An Interview with Richard Berg: Reformers Chart New Direction for Local 743

December 5, 2007: On Jan. 1, the 13,000 members of Chicago Local 743 will get a chance to build a stronger union as Richard Berg and the New Leadership Slate take office.

Richard BergThis election victory comes after a long history of corruption. In September the current president and three former BAs were indicted for stealing the 2004 election.

The old officers continue to try to obstruct democracy and block the winners from taking office, using union funds and every trick they can. Beyond that, the new leadership faces a big challenge—to turn the union around and build Teamster power. Convoy sat down with president-elect Richard Berg to discuss their plans.

Convoy: How does it feel to be the newly elected President of Local 743?

Richard Berg: It feels great. It was a great victory for all the members who’ve worked so hard and so long to get rid of the criminal element in our union and turn it over to the rank-and-file.

What can your new team do to increase representation for members?

Right now, the current officers are looting our dues money. We’re going to cut salaries and hire more people. BAs will visit all our worksites regularly—whether there’s a problem or not.

We’re going to launch an education campaign geared at all the members—so members can learn what the union does, how it works, and what is expected of all members. We want a union where the members call the shots.

We’ll focus on training stewards. Stewards are our first line of defense.

Our bylaws call for regular election of union stewards, but the current officers have completely ignored that. We won’t.

We’re going to train stewards so they can handle tough situations. And they’ll know that when they take on the boss, we’ll have their back.

What will you do to get rid of the corruption in the union?

We’re going to open the books, and make a real close accounting. Anyone who has been involved in any theft from the members will be removed from Local 743 forever.

The new executive board will have zero tolerance for corruption. We work for the members, not for ourselves.

Local 743 has over 100 contracts in a variety of industries. How did the old leadership handle contract negotiations? What will you do differently?

Workers were left in the dark. At the end of negotiations, the BA would emerge from the room with management and tell members that you can either accept this agreement, or go on strike. Members would know that with no preparation, a strike would be a disaster, so they had to accept some pretty bad contracts.

We’re going to run real contract campaigns. We’ll start early, talking to members, setting up one-on-one organizing networks, fully involving the workers in the negotiating process.

When we first take office, we inherit everything that our predecessors have left us—good and bad. They’re in the middle of several negotiations now.

Our plans will take time. We’ll make changes from day one, but to turn the ship around is going take a concerted effort of the leadership and the membership.

You’ve been active in the national movement for Teamster reform, and you ran with Tom Leedham last year. What role has the Teamster reform movement played in bringing reform to Local 743?

Many of our employers are national or multinational companies. Early on we realized that we can’t live in isolation, we need a national outlook and organization.

Through TDU, we’ve met the most talented Teamsters in the U.S.—and we’ve learned much from them. We couldn’t have done it without the support of people like Tom Leedham and TDU.

What advice do you have for Teamster members who are concerned about the future of our union?

We’re always looking for the Teamster members who want to fight. We found inspiration from places we didn’t expect.

Having a local organization made all the difference, to keep the fight going and lick our wounds when we lost. That inspiration and organization kept us going, no matter what management and our corrupt officials threw at us.

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