Why Won't Hoffa Deal With It? IRB Hits Corruption in Local 120

November 14, 2012: Skimming union money. Sham contracts. Non-union contractors. Misusing credit cards. The whole ugly story is in the 139-page IRB report available here.

It's also all been under the noses of the Hoffa administration. But they are not interested in rooting out corruption.

We need to change our union culture.

The Independent Review Board (IRB) report details a series of long-running schemes to divert union funds to Brad Slawson Sr, Brad Slawson Jr, and their family and friends. All at the expense of Local 120 members in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Iowa.

The report calls for a trusteeship of Local 120. Upon receipt of the IRB report, James Hoffa imposed a trusteeship, ousting the Slawsons and the executive board, and sending in a trustee to run the local temporarily.

Can the Hoffa Administration Ever Find Corruption?

The Hoffa administration simply isn't interested in rooting corruption out of our union. They are more interested in protecting officials and covering up problems.

In this case, Local 120 was until recently headed by Tom Keegel, who was the General Secretary Treasurer of the Teamsters, and the supervisor of the IBT Auditors, after he turned the local over to the Slawsons.

Why can the IRB find glaring corruption, when the IBT can't? In this case it was about as hard as finding a whale in a bathtub. 

And the Hoffa administration is trying to get the IRB abolished. Who then would ever spotlight and remove corruption?

The Schemes and Scams

The IRB report details the following alleged schemes and scams.

  • Skimming money from union hall construction. When a new union hall was built in 2007-2008, at a cost of over $4 million, three Slawsons controlled the whole process: Secretary Treasurer Brad Slawson Sr, President Brad Slawson Jr, and business agent Lyle Slawson. They picked a non-union contractor in a no-bid process. They allowed excess funds the contractor owed the union to disappear.  They diverted a $90,000 "finder's fee" to Todd Chester. Chester is a Slawson family friend, business partner, and the father of Brad Sr’s grandson. They diverted $189,000 from the strike fund, against the bylaws, to cover a payment. They lied about the union’s finances and claimed 10,000 "extra" members, to obtain loans.
  • They ran a union-owned bar and gambling hall as their own family cash machine. When Local 120 took over North Dakota Local 116 in 2007, they acquired this property in Fargo N.D. Previously, the Local 116 Executive Board had control of it, and ran it for the union, but the Slawsons took private control of it. They paid themselves extra salaries, unknown to the Local 120 members or even the executive board. Slawson Sr and Jr received $140,800 from this diversion over a five year period, according to the IRB. They installed their family partner Todd Chester as the "manager," although as a bar owner he was in bankruptcy himself. He was paid more than the full-time bar employees, who were kept non-union and without any health insurance. Chester is alleged to have skimmed some $235,000 from the union bar by removing liquor and beer to sell at his own bar. He also fired an employee after that employee dissented from Chester’s plan to run a fake charity event through the bar.
  • They fabricated a sham union contract to hawk products to members. The "American Pride" companies are well-known to Local 120 members through multiple mailings, presentations at union meetings, etc. They are advertised as a 100% Teamster company, but the Local 120 contract is a sham: no wages, benefits, seniority, holidays, vacation, or grievance procedure. Just dues -- and the employer pays the dues! And the company pays dues even on employees who are long gone. Conveniently, this company also got the mortgage on the new union hall, after the company’s rep held closed door meetings with Slawson Sr.
  • Slawson Jr diverted his personal debts to the union. When he ran for positions within the Democratic Party structure, his campaign bills went unpaid. He told the vendors that Local 120 would give them business in return.
  • Disappearing sports tickets. Between 2007 and 2011 the local spent over $214,000 on tickets to sporting events: the Twins, Vikings, Wild and the University of Minnesota Gophers. Slawson Jr was in charge of keeping track of who got the tickets; most of them never went to members, as they were supposed to.
  • Personal bar bills paid by the union. Falsified receipts. Receipts for midnight bar bills marked "e board meeting." As with the ball game tickets, the Department of Labor several years ago flagged this problem, but somehow the Hoffa administration let it go.

Time for a New Culture

The Slawsons are gone, and good riddance. But the larger issue is instilling in our union a culture that has zero tolerance for officials who use it for their own benefit.

The Hoffa administration can never find corruption. And when the IRB called for trusteeship, Hoffa appointed a trustee who himself was suspended by the IRB for corruption!

Hoffa appointed William Moore, of Topeka, Kansas. Moore was removed from office in a one-year suspension during 2009 for lying under oath about his association with Dane Passo, who was banned from the union for making sweetheart deals.

That is Hoffa's idea of the right man to clean up corruption.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union is working to not just clean up the bad spots in our union, but to create a new culture of zero tolerance of misuse of the members' trust.

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