Reform Teamster Leaders Out, Then In Again, in Chicago

In 2007 Teamsters in scores of small Chicago shops, and a few big ones, capped years of organizing against corrupt leaders and stolen elections by electing a reform slate to head 11,000-member Local 743. Attendees at the 2008 Labor Notes Conference heard President Richard Berg tell the inspiring story of how persistence had enabled the slate to slash officers’ salaries, get rid of do-nothings, and beef up representation and education.

But a few officers became disgruntled. On January 11 they convinced the Teamsters’ Chicago Joint Council to remove Berg and Secretary-Treasurer Gina Alvarez from office and suspend their membership in the union, charging the two with arranging severance pay for a fired staffer without e-board approval.

Berg and Alvarez vowed to fight, and yesterday, Teamsters President James Hoffa agreed to their request for a stay while he considers their appeal. The two are back in office for the time being. Read more below from Teamsters for a Democratic Union; the two are both active members of TDU.

Chicago Local 743 Battle Continues

January 14, 2010: On January 13, the elected president and secretary treasurer of Chicago Local 743 won a stay of effectiveness issued by General President Hoffa and will remain in office, after top Chicago officials ruled that they should be removed on trumped up charges.

Teamster activists in Chicago Local 743 have been battling to free their 11,000-member local from mob and old guard control for many years. Now the top Chicago officials have escalated the fight with their Jan. 11 decision on charges filed by some officers of Local 743.

Local 743 members are saying “We Won’t Go Back” to the old guard ways, in response to the Joint Council 25 ruling against their elected reform leaders. The decision means that the charges continue to hang over their heads; the International Union will consider the appeal and rule at a later date.

For decades, Local 743 took care of its officers while members paid the price. That changed in 2007, when the members of Local 743 voted Berg, Alvarez and their New Leadership slate into office.

Joint Council 25 officials want to suspend Berg and Alvarez from membership and remove them from their elected positions in the local on charges that they violated union procedures.

In 2004, Local 743 officials stole the election when it was clear that Berg was going to win. Joint Council 25 ruled the election was clean and upheld the results.



Give $10 a month or more and get our "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt.

The Department of Labor investigated that election and found it was rigged. Former president Richard Lopez and other officers have been convicted and are headed to jail for stealing it.

Some Officers Resist Reform

When he took office, Richard Berg cut his salary by $70,000 and reduced bloated salaries and staff.

Berg hired professional negotiators, put an end to back-room deals, and put more resources into education and representation.

Some officers, like VP Larry Davis, went along with the New Leadership platform when they thought it was just a campaign promise. But once they were in office, they demanded higher salaries and defended union reps who didn’t do their jobs. While Berg and Alvarez are moving the local forward, they want to go backward to the old ways.

“For years officials treated Local 743 like a piggy-bank,” said Melanie Cloghessy, a member of Local 743 at the University of Chicago. “We won’t go back to those dark days of corruption. The New Leadership team will keep fighting for a union that fights for us.

“The officials who are making this power grab are going to learn that we’ll fight back against their double-dealing just like we stood up to the criminal activities of the past.”

Members Won’t Let Joint Council Kill Democracy

The leadership of Joint Council 25 had no problem when mobsters, drug dealers and criminals ran Local 743. They never found fault with two local presidents, who then were removed by the IRB [Independent Review Board] for their dealings with the mob. They didn’t have any problem with Bob Walston, headed to jail for running a drug operation out of the union hall and for election fraud. Then they were fine with Richard Lopez, also headed to jail.

Now they want to remove Berg and Alvarez from office, on a trumped up charge of making a $20,000 settlement with a fired employee, to avoid litigation.

Each time the old guard has moved against reformers, they thought they killed reform. Each time, the reform movement has grown stronger. Local 743 members are determined to keep making history.

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.


Duke28 (not verified) | 01/19/10

As a long time Local 743 member, having fought for years for lower salaried and more responsive officers and representatives, as someone aware of how poor our representation has sometimes been in the past, and as someone well acquainted with the people on both sides of this issue, I want to agree strongly with Wondering Why’s response to what I believe is your distorting and biased January 14 article. Many of us have found the Berg administration at least as unresponsive as some of its predecessors, sometimes even less effective in challenging employers, arrogant and often less democratic in its interaction with some of its members.

Wondering Why (not verified) | 01/15/10

Richard Berg failed to get EBoard approval for expenditures and terminations. In the Teamsters, misappropriation of union funds is the worst offense possible. Richard knows he screwed up too, he has said so himself. What I am wondering is why Jane Slaughter failed to source both sides of the story, failed to report on the actual charges and simply reprinted the political rhetoric from the TDU website. This is terrible reporting if you can even call it reporting. Even writers with political agendas like Robert Herguth and David Moberg interviewed the Joint Council and reported on the actual charges. Moberg even called the Joint Council's actions "reasonable". Please do a better job next time, you owe it to your readers.