Local 743 Members Unite to Say “We Won’t Go Back”: Teamster Reformers Ousted in Power Grab

Richard Berg speaks at a rally in solidarity with the workers of Republic Windows and Doors as they occupy their factory

The following is from Fight Back! News:

Chicago, IL – Chicago Teamster bosses ousted reformers Richard Berg and Gina Alvarez from union office today in a power struggle between grassroots reformers and old guard Teamster officials over one of the largest Teamster local unions in Chicago and the country.

Joint Council 25 officials suspended Richard Berg from union membership and removed him as president of Teamsters Local 743 on false charges that he violated Teamster procedures. Alvarez was also suspended from membership and removed as secretary-treasurer.

The 11,000 members of Local 743 voted Berg and his New Leadership Slate into office in 2007 on a reform platform. His election was bitterly opposed – for years – by Chicago’s top Teamster officials, who used every means at their disposal to prevent a reform victory in Local 743.

Berg opponents were convicted of stealing a union vote to block his election. One of the vote-riggers is also serving jail time for using Local 743 as a front for drug trafficking. When Berg was nominated in June 2006 for International Vice President on the reform slate, while Chicago’s top Teamster official John Coli ran on the old guard slate, Berg was assaulted at the Teamster Convention by former Local 743 president Richard Lopez. Joint Council 25 and International Union officials upheld the Local 743 election results that were stolen and overturned – but today voted to suspend Berg and Alvarez’s union membership – a move that could disqualify them from running for re-election in Local 743.

Local 743 members plan to fight Berg and Alvarez’s removal in federal court, where they were able to win a supervised election.

“They couldn’t steal our election and they couldn’t defeat us at the polls, so they used trumped up charges to oust Richard and Gina and hijack Local 743,” said Joe Sexauer, Local 743 union representative who helped organize Berg’s successful election. “But the union is about more than any one leader – it’s about the members. We’ve defeated corrupt officials before, and we’ll do it again.”

Berg and his New Leadership Slate were elected to lead Local 743 in October 2007 in an election supervised by the Department of Labor – and Berg followed through on his reform platform. He cut his salary by $70,000 and shaved the union payroll by eliminating do-nothing jobs.

Not everyone was happy with Local 743’s new direction, including some of the newly-elected officers. They agreed to run with Berg on a reform platform that included reducing the salaries of overpaid union officials. But they demanded higher salaries once they were in office. When members complained that some union representatives weren’t doing their job, Berg investigated the complaints, took the cases to the union’s Executive Board, and those union representatives were terminated.

Unhappy at the financial reforms and the demands for accountability of union staff some Local 743 officers teamed up with Berg’s opponents in the Teamster hierarchy. They filed internal union charges falsely claiming that Berg had failed to present the terminations and other union matters to the Executive Board. Not a single one of the charges alleges that Berg or any other Local 743 reformer took a penny for personal gain.

Local 743 represents 11,000 members at the University of Chicago and U of C Hospital, Rush Presbyterian Hospital, Blue Cross and numerous shops, factories, offices and nursing homes.

“We elected him, and it’s our choice, the membership to keep him or take him out in an election, not like this,” said UC Medical Center worker Jean Moore.

Under Berg’s leadership, Local 743 cut officer salaries, including his own, and put the union’s dues money to work for the membership. Berg hired professional contract negotiators and led a successful strike to protect members’ healthcare. The local has taken stands to promote civil rights and racial equality: Local 743 sponsored Martin Luther King Day events and participated in marches for immigrants rights.

“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.”

Attachment:

A flyer sent to Teamster 743 members (file size: 195.66 KB)

10 responses to “Local 743 Members Unite to Say “We Won’t Go Back”: Teamster Reformers Ousted in Power Grab

  1. Keep up the struggle comrades. No retreat, no surrender, if you don’t fight you lose!!!

    • Update from Fight Back! News:

      Removal of Teamsters 743 Leaders Stopped
      Hoffa Grants Stay of Effectiveness to Berg and Alvarez

      Chicago, IL – Two days after Teamsters Joint Council 25 suspended Richard Berg and Gina Alvarez from office over trumped up charges, the International president, Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. has granted them a stay of effectiveness. This will be in place until the international hears their appeal. Berg and Alvarez will be restored to their positions in the union immediately.

      The two reform leaders of Local 743 were charged with corruption. Ironically, neither of them was accused of personally benefiting in any of the charges brought against them. In fact, Secretary Treasurer Alvarez and President Berg had worked to put the local union back into the hands of the members after decades of true corruption. The officers of the local for years before Berg and Alvarez had stolen elections and forced sell-out contracts onto members. These practices were accepted by the Joint Council.

      In recent months, Berg and Alvarez helped lead the workers at SK Hand Tools to a victorious strike to defend health care benefits. That strike gained national attention, including coverage in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The leader of the executive board in the local that charged them is Larry Davis, who played no role in the SK strike.

      President Berg expressed to Fight Back! the gratitude he and Secretary Treasurer Alvarez felt for the outpouring of support they received from friends, allies and workers in the local since the news of their removal from office broke on Monday evening.

  2. How can this story say Richard Berg is facing “false charges” when it won’t even tell us what those charges are?

    • Keith, please read the article more closely.

      It says, regarding the charges from the opportunists against Richard Berg and Gina Alvarez, “They filed internal union charges falsely claiming that Berg had failed to present the terminations and other union matters to the Executive Board.”

      But I think the heart of the matter is in this quote:

      “We elected him, and it’s our choice, the membership to keep him or take him out in an election, not like this,” said UC Medical Center worker Jean Moore.

      Clearly the focus of the article is on what Berg actually did (getting rid of corruption, mobilizing members, and cutting union saleries), not what he is accused of doing. And it is what he did that is so upsetting to the Teamster old guard and the new opportunists.

      After all, to be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing, but a good thing.

  3. But I think the heart of the matter is in this quote:

    “We elected him, and it’s our choice, the membership to keep him or take him out in an election, not like this,” said UC Medical Center worker Jean Moore.

    Richard Nixon was also elected but he broke the law and was forced out of office. Just like Berg.

    Just because Richard Berg was elected does not give him the right to act like Stalin or Mao and completely bypass his Executive Board like he did. He is constitutionally mandated to get Board approval for the things he did and he failed to do so. He is not a king, he is a union leader and he screwed up.

    And why do I keep seeing this “canned” story all over the internet?

    • Sorry, Leroy. Any more comments like that and you’re done here.

      This website is for studying Marxism through analysis of past and contemporary struggles, not for red-baiting and attacking union reformers. The ‘decision’ of the bureaucrats in Joint Council 25’s kangaroo court actually doesn’t prove anything. The members should say what happens.

      Anyway, watch the red-baiting. Please see the comments policy if you have any questions.

    • Leroy,

      You know not. The severance package was presented to the executive board. They chose to side step their fiduciary responsibility. When presented with the package, Fernando Garcia replied, ‘No Richard, we don’t need to vote on the matter, we consider this a staff issue,’ given he understands the principle officer has responsibility for day to day affairs.

      Not only was this said, not a single motion was made to oppose the severance. They by pass their responsibility and let time pass. Then seven months later, Garcia, Davis, B Richardson, C Harlin bypass the membership (disallowing democratic input or information) and file charges with the Joint Council 25, thus bypassing any fairness or any commitment to trying to resolve matters internally.

      Your comparisons are far a field and not based in reality.

      More later.

  4. Sorry comrade,

    I just want to know why it’s impossible for a “union reformer” to be guilty of bypassing his EBoard on a $20,000 expenditure? The whistleblowers were from his own slate for chrissakes.

    And by becoming a union president, isn’t Berg a “bureaucrat” just like the other union presidents that sit on the council?

    Ask yourself, what would Berg’s decision be if someone from the “Old Guard” had been guilty of doing the same thing he got caught doing?

    Be honest.

    • It is not a secret, Leroy, that there has long been a divide in the Teamsters between, on the one hand, those who want to run the union like a business and make deals, and, on the other hand, those who recognize that the bosses and the workers have absolutely no mutual interests and nothing in common. This struggle between class-collaboration on the one hand, and class struggle unionism on the other hand, has been going on for a long time. This is a general trend in the trade unions at this time. Richard Berg, through deeds and not just words, has long made it clear where he stands. So clearly there is a difference between him and the bureaucrats. The difference is that he was transforming 743 into a fighting union.

      This article from Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the rank-and-file Teamster reform movement, makes it pretty clear.

      Two quotes:

      “For decades, Local 743 took care of its officers while members paid the price. That changed in 2007, when the 11,000 members of Local 743 voted Berg, Alvarez and their New Leadership slate into office.”

      and,

      “Other 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.”

      The article from TDU linked to here and the article from Fight Back! News (reprinted above), show the difference plainly, clear as day, for all to see.

  5. The Joint Council 25 leaders are like the mafia. They are corrupt criminals who will do anything to gain a buck on the back of workers. These mob types are using their power to remove Berg and Alvarez from office. Just google “Hogan Teamsters” and you will see how the union mafiosos work in Chicago. Joint Council 25 approved 4 stolen elections to keep their drug money laundering friends in control of Local 743. They apparently thought it was called “Joint Council” for another reason. The Chicago Democratic Party has no problem with these criminal types as long as they give union workers’ money away.

    Leroy is siding with the mafia and corrupt Teamsters. Any excuse will do to get Berg out of office so someone like Leroy can be a tool for the corrupt leaders of the Teamsters.

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