Feb 5, 2001
On January 25, the federal government indicted former Teamster Union President Ron Carey on charges that he was involved in illegal fund-raising for his 1996 Teamster re-election campaign. The government charges that Carey repeatedly lied when he claimed he didn't know that a few members of his campaign staff had gotten contributions from various individuals and groups in return for Teamster Union contributions to four organizations associated with the Democratic Party. If convicted, Carey could get up to five years in prison on each of seven counts.
These allegations were first investigated immediately after Carey defeated James Hoffa, Jr. in the election, but the government brought no charges and gave no indication at that time of any wrong-doing on Carey's part. But suddenly, eight months later, but only three days after the Teamsters won an important nationwide strike against UPS, the government overturned the election, backdating its overturn to the first day of the strike.
Just a coincidence? Not hardly. Eventually the Feds forced Carey to resign from office, then barred him from running in a new election and finally had him expelled from the union forever.
Did Carey do what is charged? Certainly no one should believe the government in such a case. But even if he did, so what? If the government were concerned about campaign funding, they would first go after all the politicians, and then after those union officials most tied to them –since they are the ones ordinarily most implicated in "illegal fund-raising."
But the government isn't doing that. In fact, Hoffa himself was accused of illegally raising funds from Teamster Union treasuries controlled by supporters of his among Teamster officials –during the very same election campaign that Carey is being charged for. But what did the government do about that? Simply made him pay the money back and let him run again and take office in 1998.
Carey is now indicted not because of corruption, but because he stepped over a line that union officials are not supposed to cross. With UPS workers pushing to confront UPS, he agreed to lead their strike. And because it was a nationwide strike of 185,000 workers, it touched the rest of the working class. He even dared to say that other workers needed to do the same thing in order to stop the bosses from using more lower-paying part-time jobs to replace higher-paying full-time jobs. The UPS strikers and Carey said they were making a fight for "good jobs," and that indeed struck a responsive chord in wide layers of the working class.
The sympathy of the rest of the working class for the UPS strikers was tangible. Thousands of workers showed up to picket with the UPS strikers all across the country. Horns were honked and fists raised in support of the picketing strikers by workers passing by UPS warehouses every hour of the day and night. Some supporters stopped to drop off hot coffee and donuts. Perhaps most importantly, workers at thousands of other job sites large and small discussed the strike.
When the strike ended with some small inroads against the use of part-time positions, and with decent raises for everyone, the UPS workers clearly thought the fight had been worthwhile. They went back in with heads held high. And in the rest of the working class a fresh little breeze had blown through.
The next question was, what were the Teamsters going to do with the Master Freight Agreement and the Carhaulers Agreement, both of which were soon to run out. A lot of workers couldn't wait to see.
The government was not ready to let events play out. Carey was thrown out of office and eventually out of the union, making it absolutely clear what lay in store for any other union official who might be contemplating a serious breaking of labor peace: a quick end to their union careers.