May 16, 2007: Ten years after the 1997 UPS strike, former General President Ron Carey spoke in New York about some of the keys to the union's contract victory. "You don't keep members in the dark, you don't have secret negotiations," Carey said.
Carey’s advice for members? "You have the right to get answers from your leadership. Responding in a very activist way is the way to go."Carey Looks Back: Ex-Teamster Head Still Driving Hard
By MEREDITH KOLODNER, The Chief—Public Employees Weekly
Nine years after he was deposed as President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Ron Carey was all fire and no remorse last week when he spoke about the legacy of the successful national strike a decade ago against United Parcel Service.
The room that Mr. Carey spoke to May 7 was full of labor advocates but devoid of Teamsters, since he is barred for life from contact with them. The occasion was the book launch of "Outside the Box," which chronicles media coverage of the UPS strike and explains how the Teamsters were able to capture the national imagination in August of 1997 with the claim that "part-time America doesn't work."
Out But Still Outspoken
Mr. Carey was removed as president by the IBT's Federal Internal Review Board two days after the strike ended due to an illegal money swap scheme carried out by his political advisors, but his time in exile does not seem to have dulled his penchant for speaking out. He argued that successful strikes were still possible if the membership was informed and prepared, defended his 1993 role in removing Barry Feinstein as president of Local 237, and criticized the growing salaries of union leaders.
"I think we're at a crossroads right now, and I think it can be very difficult," he said. "I look at the dim picture coming out of the labor movement and I wonder, are we just heading backwards?"
But Mr. Carey argued that the prescriptions for labor's ills were little changed from when he was in power, indicating that problems with some recent strikes, including the 2003 United Food and Commercial Workers grocery strike in California and the 2005 city transit strike, stemmed from lack of preparation on the part of the leaderships.
Must Clue In Members
"We were thinking for two years about what we had to do before we ever went on strike," he said. "You don't keep members in the dark, you don't have secret negotiations and then tell people, 'It didn't work out, so get behind us and follow us.'"
The former UPS driver argued that member involvement in the process was key. "We put rank-and-file members on the committees, we educated our members, and we told them don't be afraid to talk to the press," he told the crowd at Stony Brook University's Manhattan offices.
Mr. Carey acknowledged that the state's Taylor Law, which imposes massive financial penalties on public workers for striking, made the situation more difficult, but he held to the conviction that labor could win if it kept the upper hand.
"What [management] wanted was to push us into the street, not having all the t's crossed and the i's dotted," he said, "and the end result was the members would have suffered. Their last and best offer came 25 times."
'Have Right to Answers'
He also had advice for members in unions where the leadership seems unresponsive. "You have the right to get answers from your leadership," he said. "The local leadership will turn their back on the international leadership if you push. Responding in a very activist way is the way to go."
And some leaders, Mr. Carey argued, need to be challenged. In response to a query about Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern's decision to appear with Wal-Mart management to advocate for expanding health-care insurance, the former president's voice jumped an octave: "What, did he just fall off a turnip truck?" he asked.
Mr. Carey, like many of his supporters, still believes that the government targeted him because of the success of the UPS strike, and stands by his claim that while his advisors broke the law, he had no knowledge of their actions. After serving as the president of Local 804 in the city, Mr. Carey was elected general president of the Teamsters in 1991 in the first secret-ballot rank and file election in the history of the union. He was removed because of a scheme in which $885,000 in Teamsters funds was donated to progressive political organizations in 1996 in return for $221,000 in contributions to the then-Teamsters president's re-election campaign.
Beat Perjury Rap
Mr. Carey was never accused of participating in the plot, but was charged with perjury for proclaiming his innocence and lack of knowledge about the plan in front of a Federal grand jury and other court-appointed bodies that monitored the Teamsters. In 2001, a Manhattan Federal court jury found Mr. Carey not guilty of seven counts of perjury.
He maintains that having government involvement and oversight inside labor unions is damaging.
"I think it's a joke," he said of government monitoring. "One of the issues I had with the so-called Internal Review Board, I had a problem with how much money they were making and I said to Judge [Frederick] Lacey [the outside monitor], 'This is ridiculous; I'm not going to sign this check.' That was the first month I was in office, so we had a very bad relationship. They just gouged the union."
His experience with the law, however, has not shaken his conviction about his push to have Judge Lacey remove former Local 237 President Barry Feinstein after he was accused by then-Federal Investigator Charles M. Carberry of improperly spending $500,000 of members' dues money on personal expenses, including a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side. Mr. Feinstein, who had protested that all the expenditures were approved by the Local 237 board, agreed to step down and repay the local $104,000. "I removed Barry," Mr. Carey said. "I personally thought Barry was a very decent human being, he was a good labor unionist, and it was very difficult for me to do. But he broke the rules, and when you break the rules, there's a price to pay; there's no exceptions."
Not Losing Hope
Mr. Carey said he continued to believe that some current union leaders were helping themselves to too much of members' dues money. "I took a decrease in pay when I first got into office," he said. "I don't think anyone should be making a quarter of a million dollars. The treasury is the members' money; it isn't the union officers' money."
Mr. Carey is no longer directly involved in union politics, and said he is working with some retirees' groups and concentrating on being a good grandfather. But he said he still closely follows the developments in the labor movement.
"I'm not going to lose hope," he said. "Somebody's going to come along who's going to put the fire up the unions in this country."