Why Is Jim Santangelo Still in Office?

September 17, 2009: A sexual harassment scandal involving an International Vice President has cost our union a half million dollars.

So why is Jim Santangelo still an International Vice President and head of the 100,000-member Joint Council 42 and Local 848 in Los Angeles? That’s the question some Southern California Teamsters are asking.

In August, a sexual harassment lawsuit against Santangelo was settled for $500,000. The lawsuit was filed in January 2009, so the large settlement came very fast, just as depositions under oath were slated, according to court papers.

Did Santangelo have to pay the $500,000? No way. The legal bills and pay-out came from the members’ dues as well as insurance coverage.

“It’s an outrage that the members’ dues have to pay for this. It’s bad enough we pay a three dollar monthly assessment for nothing, and now this,” said Howard Palmer, a Vons driver in Local 848. Santangelo’s total salary was $287,946 in 2008.

Santangelo and his attorney vehemently deny any wrongdoing. But if Santangelo was innocent of these charges, he had every opportunity to fight them.

We asked Jim Santangelo for his side of the story. He told us that “It’s settled and behind me. I’m not supposed to talk about it.” He did offer that the plaintiff “distorted things” but he didn’t feel he could defend himself in a trial, and also noted that the insurance company paid most of the settlement money.

We also spoke with Joint Council 42 attorney Joe Kaplon, who’s been a friend of Santangelo for 35 years. When pressed on the issue of why wouldn’t Santangelo want to fight the charges, he claimed it’s easy for women to win sexual harassment cases in California, so he didn’t want to risk a jury trial. He added that the union’s insurance company was willing to pay most of the $500,000. Kaplon also alluded to Teamster politics; he claims that certain Teamster officials helped the plaintiff with the case.

Serious Allegations

The plaintiff, a former secretary at Joint Council 42, alleged a long list of despicable acts were committed against her. For example, she alleges that when she asked for a raise, Santangelo would only meet to discuss it at a hotel restaurant, where he stated “What if I said you can make $700 a week more if all you did was pass through those doors and go to a room with me?”

At the September meeting of Joint Council 42, Kaplon reported the settlement as a prudent business decision. Santangelo said little, saying “you all know me.” Many officials then stood to applaud him, without any questions asked. But at least a few are very upset, and have made it known via anonymous leaflets, internet postings and word of mouth.

Practice What We Preach

This sexual harassment scandal raises a larger question for our union. We need to organize women workers into the Teamsters, and to encourage more women to take leadership positions. Presently there are zero voting members of the Teamster General Executive Board who are women.

Our union has good positions on paper on respect for women. It’s time to put those into practice in our own house.

The officials of Joint Council 42 apparently claim they had to approve this settlement, to protect the organization. The best way to protect our organization is to get our union to live up to our own high ideals.

Click here for a copy of the complaint in the case. The settlement agreement is confidential and thus unavailable.

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