Sunday, July 23, 2017

Labor Union Idealism versus Chicago Teamster Corruption

By: Dianne Heath

 
Image from Matt Michalski



   Narratives about the income gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, and now possibly between the 20 percent and the 80 percent have proliferated since the Great Recession. These prominent narratives have helped usher the rise of minimum wage across key cities and may have indirectly bolstered President Trump's presidential campaign. As cities suffer from de-industrialization and "gig economy" becomes an actual term to describe post modern employment, solutions bounce from think tanks, colleges, governmental institutions and even around dinner tables. Some solutions directly oppose one another, other solutions are deconstructed only to be reconstructed to fit the problems enumerated in these consistent narratives, while other solutions circulate within the channels of popular discourse.

   The focus on labor has dominated the core of many proposed solutions. The mainstream thought is that if labor conditions improve, income will invariably increase, which could close many troubling gaps such as the education gap. The closing of these gaps would assuage many other issues associated with political and social disenfranchisement. Who are the most likely experts and heroes of labor, well of course labor unions. Even labor unions  offer themselves up as solutions, with the Teamsters touting themselves as the guardian of social justice. Many videos, articles and books point to the decline of aggressive labor movements and union membership as major obstacles to improving labor conditions and sustaining the middle class. In fact many experts correlate the decline of union membership to the decline and the increased vulnerability of the middle class. The history of labor unions have been sanitized and glamorized to the benefit of their collective legacies, especially the Teamsters and in particular Chicago Teamsters. The historical figures who scorned at and sought to destroy the Teamsters may have inadvertently strengthened the movement for the present times. The scorn was often baseless, callous and ran contrary to labor realities thus rendering them useless. Ironically it may be labor union idealism , drained of constructive criticism, that could damage the movement, as the Chicago Teamsters shuffle from one corruption scandal to the next. In a sense idealism could be more dangerous than scorn as it is based on a very real historical legacy, a tool that the Chicago Teamsters now use to shield themselves from scrutiny.

   The idealists highlight what the collective labor unions can and have accomplished but the Chicago Teamster corruption runs contrary to these ideals. Idealists have neglected to address or confront that the culture of corruption throughout history has festered for decades and into 2017, cannibalizing the union just when the labor needs another movement. The union is under the threat of tearing itself apart with the disillusioned members forming a side movement, called Teamsters for a Democratic Union. David Bernt, a rank-and-file union member from Chicago, remarked that the," Members hate corruption and the givebacks and sellouts at contract time. Backed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the reform movement is rising to take power from ineffective and corrupt officials who are killing the unions.” Idealists claim that dedication to union membership will pay off in time with higher wages but does this accommodate reality when corrupt Teamster officials in Chicago conspire to accelerate the rise of non-unionized workers who earn 1/3 third of what Teamster union members earn. For example, In 2011 John T Coli Sr. assisted in allowing jobless Teamsters to be displaced by exploited workers to save the city money, which adds credence to the theory that union workers add less value than non union workers. Union leaders are supposed to advocate for the advancement of union workers, not tarnish their image by agreeing with the enemies of unions. 

   We learn from the idealists that most voices and forces who appear to be in defense of labor and labor unions can be trusted, because historically there was little to gain from defending an organization in war with powerful business leaders. However, according to a federal investigation individuals who were fired from the Teamsters were still allowed to remain active in the labor union. Their participation was largely unquestioned and their determination to remain visible overlooked. However it's probably because they desired to remain connected with the Teamsters, now a well financed and powerful institution. The geographical concentration and the penetration of the Teamster legacy within the hearts and minds of the people give them real power to cause economic harm. Now corrupt Chicago Teamster leaders deliberately wield this same power against labor, forcing them to be unknowing pawns for the deals made between themselves, business leaders and political figures.

  In a recent corruption scandal, John T Coli betrayed the labor union by extorting $100, 000 in cash from Cinespace Chicago Film Studio. This ill gained money was not distributed among the members nor was the business economically harmed due to labor abuses but simply because Coli Sr. was endowed with enough power from the Chicago Teamsters to financially gain. He was willing to threaten work stoppages and labor unrest against the interest of the people. Sadly in a city that is de-industrializing as rapidly Chicago, the creative fields are exactly the type of employment that could assist in the city's redevelopment.

  The very institutions that historically victimized the labor unions now silently accept the abusive presence of corrupt Chicago Teamsters in hopes of cashing out. For example, the Chicago Teamsters contributed $35,000 to Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a 2011 campaign and to support Emanuel's second term a massive $134, 700. In 2003 the Chicago Teamsters under Coli Sr. leadership contributed $100, 000 to the Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. In fact the National Teamster base has contributed over $1 million dollars to federal candidates in the 2016 cycle. However the narrative of the victimized union leader remain, stifling any true criticism. This political clout earned Coli, Sr. an appointed seat with the Illinois Labor Advisory Board in 2015 for Governor Rauner. Now that the Teamster coffers are full, it can accommodate the combined salaries of $615, 000 for Coli and his two sons in 2012 and in 2014 Coli Sr. alone was paid more than $347, 000 solidly placing him and his family in the top 1 percent. Do idealist conceptions of labor unions offer perspectives and solutions for this troubling scenario? Unlikely. Once again the narratives are squarely centered on when the Teamster union was a humble organization, and when Chicago was the base for aggressively defending abused labor. Teamster made it's mark in Chicago when in 1905, they backed 100 day strike that costed $1 million dollars and tragically 20 lives. It was action like this that bestowed them with the legacy of standardizing better treatment across America, through increase benefits, increased pay and reduced hours. However this narrative must be balanced with other unsavory historical details and the idealists must be more flexible and less broad in their promotion of labor unions. Lastly economic harm must be formally recognized as a powerful tool that must be carefully applied and investigated. Corrupt officials must be held accountable or unscrupulous individuals will continue to infiltrate the Teamsters and spoil the organization for the inside out. 


Sources:
Chicago Sun Times: Chicago Teamsters leader John T. Coli Sr. charged in extortion scheme
Chicago Tribune: City Teamster linked to a chain of corruption
Chicago Tribune: History of Great Teamster Strike Filled with Sensational Events
Chicago Tribune: Teamster boss indicted on charges of extorting $100, 000 from business
Deseret News: Unions agree to Chicago convention
Fight Back News: Corrupt Teamster leader John Coli faces federal charges for extorting $100, 000
National Leader and Policy Center: Chicago Teamster Boss John Coli Indicted for Extortion
Open Secrets: Teamsters Union, Federal Contributions
Teamster: The Early Years, Teamster History
Teamster Local 492: Teamster History Legacy Full Length
*The Jimmy Dore Show: How Amazon Crushes Local Economies  & Get Tax Breaks To Do It*
Starting at 10:46 the commentary becomes about the importance of unionizing
United States Department of Justice: Teamsters Indicted for Attempted Extortion of of Reality Television Production Company
United States District Court: John T Coli Sr. Indictment
United States District Court: Teamster Coli, Rico Complaint

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