Friday, September 29, 2023
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Teamsters Resist Cleanup, Fired Officers Say

CHICAGO (CN) - The former president and secretary-treasurer of a Teamsters local say the Teamsters rigged elections, stole ballots, intimidated members and illegally booted them from office to retaliate for their years-long efforts to rid the union of corruption.

Local 743 President Richard Berg and Secretary-Treasurer Gina Alvarez say the Teamsters Joint Council and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ousted them in May to retaliate for Berg's criticism of "Local 743, JC 25, and the Hoffa administration. He vigorously criticized them for their ties to organized crime, weak collective bargaining agreements, excessive salaries, and general failure to represent the membership well and vigorously, or, sometimes, at all."

Nonparty James P. Hoffa, son of the legendary Teamsters leader, has been president of the Teamsters International since 1999. His father disappeared in 1975.

Berg and Alvarez say they were removed on pretextual reasons, and ask the Federal Court to reinstate them. They also seek punitive damages for retaliation, violation of voting rights, constitutional violations, and breach of the union constitution and bylaws.

Melanie Cloghessy, a rank and file member of the 10,000-member Local 743, which represents nursing home and hospital workers and warehouse and manufacturing personnel, is the third plaintiff. She voted for Berg and Alvarez.

The 40-page complaint recapitulates a long history of Teamsters corruption.

Berg claims that from the time he joined the Local in 1988, he criticized it for its corruption. He claims the Local's "first contested election was in 1996, upon the dissolution of a trusteeship imposed by the IBT in 1994 to free the Union from the influence of organized crime, following more than 40 years under the uncontested leadership of Donald Peters."

Berg says he opposed the incumbent union administration in elections in 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2007, and Alvarez joined his slate in 2006 for a position as delegate to a union convention, then again when she ran for secretary-treasurer.

In every election, Berg says, Hoffa's supporters tainted the votes through ballot tampering and mail fraud. A raft of civil and criminal investigations followed.

In one case, a union official "admitted in his plea agreement" that he and others "met at his home to mark stolen ballots, wearing latex gloves and using a variety of different writing implements to conceal their fraud," according to the complaint.

The official, Robert Walston, "admitted in his plea agreement that Mr. Berg's pre-election protests in the October 2004 election were summarily denied for the purpose of preventing Mr. Berg from winning the election, and not on their merits, and that his last pre-election protest was not granted to ensure a fair election, but to prevent Mr. Berg's slate from taking office. Mr. Walston's plea agreement has been a matter of public record since March 23, 2009," the complaint states.

Walston was sentenced to "just short of 5 years in prison" and ordered to pay the union $900,936 in restitution, Berg says. His four co-defendants were ordered to pay the union $3.5 million in restitution, the complaint adds.

Berg claims that when the previous union leaders were unable to prevent his election, they tried to "cripple the incoming administration, financially and politically, by wedding it to staff loyal to the new officers' political adversaries and to new payroll obligations that the Union did not have enough income to be able to honor."

Berg said he was twice brought up for discipline on pretextual charges, including a bogus claim of "racism."

For this, he was "removed as a steward, assessed a fine, and ordered to make a written confession of racially motivated wrongdoing in the midst of his campaign for union office."

In the second case, which directly to his and Alvarez's removal, the two were accused of approving a severance payment to a union organizer who was fired for failing to master the English language.

The union board said the firing of the organizer and the approval of the severance package without board approval violated the Local's bylaws. Berg and Alvarez say the board's decision to find them guilty on just one charge - signing the check - was politically motivated.

Under the discipline imposed, Berg would be disqualified from running for Local office until 2019, and prohibited from running for International Union office until 2021, Alvarez would be disqualified from running for both Local and International Union until 2016.

They want the union restrained from violating its own bylaws and previous court orders. They are represented by Barbara Harvey of Detroit, and Robert Cohen with Frankel & Cohen of Chicago.

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