MANHATTAN (CN) – Fifty members scorched Teamsters President James P. Hoffa in a federal lawsuit, claiming he “ruthlessly orchestrates” investigations of supposed mob ties among rank-and-file members “who oppose his monarchy.”
Hoffa’s late father, also a Teamsters president, disappeared after reportedly meeting with two Mafia leaders at a restaurant in a Detroit suburb.
The plaintiffs, on their own behalf and derivatively on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, say the federal government “coerced” the Teamsters’ general executive board to agree to a 1989 “consent decree” – which the plaintiffs call both a “euphemism” and a “misnomer” – forcing the union to launch and pay for its own mob investigations.
In return, the government dropped criminal allegations against the 15 board members who signed the decree and allowed them to keep their jobs, the complaint states.
“That was the quid pro quo for which they surrendered the rights of the IBT membership in return for the 15 GEB [General Executive Board] members’ being permitted to keep their jobs. The United States was an active participant in this charade,” the complaint states.
The consent decree was supposed to have lasted only until 1991, when the next union elections were held, but it still in effect 22 years later, and the Teamsters union has paid $147 million to a team of 17 lawyers and an Independent Review Board for investigations since then – expenses that should be borne by the government, the complaint states.
The 50 union members claim that Hoffa, three-term president of the union, has abused his powers under the consent order, “bringing the IBT to the brink of bankruptcy,” and that the union has shrunk by more than 300,000 under his “leadership,” [sarcastic quotes in original], which “has not been for the benefit of the IBT membership, but for the benefit of one person only: James P. Hoffa.”
The plaintiffs claim the consent decree violates the Teamsters’ constitution, federal anti-racketeering law and union members’ rights to due process.
They cite a 1964 provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which calls for “due provision for the rights of innocent persons.”
“The plaintiffs herein and the overwhelming majority of the rank and file IBT members are innocent persons, yet no ‘due provision’ was or has been made for them in the consent decree or its implementation,” the complaint states.
They say the amendments to the IBT Constitution mandated by the consent decree were “overwhelmingly” rejected by delegates of the 1991 IBT Convention.
The union members say the late U.S. District Judge David Edelstein, who presided over the consent decree for 12 years, said the purpose of the decree was “to institute real electoral reform into a union not known for its democratic nature,” but the plaintiffs say the Teamsters’ leadership has “manipulated” this “noble goal.”
“The Executive Board was elected to office in 1991 by less than 12 percent of the rank and file members. It was an Executive Board that consisted mainly of inexperienced administrators and leaders, which leaned more toward socialism than democracy, and that has taken the strongest and wealthiest international union to near bankruptcy,” the complaint states.
Despite merging with three other international unions, the Teamsters’ membership has dwindled from 1.7 million to 1.375 million since 1989, the plaintiffs say.
After savaging the consent decree, the plaintiffs credit it with some successes.
“To the extent that the ‘consent decree’ was intended to accomplish positive benefits for the IBT – such as ridding it of any criminal mob influence – it has accomplished its goals. There is no longer any reason for its existence to persist,” the complaint states.
Andrew Dean, a white-collar defense attorney who wrote “An Offer the Teamsters Couldn’t Refuse” for the Columbia Law Review, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that deciding when the decree should end is “not an easy task.” Dean is not involved in this complaint.
“I think it’s a significant issue, the fact that there is a union subject to continual oversight for as long as the Teamsters have been,” Dean told Courthouse News. “Neither the government nor the courts have clearly and publicly articulated what the criteria are for ending oversight.”
The plaintiffs say that the Teamsters’ top dogs “have no incentive” to end the consent decree, “as the sinecures that it has created for them negate any incentive to do so.”
Chief among the so-called “sinecures,” the plaintiffs say, is Hoffa’s:
“Speaking of sinecures, the President of the IBT since 1999 (defendant James Phillip Hoffa) has, with the apparent complicity of the defendant U.S., managed to create for himself a monarchy which secures its longevity by machinations that he ruthlessly orchestrates.
“a) For those who oppose his monarchy, petty charges are trumped up and brought, for which they are routinely found ‘guilty,’ resulting in fines and suspensions. Under the IBT Constitution, anyone ‘not in good standing’ for 2 consecutive years is barred from holding an executive position in the IBT. Hoffa’s pernicious use of this tactic virtually insures his continued reign.
“b) Hoffa’s monarchy also vests in him the power to approve all IBT expenses, which he uses with ruthless effect. Despite the requirement of the ‘consent decree’ that requires Hoffa to provide 90-day activity reports to the IBT, the GEB and the rank and file, he has not done so.
“c) Under his ‘leadership,’ the membership of the IBT has drastically declined. Mr. Hoffa’s ‘leadership’ has not been for the benefit of the IBT membership, but for the benefit of one person only: James P. Hoffa.
“d) Despite his assurances to the contrary, Hoffa has raised the dues, the per capita tax, and the initiation fees of the IBT members.
“e) Despite his assurances to the contrary, Hoffa has both decreased the pension benefits for the IBT membership, while at the same time raising the age for retirement.
“f) Despite his assurances to the contrary, Hoffa has not only increased his own compensation, but has increased it by a whopping 40 percent. This increase has the added pernicious effect of increasing his pension as well.”
The plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring the consent decree unconstitutional and barring its implementation. They are represented by Robert B. MacKay with Carney & McKay firm, which did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Teamsters’ communications director did not respond to a voice mail left after business hours.
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