A Teamsters panel has concluded that the top two former leaders of Blaine-based Local 120 should be banned from union leadership positions for life and should pay fines worth tens of thousands of dollars to make up for allegedly embezzled union funds.
The recommendations, which were adopted this month by Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, follow an investigation over allegations of financial misconduct by Bradley Slawson Sr. and Bradley Slawson Jr. The fines do not carry the force of law and essentially don’t have to be repaid unless the Slawsons want to get back in the union.
But the penalties seem about as harsh as the union could impose. “The charged offenses here are extremely serious,” said the Teamsters panel’s report on the Slawsons. “The bulk of the offenses were committed by two experienced union officers. … We are struck by the total lack of mitigating circumstances.”
Local 120 is one of Minnesota’s largest Teamsters locals, with over 11,000 members, and the Slawsons have been nationally known Teamsters leaders. They were removed from their posts in November when the Teamsters international union put Local 120 into emergency trusteeship.
The accusations against the Slawsons stem from an investigation concluded last year by the Teamsters Independent Review Board, which is partly commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department to root out corruption in the union.
The Independent Review Board, which reports to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, must still effectively approve the sanctions against the Slawsons. A three-member panel of Teamsters leaders from outside Minnesota held a hearing in February on the board’s charges against the Slawsons.
“Predictably, the [Teamsters] panel rubber-stamped the results,” Brian Toder, the Slawsons’ attorney, said in a statement. He added that the panel’s “blow by blow findings generally defy logic.”
The entire matter “will soon be appealed to a real court, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where the Slawsons fully expect due process of law,” as well as “vindication,” Toder wrote.
The internal panel of Teamsters officials recently issued a report recommending that both Slawsons be barred from membership in the union for 10 years, in addition to a lifetime ban on holding any office or employment with Local 120 and the union generally.
They also would be banned from associating with Teamsters members, but would retain their pension, health care and retirement benefits.
The findings against the Slawsons do not constitute U.S. criminal or civil proceedings. But the Independent Review Board’s conclusions are as a matter of course passed on to the U.S. Justice and Labor departments to determine if civil or criminal proceedings are warranted. The board grew out of a 1989 consent decree the Teamsters signed with the Justice Department to avoid racketeering charges.
The Teamsters panel that reviewed the Slawson case proposed that Slawson Sr. be fined $159,000, partly due to $68,100 in “improper stipends” he got from the Teamsters Club, a Fargo, N.D., bar owned by Local 120.
The fine would also cover $90,000 Slawson is accused of embezzling in the form of a finder’s fee to a family friend in conjunction with the construction of a new union hall in Blaine.
Todd Chester, who is also the father of one of Slawson Sr.’s grandchildren, received the $90,000 fee from the contractor for the hall, money improperly “diverted” from Local 120, the panel’s report said, echoing the Independent Review Board’s findings.
“Astonishingly, Slawson Sr. was charged with embezzlement because the construction company that built Local 120’s building paid Todd Chester a finder’s fee of $90,000, yet there was no evidence this was paid from Local 120 funds,” Slawson’s lawyer said in a statement.
The Teamsters panel concluded that Slawson Jr. should be fined $72,700, the amount of improper stipends he allegedly got from the Fargo bar. Slawson Sr. and Slawson Jr. also would be fined $966 and $377, respectively, for charges on their union credit cards that allegedly weren’t for union purposes.
The bar stipends were not disclosed to Local 120’s members. But the Slawsons have argued that the stipends were approved by the Teamsters Club’s own bar and gaming board and, therefore, were not embezzled.
The panel also recommends that Chester should be fined $235,761 for embezzlement alleged to have occurred while he was managing the Fargo bar. That $235,761 represents the revenue from booze and beer that went missing during Chester’s tenure at the bar, the panel concluded. Chester could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
March 25, 2013: Eight hundred Teamsters packed their union hall in East Providence to vote on changes to give Local 251 members more rights.
Members were there to vote on amendments to the Local 251 bylaws that would give members the right to elect their shop stewards and contract negotiating committees and to vote on increases in officer salaries.
These democratic changes were put forward by the rank-and-file movement 251 United Action. Local 251 officials opposed the changes and campaigned against them vigorously.
More than 800 Teamsters turned out to vote—more than twice as many members as can fit in the union hall. Members in the packed hall voted and then the hall was emptied and refilled to capacity for a second vote.
Local 251 United Action won fair voting by secret ballot and won the right to observe the vote count.
When the ballots were counted, a majority of members had voted in favor of each and every reform.
"This is an amazing victory for Local 251 members and for Teamster democracy," said Nick Williams, a Teamster at Rhode Island Hospital. "Our union meetings used to have 50 or 60 people sometimes. To see 800 Teamsters get involved is tremendous. The more that members are involved in the Local, the stronger our Union will be."
The Local 251 Bylaws will not be changed because a two-thirds majority is required to amend the bylaws. But 251 United Action members say they've made history.
"Members won a victory before the ballots were even counted," said Paul Santos, a Rhode Island Hospital Teamster. "We used to feel like we had no voice in our union. We've proven the majority of members want change."
Although the bylaws were not officially amended, the Local 251 Executive Board have the power to implement the reforms and respect the will of the majority of the members. (Members aren't holding their breath while they wait for that to happen though!)
"The members have spoken and they'll have a chance to speak again in the election for Local 251 officers this fall," said Matt Taibi, a UPS Teamster. "And we won't need a two-thirds majority to win the election."
At the insistence of 251 United Action, the bylaws vote was conducted by secret ballot and both sides had the right to observe every step of the voting process.
"There's a lot of intimidation and scare tactics in our union, but those days are coming to an end," said Matt Maini, a UPS Teamster. "Members see that we can speak up and we can make the union respect our democratic rights. The days of 'Sit down and shut up' or 'You're lucky you have a job' are over."
"We were never given a chance to be part of our union before," Maria Pacheco, a Rhode Island Hospital Teamster, said "251 United Action and TDU give me hope that our union can belong to the members and make a difference for us at Rhode Island Hospital and for every Local 251 member."
March 15, 2013: Many members think that union meetings are just a place you go to hear long reports or to listen to beefs that you don't understand by members who work at other companies. And sadly, many union meetings are not much more than that.
Local unions can and should make meetings informative and a forum for ideas and questions. Expert speakers and workshops can be alternated with union business and contract issues.
But even when union meetings seem to be almost designed to keep members away, rank and filers can turn them in something positive. Here are some tips.
Keep it Positive
There's nothing wrong with getting angry when members are getting the short end of the stick. But if you are trying to build unity and support in your local, you need to have some positive proposals.
For example, members in some locals, fed up with the lack of organizing, have proposed that their locals dedicate a percentage of the budget to organizing the unorganized.
Publicize and Mobilize
Getting members to union meetings can be a challenge.
But members are more likely to attend a particular meeting if you help them see why their attendance at that meeting would make a difference. For example, a few years ago TDUers mobilized members to attend in a number of locals in the Midwest and South about unfair pension reemployment rules. As a result, a number of local officers started to take a stand. And, we won a rules change.
So you need a way to tell members why attending a specific meeting is important. Leaflets can help. So will volunteers to spread leaflets and talk it up. Phone lists, texts, and e-mail lists are also effective ways to turn people out to meetings.
Pick and Choose Your Battles
We can all think of dozens of changes that are needed to improve our locals or our working conditions. But there is a danger in taking on every issue that comes along. First, you can't win them all. Second, you run the risk of being seen by your fellow members as all over the map.
So, when possible, pick a single issue that is widely understood and an issue that directly affects a lot of people and/or can attract wide support.
Members in Local 251 have proposed three bylaws changes, including one to require elected rank and filers on all contract negotiating committees. That's an example of a positive proposal which can unite members to build a stronger union.
Work as a Group
While one person working alone can often make a difference, the best way to be successful at union meetings is to work with a team or a small group.
Ideally you can assign each person a job at the meeting. One person can be lined up to make a motion. Another can hand out flyers explaining the motion. A third person can be ready to appeal a ruling by the meeting chair, if they try to shut you down.
The more people you get to do something, the more support you are likely to get. This is because you are showing people right off the bat that a number of people care about the issue or proposal.
Here are some jobs that your people can take on:
- Who will work on the flyer about the issue?
- Who will distribute the flyer?
- Who will speak on the issue or line members up to speak?
- Who will call or text members to get them to attend?
- Who will make the motion or proposal?
- Who will second or support it?
Won't They Just Shut us Down or Use the Rules Against Us?
Maybe. The chair of a meeting can do many things to use the rules against you.
For example, once when members of New York Local 854 organized a group to read proposed changes to the local bylaws, the local officers went to their supporters at the meeting and asked them to leave—so that there would no longer be a quorum. They hastily adjourned the meeting.
The chair may try to just rule you out of order when you want to speak or make a motion. There are a few ways to counter this:
Raise the issue under "new business." This is the point in the agenda where other issues can be raised.
If the chair says the issue can't be brought up at this time, ask, "When exactly can this issue be brought up on the agenda?"
Prepare supporters in advance to demand that you be given the chance to speak. Sometimes that pressure will work. If not, members can even formally appeal the decision of the chair by saying, "I appeal the decision of the chair." Such an appeal is not debatable, does not need a second and is passed or defeated by a simple majority vote. (This is part of Robert's Rules of Order and is contained in most local union bylaws).
The best way to overcome tricks by the chair is to have several members ready to speak up ("let her speak") and vote to overrule the chair.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Don't have the same people always speak. Ask others to help out.
- Have people prepared to speak. You may want to practice in advance. Talk it over.
- Don't make it personal. Stick to the issues.
- Don't speak too much. It's not how much you say, but how you say it and how you organize to back it up. Keep it short and to the point.
Use Meetings to Find Allies
Speaking up at union meetings is important. So is listening. Make a point of talking to other members who raise issues at a meeting. And be sure to get names and phone numbers. Many TDU members have found important allies by listening to other members and following up with them.
Follow Up by Informing Others
What do you say when a member asks, "What happened at the union meeting?" The most common response is, "If you wanted to know, you should have been there."
That won't help get other members involved in building a stronger union.
You're better off answering the question. Don't miss the opportunity to talk about issues that are important to you and draw other members into participating in the fight for a stronger union.
Interested in using union meetings to advance members' rights? Contact TDU to discuss your specific situation. Click here to send us a message.
The Teamsters held a daylong hearing Thursday for two top Twin Cities union leaders accused of corruption, but a decision on the case could be weeks away.
Brad Slawson Sr. and Brad Slawson Jr., the top two officers of Teamsters Local 120, are facing union charges of embezzlement and other financial misconduct. The charges stem from an investigation into Local 120 by the Teamsters Independent Review Board, which is commissioned — partly by the U.S. Justice Department — to root out corruption in the union.
The Slawsons have said they are targets of a "witch hunt" by the union, instigated after they ceased supporting James P. Hoffa, the Teamsters' top leader, in 2010. They have been on unpaid leave since the Teamsters put Local 120 into emergency trusteeship in November.
The charges against the Slawsons were heard Thursday at Local 120's Blaine union hall by a three-member panel of Teamsters officials from outside of Minnesota.
Both sides made their cases, and Slawson Sr. testified for about three hours in the afternoon, said Bret Caldwell, a Teamsters spokesman. The meeting, which continued into the evening, was open to Local 120 members only.
Outside the union hall during a lunch break, opinions varied. One Local 120 member called the case against the Slawsons "pretty much black and white," while another said "they're tearing up this local because [the Slawsons] ran against Hoffa." Neither member, both truck drivers, would give their names.
Local 120 is one of the largest Minnesota-based Teamster locals, with 11,661 members in five states, many of them truck drivers.
The Teamsters panel has up to 60 days to write a decision based on Thursday's hearing. However, it's hoped that a decision will be reached within a few weeks, Caldwell said.
The Slawsons could face lifetime banishment from the Teamsters and be forced to repay tens of thousands of dollars, the union has said.
The panel's ruling will be forwarded to Hoffa, who will then make a decision on the Slawsons' fates. Hoffa's decision itself will be reviewed by the Teamsters Independent Review Board, which grew out of a 1989 consent decree the Teamsters signed with the Justice Department to avoid racketeering charges.
Two top former leaders of Teamsters Local 120 who face the possibility of lifetime banishment from the union on corruption charges have bought a bar in northern Anoka County.
Brad Slawson Sr. and Brad Slawson Jr. recently purchased Route 65 Pub & Grub in East Bethel. Since November, the Slawsons have been on unpaid leave from Local 120, one of the largest Minnesota-based Teamster locals with over 11,000 members in several industries, particularly truck driving and warehousing.
The Slawsons are challenging the charges, levied by a joint government/Teamsters oversight board. “As far as the bar goes, we bought it so we could survive while we fight the Teamsters,” said Brad Slawson Jr., Local 120’s former president and second-in-command.
“It’s a good bar with good clientele and good prices, a place I can employ myself in my dispute with my former employer,” Slawson Jr. said. The Slawsons got their liquor license for the bar earlier this month.
Blaine-based Local 120 was put in emergency trusteeship and taken over by the international union in November after an investigation by the Teamsters Independent Review Board (IRB), which was created 20 years ago at the behest of the U.S. Justice Department to root out corruption.
The review board alleged “financial malpractice” by the Slawsons, including in the construction of a union hall in Blaine and the operation of the Teamsters Club, a Local 120-owned bar in Fargo, N.D. Slawson Jr. and Slawson Sr. respectively got $72,700 and $68,100 in stipends as members of the Teamster Club’s board.
But the IRB concluded that the stipends were not authorized and not disclosed to Local 120’s executive board. It recommended that the Teamsters charge each of the Slawsons with embezzlement, partly due to the bar stipends.
Later this month, the Slawsons face a hearing on the charges before a three-member panel of Teamster officials from outside of Minnesota. At maximum, they could be booted from the union and forced to repay tens of thousands of dollars.
The Slawsons say they’re the targets of a “witch hunt” by the Teamsters because in 2010 they stopped supporting the union’s top leader, James P. Hoffa. “It’s all a lie,” Slawson Jr. said of the IRB investigation and ensuing Teamster charges. “They were successful in making up so many lies, it’s hard for people to believe it’s not a lie.”
The Slawsons’ purchase of Route 65 Pub & Grub includes the business only, not real estate. It comes after a December fundraiser for the Slawsons at another northern Anoka County bar — Mac & Chester’s SRO — aimed at raising money for their legal defense.
Todd Chester, a Slawson family friend who once managed the Teamster Club in Fargo, co-owns Mac & Chester’s. As a former Teamster member, he has been accused by the IRB of embezzlement involving missing booze from the Teamster Club.
Patrons paid $50 each to attend the Slawson benefit at Mac & Chesters. “One hundred percent of the money from the benefit went to our attorney,” Slawson Jr. said.
With the Slawsons’ ownership of Route 65 Pub & Grub, the Blaine Youth Hockey Association is no longer a charitable gambling vendor at the bar, a move made to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Slawson Jr. is vice president of that group, and his wife is its charitable gambling manager.
Route 65 Pub & Grub, which Chester also once managed, and Mac & Chester’s have been two of eight bars used by the Blaine Youth Hockey Association to raise money, state records show.
January 28, 2013: Hundreds of Teamsters packed their union meeting on Sunday to back bylaws reforms and new rights for members in Providence Local 251.
General membership meetings in Providence don't usually look like this. But Teamsters in Local 251 are tired of business as usual.
Hundreds of members packed the monthly membership meeting to deliver petitions signed by more than 1,200 Teamsters.
At the meeting, members officially proposed changes to the Local 251 bylaws to win the right to elect shop stewards and contract negotiating committees and to have a vote on increases in officer salaries.
Petitions were submitted by hospital workers, UPS full-timers and part-timers, freight Teamsters from New Penn and YRC, and Teamsters from local companies like Bradford Soap and Don Mar.
"It's inspiring to see Teamsters from so many different kinds of jobs coming together behind a common goal," said UPS driver Matt Taibi.
January 23, 2013: The members have spoken and re-elected 804 Members United, the reform leadership in one of the largest UPS locals in the country.
Local 804 represents more than 6,000 UPS Teamsters in metropolitan New York. Voter turnout was high in a hotly-contested three way race that pitted 804 Members United against two slates led by former Local 804 officers.
"Local 804 members are passionate and opinionated. They get involved. That's what a democratic union is all about and it's what makes Local 804 so strong," said President Tim Sylvester. "With the election behind us, Local 804 members will do what we always do—come together, stand united and fight for a better contract."
Local 804 is covered by the national contract and its own local supplement.
Local 804 Members United was elected three years ago after they led a rank-and-file contract campaign that defeated concessions in the Local 804 Supplement and saved 25 & Out pensions.
Key issues at the bargaining table this time around include pensions and grievance procedure improvements to provide swifter justice and protection from unfair discipline.
"The membership re-elected 804 Members United because they want to go forward, not backwards," said package driver Ken Reiman. "At contract time, they want an Executive Board that will keep members informed, tell us the truth and stand up to the company."
January 23, 2013: The Independent Review Board (IRB) has sent a 141-page investigative report to Teamster president James Hoffa, calling for charges against the former top Teamsters in Minnesota, Brad Slawson Sr and Jr, along with their family friend and business partner, Todd Chester.
The IRB report, which is available here, alleges that both Brad Slawson Sr and Jr committed racketeering and bank fraud. While the IRB does not have the authority to bring criminal charges in federal court, the report is no doubt already in the hands of the Justice Department.
The Slawsons have bragged that they will return to the union hall. It now seems they should be less concerned about getting into the union hall than with staying out of federal housing-with-bars.
The Slawsons were removed from running the 11,000-member Minnesota Local 120 in November, when the IRB recommended that Hoffa place the local in trusteeship, which he then did.
The new IRB document covers much of the same material as the November IRB report, but now recommends that eleven specific charges be brought to expel the Slawsons from the Teamsters and bar them for life from the union. In addition to racketeering, the IRB alleges numerous acts of embezzlement totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, diversion of strike fund money, padding payments to a building contractor, violation of the bylaws, signing a sham collective bargaining agreement, and lying under oath.
From Minnesota Viking tickets to liquor sales to building a new union hall, it seems the opportunities to skim money were taken.
Slawson Sr and Jr were paid $469,228 in salaries and expenses in 2011 from the union treasury. The IRB report says they were embezzling a lot more for several years.
The IRB is jointly-appointed by the union leadership and the U.S. Justice Department, and responsible for investigating corruption within our union. The Hoffa administration is attempting to abolish it.
Background: Read Why Hoffa Won't Take on Corruption, IRB Hits Corruption in Local 120.
Further reading: Slawson Holds Fundraiser!
January 23, 2013: The employers are stepping up their attacks on union jobs.
Members say it's time to start fighting back.
Teamster dairy workers in New York City have fought for years against company cost-cutting, growing nonunion competition and weakening contract protections. The employers are stepping up their attacks on union jobs. Members say it’s time to start fighting back.
Nearly 200 members of New York City Local 584 who worked at Beyer Farms were laid off without warning on Dec. 11 when the company suddenly announced it was shutting its doors. These members join the 42 other Local 584 members who were illegally fired by Elmhurst Dairy in late September.
The union has filed a grievance and NLRB charges against the firings at Elmhurst Dairy, and a few of the "Elmhurst 42" have been called back.
Beyer Farms may have closed, but the work itself—including major accounts with public schools and CVS, Duane Reade and other large grocery store chains—hasn't disappeared. Teamsters remain off the job, while the delivery routes are worked by new hires at other companies or nonunion competition.
"We have layoff and recall language in our contract with the dairy employers," says Local 584 member and Beyer Farms utility worker Stephen Mohan. "The companies shouldn't be able to just shuffle work around and ignore our seniority rights. We're asking the union's help to make sure this work stays union and that we get our jobs back."
Local 584 members have some real leverage to fight with too—the high-profile stores and customers on their delivery routes. "Walgreens doesn't want to see a crowd of Teamsters out front leafleting customers," explains Louis DeStasio, an alternate steward and 23-year Beyer Farms Teamster. "We should also be talking to customers, the community, members of other unions and elected officials about this attack on good paying jobs."
In a letter to employees the company stated that their primary milk supplier, Dean Foods, stopped supplying milk for Beyer to process and deliver. Dean Foods put a lien on Beyer's accounts. Beyer Farms claims that since these "circumstances were not reasonably foreseeable," they are not required to give the workers the 60 days notice required by the WARN Act.
Members report that two hours after Beyer Farms announced the closing, a number of sales and management personnel simply walked across the yard and brought their accounts to Elmhurst Dairy. Some of the work is being handled by a nonunion company in New Jersey that happens to be owned by the son of Elmhurst owner Henry Schwartz.
"Walgreens doesn't want to see a crowd of Teamsters out front leafleting customers.
"We should also be talking to customers, the community, members of other unions and elected officials about this attack on good paying jobs."
Louis DeStasio, Alt. Steward, Beyer Farms
Local 584, New York
The Teamsters union has filed charges against the two former top leaders of a large Minnesota local, accusing them of embezzlement and other financial misconduct, including racketeering in the form of bank fraud.
A Teamsters hearing on the charges against Bradley Slawson Sr. and Bradley Slawson Jr. of Local 120 has been set for late February, and the Slawsons at maximum could be forced to repay tens of thousands of dollars and face banishment from the Teamsters forever, said union spokesman Bret Caldwell.
The charges stem from an investigation into Local 120 by the Teamsters Independent Review Board (IRB), a quasi-governmental body. The review board, as a matter of course, forwarded its recommended charges against the Slawsons to the U.S. Justice and Labor Departments for possible criminal prosecution or civil action.
Brian Toder, a Minneapolis lawyer representing the Slawsons, said he does not expect any action by those government bodies.
In fact, "I seriously doubt there will be a [Teamsters hearing on the charges], and I expect my clients to be exonerated," Toder said. "These charges should never have been brought in the first place."
The Independent Review Board is tasked -- partly by the U.S. Justice Department -- with rooting out corruption in the Teamsters. The Teamsters international union in November took over Local 120 after the review board's investigation of the Slawsons' stewardship.
"The IRB investigation was calculated to find a particular result," Toder said. Last month, Slawson Sr. claimed he and his son are victims of a "witch hunt" because in 2010 they ceased supporting the Teamsters' top leader, James P. Hoffa.
The review board late last month recommended to Hoffa and the international union that the Slawsons be charged, the Star Tribune has learned. Hoffa then "adopted" the charges, said Caldwell.
The union, also acting on the review board's recommendation, has charged former Teamster Todd Chester with embezzlement relating to his tenure as manager of a Local 120-owned bar in Fargo. Chester, a family friend of the Slawsons, didn't return calls Wednesday.
Local 120 is one of the largest Minnesota-based Teamsters locals with 11,661 members in five states. The Slawsons, both longtime Teamsters, are on unpaid leave.
The embezzlement charges against them stem partly from payments they received from the Fargo bar, known as the Teamsters Club. Slawson Sr. got $68,100 in stipends as a member of the bar's board; Slawson Jr. received $72,700.
Finders fee questioned
Both Slawsons allegedly took the payments "without authority and without a union purpose," according to the IRB. Also, Slawson Sr. is accused of embezzling an additional $90,000 via a finders fee paid to Chester in conjunction with the construction of a new union hall in Blaine.
Chester, the father of one of Slawson Sr.'s grandchildren, had introduced Stone Construction of Blaine to Local 120, according to the IRB. Stone was awarded the project, paying Chester $90,000 out of the money it received from Local 120.
Slawson Sr. has told the IRB that he only learned of the $90,000 fee during the investigation and was surprised by its amount.
The embezzlement charge against Chester stems from missing booze and beer at the Fargo bar. In its investigation, the review board concluded that unaccounted inventory led to $236,000 in lost revenue for the bar.
The review board alleges that Chester removed "inventory in amounts in excess of $1,000" and "converted" it to his own use.
Charges against the Slawsons include breaching their fiduciary duties to union members, violating the Teamsters' constitution and racketeering by allegedly providing false information for a bank lending money for the new union hall.
The charges will be heard at Local 120's union hall by a three-member panel of Teamsters officials from outside of Minnesota. Any banishment from the union could include prohibitions on current Teamsters from even talking to the Slawsons, Caldwell said.
Toder said the case against the Slawsons "has the potential to settle" before the hearing. But if the charges are heard as scheduled, "we are loaded for bear," Toder said.