U.S. to end court oversight of Teamsters union

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to end the government’s 25-year oversight of the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters union — though it will still have the right to monitor some union functions for another five years.

The U.S. attorney in New York asked a federal judge to end the consent order that’s been in place since March 1989. The union and government entered into the consent decree in 1989 in settlement of a civil racketeering suit brought against the Teamsters by Rudolph Giuliani, who was then the U.S. attorney in New York. The suit alleged that the union had made a “devil’s pact” with organized crime and was dominated by the mob — or La Cosa Nostra, as the FBI referred to the Mafia.

“We anticipate that she will approve the agreement,” Teamsters President James Hoffa said in a written statement Wednesday.

“This is a historic day for our Teamsters,” said Hoffa, a Michigan native who splits his time between Washington and Michigan. “After decades of hard work and millions of dollars spent, we can finally say that corrupt elements have been driven from the Teamsters and that the government oversight can come to an end.”

Hoffa, through a spokesman, declined further comment.

The case was brought despite pressure from Congress in 1988. It resulted in the removal of more than 200 Teamsters officers in the first three years of the consent decree, including 50 local union presidents, according to the 2012 book “Breaking the Devil’s Pact: The Battle to Free the Teamsters From the Mob” by James Jacobs and Kerry Cooperman.

Over 20 years, disciplinary charges were brought against more than 600 Teamsters in 21 states; half of those Teamsters were in New York City.

U.S. Judge Loretta Preska will hold a Feb. 11 hearing on the government’s request to end the government oversight.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the “proposed settlement agreement seeks to strike the appropriate balance, recognizing the significant progress that has been made in ridding the International Brotherhood of Teamsters of the influence of organized crime and corruption, while providing an avenue for the union to demonstrate its ability to preserve these gains through its own independent disciplinary and electoral systems.”

The 133-page joint filing from the Teamsters and Justice Department said the union agreed to make permanent the election reforms approved in 2001 and must give notice to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of proposed amendments to the election process. The government can seek a court injunction if it believes changes would make the election process unfair and “deprive members of their reasonable opportunity to nominate candidates, hold office, vote for and otherwise support candidates of their choice.”

The Teamsters agreed to retain reforms for its 2016 and 2021 elections. All future elections must be overseen by an independent supervisor, and the U.S. attorney must approve the person for the next five years.”

For the next five years, the union agreed to independent supervision of union elections “and an effective and independent disciplinary mechanism.”

The deal means the court-appointed, three-member Independent Review Board created by the consent deal will be phased out during a five-year period, and the union will establish its own independent disciplinary enforcement mechanism through the appointment of disciplinary officers approved by the Justice Department.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, said it was time to end the consent decree.

“I have been advocating that the consent decree be lifted for at least the last 10 years. Under Jim Hoffa and the Teamster leadership, the union has made significant strides in self governance. In addition, no organization should have to endure the harsh and expensive oversight that has been imposed on the Teamsters. I think that this is long overdue,” Hoekstra said.

Hoffa said the union settled the court case in 1989 by agreeing to a consent decree. Its purpose was to remove corrupt influences from the Teamsters by establishing direct elections of International officers and “establishing an independent disciplinary process for rooting out corrupt elements in our Union.”

The Teamsters long were suspected of connections to organized crime. Four of the union’s last seven presidents were indicted in office and the Justice Department spent decades investigating mob ties. FBI reports released in 1988 said a Teamsters President, William McCarthy, said in 1984 that he needed permission from a mob boss to advance in the union.

Hoffa’s father, Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared in July 1975, last seen at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Oakland County. He was legally declared dead in 1982.

The FBI said in a 1975 memo it believed Hoffa’s disappearance “is directly connected with his attempts to regain power within the Teamsters union, which would possibly have an effect on the (La Cosa Nostra) control and manipulation of the Teamster Pension Fund.”

In 2012, Hoffa was still working to end the oversight: “There’s no corruption in our union.”

Hoffa, who has been president since 1999, said Wednesday he “pledged that we would run a clean union, that organized crime would never have a place in the Teamsters union. I also promised that we would ensure that every rank-and-file Teamster have a direct voice in electing the union’s International officers.”

He said after 15 years, the union accomplished its mission.

“As a result, I am pleased to announce today that we have settled the 1988 lawsuit, and this case will be dismissed, and we will begin the transition to end government oversight. By agreeing to end the lawsuit, the government acknowledges that there has been significant success in eliminating corruption from within the Teamsters. Our agreement establishes a new procedure for independent investigation and oversight of internal disciplinary matters and guarantees democracy in the future.”