The Teamsters union in Chicago is a family business — the Coli family.
Union boss John Coli — one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's few supporters in organized labor — and his two sons together were paid more than $615,000 last year for their work in leadership roles with the Teamsters, according to public records.
Coli, 53, was paid a total of $338,655 in 2012 from three arms of the union: Teamsters Local 727, the union’s joint council for the Chicago area and the Teamsters international in Washington, D.C.
Son John Coli Jr., 29, made $239,987 as president and business manager of Park Ridge-based Local 727, which he’s headed since January 2011.
Another son, 28-year-old Joseph Coli, was paid $36,567 by the local. This year should be more lucrative for the recent graduate of Northwestern University's law school. John Coli Jr. announced earlier this year that the Local 727 benefit funds' trustees had hired his younger brother's law firm as "the exclusive provider of legal representation" for members who use the union's legal benefits plan.
Joseph Coli had been licensed to practice law 2 1/2 months before that announcement, state records show.
His big brother cited his experience as business agent for the local, saying he and the other trustees were confident that Joseph Coli's newly formed firm, Illinois Advocates LLC, "will carry on the tradition of this plan’s top-notch legal assistance."
Ken Paff, an activist with the Detroit-based activist group Teamsters for a Democratic Union, views the Coli sons' experience differently.
"What are their qualifications for being union leaders?" says Paff. "Obviously, it's just their parentage."
When a lawyer asked, during a deposition two years ago, about the Coli family's hold on the Teamsters in Chicago, the elder Coli had a pithy, and profane, response:
"For the record, go [expletive] yourself," Coli told the lawyer, according to documents in a federal racketeering lawsuit filed against the union by SCI Illinois Services Inc., which owns funeral homes that employ Teamsters members.
That civil case, now pending in federal court, accuses the Teamsters of engaging in "an extortionate, fraudulent scheme" to inflate the amounts to be contributed to the Local 727 benefit funds. The plaintiffs say Coli and his sons were among four union trustees of the benefit funds at the time the suit was filed, and they noted that Coli's older brother, William Coli, is fund administrator, a post that's paid him more than $65,000 a year.
Coli left the deposition in June 2011 "claiming that the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, needed him on an emergency basis," according to the court records. Emanuel's schedule shows a 45-minute meeting at his office that day with Coli.
Emanuel, who had been endorsed by Coli for mayor, had taken office a few weeks before the deposition. Coli's support was important because almost every other important labor group had opposed Emanuel or remained neutral in the February 2011 race to succeed retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Coli's endorsement came at a low point for Emanuel's campaign — the day after a state appeals court had temporarily thrown Emanuel off the ballot, ruling that he didn't meet the residency requirements to run for mayor.
"The courts should not be playing games with what the majority of Chicagoans obviously want, with what our members have told us they want," Coli said then.
Since Emanuel took office, Teamsters members on the city payroll largely have been spared from work-rule changes the mayor has demanded of other unions.
Coli, whose father also was a Teamsters boss, became a Local 727 leader more than 30 years ago. He made $212,480 as the local's secretary-treasurer last year.
He made another $93,198 from the international, for which he has been a vice president for the country’s central region since 2007.
And Teamsters Joint Council 25 paid him $32,977 as president of its 115,000-member organization, a post he's held since 2002.
In addition to his union pay, Coli was paid another $38,500 as a board member of Amalgamated Bank — the bank for Local 727 and its benefit funds, according to union documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.
A spokesman for John Coli and John Coli Jr. did not return calls seeking comment. Joseph Coli would not comment.