January 28, 2014: Teamster officials in San Diego, including a Hoffa appointee, face embezzlement charges from the Independent Review Board (IRB).
The Independent Review Board (IRB) has charged the current and past officials of San Diego Local 36 with embezzlement of union funds, and recommended trusteeship of the local.
The charged officials include Art Cantu, a long-time Hoffa International Representative, who resigned last March after a member blew the whistle on the embezzlement scheme.
Hoffa complied with the IRB directive by placing Local 36 in trusteeship. Reportedly the local will be dissolved and members transferred to Local 542 and other locals.
The charges reveal that the local was run for the benefit of principal officer Art Cantu, office manager Marilyn Rawlins, and business agent Michael Witek.
The IRB charges include:
- Cantu totaled the union car while drunk, crashing into six parked cars and two light poles. The next day, he and Witek purchased a new union car for Cantu with union funds, covered up the crash, and lied about polling the executive board for approval.
- Cantu and his assistant, Marilyn Rawlins, put personal meals on the union tab over a period of years, falsely claiming the meals were for union business.
- Assorted scams for airline tickets, gasoline charges, and gift cards all paid for with members’ dues.
- Shredding union documents to try to foil the IRB investigation.
These embezzlement schemes went on for years while Cantu made $130,000 per year from Local 36, Southern California Joint Council 42 and the International Union as a Hoffa appointee. Cantu “inherited” his union posts from his father-in-law, Arkie Spoon.
The Teamsters Union needs to have a mechanism to clean up our own house, and ensure our great union operates with integrity and pride. That is not happening under Hoffa and Hall.
January 27, 2014: A growing reform group is running for office in New York Local 237, the Teamsters’ largest local union.
Local 237 represents more than 24,000 New York City public employees, including school safety officers, public housing workers, city hospital staff, and more.
The local was once a powerful political force in New York City and its contracts help set the tone for public sector wages and benefits in the City and beyond.
But rank-and-file members aren’t feeling much of that power lately. “The Local 237 leadership is out of touch,” says Local 237 member Debra Crenshaw, who works at the NYC Housing Authority.
“The Business Agents meet with management without even talking to the member first. When members see that they feel like the union is in bed with management.”
All Members for Change is the growing reform group that’s building a movement of members to run in this fall’s local union election.
“Lack of any real union representation on the job is the common issue we hear across the City,” says Jakwan Rivers, the leader of All Members for Change and a 17-year Local 237 member and former Business Agent and steward. “We want to put the members first and restore confidence that Local 237 Teamsters can win.”
Rivers headed a slate to challenge incumbents in the last election, and lost by 281 votes. “Our first change would be to improve representation and grievance handling. Members will get a call from a union rep within 48 hours of filing, and members will be involved every step of the way.”
Across the union, members say union reps either leave members to fend for themselves against management, or only show up on the job to cut bad deals with the boss.
Housing Authority departments are understaffed and management is forcing members to work 15 to 18 days straight—a clear violation of the contract—with no fight-back from the union.
School safety agents are called into to work details usually reserved for Homeland Security or the NYPD, like the New York City Marathon. But, without “uniform status” the school safety agents get paid less and fewer benefits for this same work.
“Members are frustrated with the union,” says Rivers. “But they’re also hungry for change and we’re getting a great response so far. Our challenge is to organize that hunger into a force that can turn Local 237 around.”
“We want to empower New York City public workers again,” says School Safety Agent Richard Muniz. “Our contracts are being trampled on. When members do file grievances, the union and management make a weak settlement behind the members’ backs. We’ll get members involved to enforce our contracts and win back power on the job.”
“Lack of any real union representation on the job is the common issue we hear across the City.
“Our first change would be to improve representation and grievance handling. Members will get a call from a union rep within 48 hours of filing, and members will be involved every step of the way.”
Jakwan Rivers, NYC Housing Authority
Officials are Out of Touch
“The Local 237 leadership is out of touch.
“The Business Agents meet with management without even talking to the member first.
When members see that they feel like the union is in bed with management.”
Debra Crenshaw, NYC Housing Authority
“We want to empower New York City public workers again.
“When members do file grievances, the union and management make a weak settlement behind the members’ backs. We’ll get members involved to enforce our contracts and win back power on the job.”
Richard Muniz, School Safety Agent
251 United Action, a growing rank-and-file reform movement in Rhode Island, took back their 5,500-member local when they won union office this fall.
The election posed a contest between the “old guard,” led by incumbent Joe Bairos, and a younger reform team led by UPS driver Matt Taibi and Rhode Island Hospital worker Paul Santos to lead Local 251.
But the campaign for change in Local 251 didn’t start at the Nominations Meeting. Members organized workshops and grievance trainings. They launched a campaign to change the local union bylaws and win the right to elect their shop steward and contract negotiating committees.
They built a movement. They ran for office. And they took back their union.
“For too long, Local 251 officials have run our union to benefit themselves, instead of the members,” says Taibi. “United Action will put the power of our union behind the membership to fight for better contracts and stand up to employers who are violating our rights.”
Each week, GoLocal shines the spotlight on one individual who is making an impact on Rhode Island.
This week, GoLocal sat down with Teamsters organizer Nick Williams to talk about his current and future plans, in light of the opposition slate United Action taking the recent Local 251 elections.
Tell us about how you came become involved in the United Action movement here with the Teamsters.
It all started for me when I began working at my first Teamster job at Rhode Island Hospital 8 years ago. I was hired to work at the Lifespan Distribution Center, which was basically Lifespans warehouse that held all non-pharmaceutical supplies for the Hospital units. We had a supervisor there that was out of his depth. He was constantly breaking the contract, and we were constantly filing grievances. He was fired, and replaced by our Teamster Business Agent's Brother. Right then I knew something was really, really wrong with our union. They were obviously in bed with management. I tried to make an argument with HR and the Department Of Labor that there was a serious conflict of interest with our new Supervisor. They agreed, but said it was not illegal, so there was nothing they could do. Out of frustration, I went home and I googled "Teamsters Local 251 SUCKS." One of the entries that popped up, ironically was www.251unitedaction.org. It was a site run by a couple of guys that worked at UPS, which was another company that was contracted with Local 251. I reached out to them, met them for some coffee, and the rest is history.
What are the three biggest issues facing the Teamsters, either locally, nationally, or both?
I think the biggest problem facing the teamsters locally has been a poorly run Local. The political power of Teamsters local 251 has been poorly wielded for so long, that endorsements are just given away and politicians are not being held accountable to their promises to the working class here in Rhode Island and in Mass. For instance, Teamsters local 251 is the bargaining entity for the 60 hard working Teamsters at the Fall River Department of Public Works, which is run by the City of Fall River. Recently, there was a heated Mayoral race, and the incumbent sought the Teamster endorsement. Well, the DPW workers have been working without a contract for several months leading up to the Mayoral race, and you would think the Leadership of 251 would use the leverage of an election to finally strike a deal in exchange for the endorsement. Nope. The incumbent was re-elected and the 60 Teamsters in Fall River are still without a contract, or uniforms, or the necessary safety gear. This is unacceptable, irresponsible, and one of the many reasons we NEEDED to make this change in local 251.
Nationally, our biggest problem is our image, and the inability of our National Leaders to emphasize the role of organized labor as it relates to rebuilding the Middle Class. There is plenty of information out there that clearly shows the correlation between shrinking Union membership, and the shrinking middle class. Even Business Insider recently published an article about how we need labor unions more now than ever. But before we can grow, we need strong leaders at the national level with the ability to nurture that growth and take us into the future. Currently, in my opinion, we do not have that leadership in place. But the essence of Democracy is not lost on our members, and I am hopeful that we will make the necessary changes at the national level in 2016.
Take us through a day in your life.
Well, since the election, my focus has shifted from list building, organizing members, reaching out to other companies in the Local 251 umbrella, and generally running our campaign to reaching out to other local labor leaders, and preparing our slate for the huge transition we are about to undertake. In a normal (I use that word LOOSELY..there is nothing normal about my days lately) day, I spend most of it conversing with our secretary-treasurer elect and other national contacts that I have made from my position as a Steering Committee member, and newly elected co-chair of a group called Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) trying to ensure as smooth of a transition as possible.
TDU is in contact with many leaders of the Teamsters, and their advice and counsel is going to be one of our greatest assets moving forward. I also still have to work third shift at Rhode Island Hospital during the lame duck months, make time to play with my amazing 10 year old son, Jacob, 4 year old daughter, Sophia, and my newest 9 month old edition, Riley, as well as try and get a few relaxing minutes with my beautiful wife, Audra, who has been extremely supportive throughout all of this. I couldn't have done it without her full support, she is awesome!
What are the challenges you face in continuing to be successful, now that you won the election?
Going forward, we have to remember where we came from. We cannot lose touch with the members, after all, the Union is nothing without the members. We have to remember the things that were wrong, and make sure we fix them. We want to be sure our members are educated about their contract, labor laws, and other entities that effect their employment. We are of the opinion that an educated and involved membership creates power within our union. We have a plan to execute all of these goals, from a Local 251 university, to mandatory steward elections, to contract action committees. Member involvement is our number one goal going forward.
Tell us something nobody knows about you.
I learned how to apply and fill gel-tip and acrylic nails when I was single as a way to meet women. I highly suggest this to any single guys out there! You'd be surprised!
Abraham Lincoln. He led us through a civil war that could have torn this great country apart at the seams, was able to unite the country shortly afterward, and put an end to Slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. All in just over 4 years!
Marchetti's in Cranston. Best lobster roll in New England!
Best elected official in RI right now:
Mayor Angel Tavares. His no-nonsense, honest approach to the difficulties facing the City of Providence during his term as Mayor has been refreshing.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world today, who would it be?
Bob Dylan. I'm a HUGE fan of his music/poetry.
October 31, 2013: The 5,000 Teamsters of Rhode Island today elected a new team of officers to lead their local forward, in a major reform win.
The election posed a contest between the "old guard" led by incumbent Joe Bairos, and a younger reform team led by UPS driver Matt Taibi and Rhode Island Hospital worker Paul Santos to lead Local 251.
All ten candidates on the United Action slate were victorious, and will take office on January 1 as the new union officers and representatives.
Bairos, who made salaries of $187,999 in 2012, is an officer with the New England Joint Council and on the International Union payroll, as well as the head of Local 251. His campaign featured a barrage of negative attacks against the challengers and against TDU, the reform Teamster movement.
In the United Action campaign literature, Taibi stated that, "For too long, Local 251 officials have run our union to benefit themselves, instead of the members. United Action will put the power of our union behind the membership to fight for better contracts and stand up to employers who are violating our rights."
Local 251 has Teamsters working at dozens of employers. The largest is Rhode Island Hospital, and others include UPS, First Student, Frito Lay, Bradford Soap, Fall River DPW, freight and delivery companies.
Barely a year into a 15-year deal, a union representing more than 12,000 government employees in the Chicago area broke the lease on its headquarters in Des Plaines and moved to new quarters in Park Ridge.
Teamsters Local 700's actions have prompted a lawsuit against the union by its old landlords, who are claiming damages "in the millions of dollars."
But the move gave John Coli, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's biggest ally in organized labor, plenty of reason to smile.
Local 700's new home: an office building that just weeks earlier had been bought by the pension fund for another arm of the Teamsters, Local 727, long headed by Coli. He was an early, outspoken and generous supporter of Emanuel's 2011 campaign for mayor, even as other union leaders opposed Emanuel or watched the race from the sidelines.
Coli's sister, Susan Fosco, is property manager for the office building at 1300 W. Higgins Rd. in Park Ridge, a job she landed a few months after a company owned by the Local 727 pension plan bought the building, U.S. Department of Labor records show.
The pension plan — which is administered by Coli's brother William Coli — paid $7.4 million to buy the Park Ridge property in February 2010. At the time, a spokesman for Coli said the office building would become a new, suburban version of the "Teamsters City" office complex on Chicago's West Side.
More than three years later, the Park Ridge building is home to only Locals 700 and 727 and Teamsters Joint Council 25, an umbrella group for union members in the Chicago area that Coli also leads. According to a commercial real-estate web site, a total of 31,316 square feet of office space remains unrented in the 95,600-square-foot building.
Before moving there, Local 700 had been at 1550 Mount Prospect Rd. in Des Plaines under a rent-to-own contract. The Teamsters had an option to buy the building for $2.15 million after renting the space for five years for more than $16,000 a month. If the union decided not to buy the building, it would see its rent double for the next 10 years.
That deal was signed by leaders of Teamster Local 726, which at that time represented the roughly 2,000 Teamsters union members who work for the city of Chicago. They moved in at the start of 2009. A few months later, the Teamsters international in Washington, D.C., placed Local 726 in trusteeship, citing "a pattern of financial malpractices" and removing the union's elected leaders.
Among the trustees appointed to oversee the local was Coli protégé Becky Strzechowski, who had worked for Coli's Local 727 for 22 years, starting as a clerk and rising to vice president and business manager.
Strzechowski told the union's Des Plaines landlords that the headquarters in Des Plaines "did not fit into Local 726's long-term plans," and the Teamsters stopped paying the rent and moved out, according to court records.
The Des Plaines property's investors soon stopped making payments on a $1.4 million bank loan they'd taken out after signing the deal with the Teamsters, and the bank that made the loan foreclosed on the building. The bank has intervened in the lawsuit against the Teamsters, staking its claim to whatever money the landlords' lawsuit against the union might bring.
Local 726 ended up being merged with Local 714 to create Local 700, one of the country's largest Teamsters locals.
Labor contracts that Local 726 and Local 714 had negotiated with City Hall, Cook County, the state of Illinois and dozens of other governments remained in force after the merger of the unions.
But lawyers for the new Local 700 said the union didn't have to abide by the terms of the lease for the Des Plaines property that Local 726 leaders signed.
So in 2010, the landlords sued. The case is still pending. In January, a judge rejected the Teamsters' bid to dismiss the lawsuit but dropped the joint council as defendants. The remaining defendants include the Teamsters international and its leader, James Hoffa.
Neither Coli — who was paid more than $338,000 last year as an official of three Teamsters groups — nor Strzechowski responded to requests for comment. Reached Friday, Coli's sister would say only, "I'm just the building manager."
Strzechowski has been president of Local 700 since August 2012. She was paid more than $284,000 by Local 700 in 2011, the most recent available public records show, and she made another $66,000 last year as a Teamsters international union vice president.
Teamsters groups contributed more than $105,000 to Emanuel's campaign fund in June, state campaign-finance records show.
And Local 700 gave $25,000 to the New York-based American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center in 2011, Labor Department records show. That group honored Coli and Emanuel in June 2012 at a Chicago Hilton and Towers gala that collected more than $650,000 for the Rabin Center, a library and research center in Israel.
August 9, 2013: Teamsters in Providence, R.I. have been building a movement for change in Local 251. Now they are running for office as the United Action Slate.
Earlier this year more than 1,200 members joined a United Action petition drive to reform the Local 251 bylaws and give members the right to elect their shop stewards and contract negotiating committees, and to vote on officer salaries.
These issues struck a chord. More than 800 Teamsters turned out for the largest union meeting in years.
The majority voted with United Action in favor of bylaws changes. But the incumbent officers blocked the reforms with a provision that required a two-thirds majority to change the bylaws.
"The members spoke loud and clear. They'll have a chance to speak again this fall and we won't need a two-thirds majority to win the election," said Matt Taibi, a UPS Teamster and United Action candidate for Secretary-Treasurer.
United Action is running on a reform platform involving members and rebuilding union power, including:
Stronger Contracts and Union Representation. Business Agents regularly at the shops to represent members and enforce the contract, and stewards and contract negotiating committees elected by the members.
Cutting Excessive Salaries. Cut officer salaries by a total of at least $250,000 a year and put that money to work on contract campaigns and educational programs for members.
- A Strong Union Involves Everyone. Union rights workshops and making union information available in English, Portuguese and Spanish and starting a Women’s Committee.
The largest employer in Local 251 is Rhode Island Hospital. Paul Santos, the United Action Candidate for President, is one of several members of the original organizing committee that brought 2,500 employees there into the Teamsters.
Ironically, their Assistant Business Agent was a member of the management-backed Vote No Committee during the union organizing drive. No wonder members feel that she's on management's side and not the members'!
"I've been a union guy my whole life. I helped get the Union in to Rhode Island Hospital to give everyone a voice. To see us in a union that doesn't act like a union doesn't sit well with me," Santos said. "I want people to be respected again. This is why I organized to begin with and this is why I'm running now."
Find out more about the campaign at www.251unitedaction.org
Brad Slawson Jr, who was expelled, along with his father, from the Teamsters Union in Apirl 2013 for embezzling from the members, has now been busted for poaching wildlife. Slawson paid an $18,000 fine for illegally hunting deer for a period of years, according to this news report.
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.
May 24, 2013: "A nickel an hour for Teamster power" was Hoffa's slogan in 2002 to get the dues raised by 25 percent at a one-hour special convention in Las Vegas. A decade later, it's time to evaluate the organizing program: how are we doing at building Teamster power?
Very little of that new money goes to local unions; the bulk goes to the International, where it funds more staff salaries, as well as the strike fund and organizing.
Strikes are as rare as winners in Las Vegas. What about organizing? Are we building that promised Teamster power?
Our union needs to evaluate how we are doing in this critical work, and what the plan is for the future.
Numbers and Strategy
In 2012 the International union lost 51,936 members (according to LM-2 reports signed by James Hoffa and Ken Hall), worsening a downward trend of recent years and falling to 1.25 million members.
Also during 2012 our union was hit with the highest number of decertifications of any union, and lost 38 of those 51 votes where the boss was able to convince workers to leave the Teamsters.
Numbers matter. We can all agree we need to grow.
But strategy matters, too. We need to organize in Teamster core industries: trucking, warehousing, construction, and other areas to build Teamster power.
Does the International union have a strategy to organize in Teamster industries, or is the priority to get any members we can by the easiest route? This question needs to be addressed, with input from all locals.
Core Industries or Union Raids?
|Teamster organizing in the waste industry has been|
aided by solidarity actions such as the rolling picket
lines used in a strike against Republic Waste in April.
The IBT is organizing in the waste industry, where two huge corporations (Republic and Waste Management) control 80 percent of the market. This is the kind of strategy that we need to build Teamster power. And we need more coordinated action in waste, as we have seen recently, with quickie
solidarity strikes and coordinated bargaining.
But we don't see this model spreading to other core industries.
Right now, the IBT's biggest organizing priorities are two raids on other unions. The IBT is seeking to replace the Transport Workers Union (TWU) at American Airlines, and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) at US Air.
Dozens of Teamster organizers are on these drives, seeking to win over the mechanics at these two airlines. This means those organizers are not working on organizing elsewhere.
Perhaps those unions brought it on themselves by doing a poor job representing members, but are we building the labor movement this way? If the Teamsters win these campaigns, our union will grow, which is good, but by beating other unions, not organizing the unorganized.
Is this a Strategy?
Organizing at Conway or FedEx may be harder and long-term but they are critically important to the future of our union if we want to grow the membership, defend our contracts, and protect our benefits.
In the 1990s, our union took on an organizing drive at Overnite with this long view in mind.
It wasn't fast or easy. But we stuck with it and organized terminals and laid the groundwork for unionizing the company nationwide when it became UPS Freight.
Organizing is about long-term strategy—not chasing a quick fix.
Problems in the Organizing Department
|Teamster organizing has been|
hindered by top officials who
harassed IBT organizers who
formed a union.This notice
mandates the IBT officials to
not threaten to pull the Teamster
cards or lay-off organizers who
sign a union card.
Funding for organizing has been cut in recent years, and the organizing staff reduced. The budget may be tight, but there seems to be plenty of money to maintain and expand multiple salaries.
Politics plays a heavy role in the IBT organizing department. Western Region organizing coordinator Manny Valenzuela has a checkered record on this score. For example, some five (!) former Teamster organizers he selected or trained now work as professional union busters! One of them, Sherri Henry, has a website advertising her sleazy work on defeating Teamster organizing drives. Should he be doing the hiring and coordinating?
It does not help that some top officials have antagonized and threatened some of the IBT's 40 full-time organizers. That's why a year ago, they voted to form a union despite heavy pressure from the Hoffa administration. They wanted protection against political firings and retaliation. A full year later, bargaining continues to try to settle the internal rift, pitting staff organizers against the top officials, including Organizing Director Jeff Farmer.
Various former organizers have lawsuits against the IBT for sexual harassment and other issues, costing upwards of a million dollars in legal fees and damages. Does this money come out of the organizing budget?
Turning into union busters, suing the IBT for sexual harassment, forming a union to prevent political firings: this does not sound like a well-run department.
It's time to make peace with the Teamster organizers and operate as a team and to rid the department of petty politics.
The Future of Organizing
The good news is that more locals, as well as the IBT, are committed to organizing as the lifeblood of the union. That's a positive foundation.
Now we need to take a hard look at how to grow in core industries and how to back up all locals who want to organize. Then we can build an effective and united organizing program with the International, the locals, and volunteer members.