. They did their best to make sure that Carey’s fight was not an isolated fight. In public forums and in their press these socialists attempted to rally union militants to Carey’s defense. Stretching their resources to the limit, socialists published thousands of copies of Carey’s futile defense at the monitors’ hearing that ousted him from the union. Clearly, the socialists could not reach the union’s 1.5 million members. But it was everything they could do to get Carey’s side of the story out to the ranks.

The socialists’ deeds should have served as a model for Carey’s allies in the Teamsters reform movement. Instead the central leaders of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) said that Carey’s case should not be likened to the tragic Sacco-Vanzetti case of 1920-27 (not that anyone did) that received support from workers all around the world. The TDU leaders said that the union’s members were primarily interested in their contracts and grievances and not with what was going on with Carey. TDU quickly moved on to find a candidate to replace Carey, and ignored the fact that the government had deprived the members of their democratic right to independently select their leaders.

Clearly, the government had greatly exceeded its stated intention to make sure that election results were on the up-and-up. Even if it’s conceded that the rules allowed the court-appointed election officers the right to order re-run elections to correct fraud and make sure that the election results accurately reflected the will of the majority, it can not be conceded that the election officer had the undemocratic right to tell the members that they could not vote for any properly nominated member in good standing. To this day, TDU has not said that the election authorities overstepped their authority granted by the notorious Consent Degree and thereby acted against the best interests of the rank-and file.

A good day for Teamsters and the labor movement

In a prepared statement issued on the day of Carey’s acquittal, TDU broke its near-silence on the Carey trial, stating that, “This is a good day for Teamsters and the labor movement.” But in the next sentence the statement blamed the victim, Carey, for his and the ranks’ plight. “What ever mistakes Carey made, including allowing unsavory consultants into his campaign—consultants who betrayed Carey and reform—his legacy is one of reform, power and hope for Teamsters.” TDU’s praise for Carey has got to be cold comfort for those Teamsters in and out of TDU who from the first urged that the TDU leadership conduct a fight to defend the members’ democratic right to elect Carey, if that’s what the ranks wanted. The TDU press release listed the many positive changes that happened during Carey’s six years, called on Hoffa “to stop blaming Ron Carey for their weak contracts, their failed organizing program and their own string of broken promises,” and called on the ranks to elect Tom Leedham in this month’s election.

Unlike the TDU leaders, the jury didn’t blame Carey for anything. One juror said, “I actually believed he was a good guy trying to carry out good things for the Teamsters,” noted the Associated Press. To which we say, “Amen!”





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