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Tug of War for the Teamsters

California Plays a Key Role in the Carey-Hoffa Election Showdown

December 05, 1996|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What will the outcome of the fierce election battle between Ron Carey and James P. Hoffa for the helm of the Teamsters union mean for California?

It could mean plenty. Carey, the incumbent and narrow favorite to win the contest, has been a major proponent of the type of grass-roots and multi-union organizing campaigns championed by the insurgents who took control of the national AFL-CIO last year. If Carey, 60, wins reelection to a second five-year term, he plans to continue on that path, with California as one of his key organizing targets.

A Carey victory would also mean that some key California Teamster leaders backing Hoffa--officials Carey considers obstacles in his avowed drive to shake up the union and root out its longtime corruption--would face increasing pressure to step down.

What a Hoffa administration would do, aside from restoring the clout of those same longtime Teamster leaders, is harder to predict. Despite being the son of legendary Teamster leader James R. "Jimmy" Hoffa, the junior Hoffa, a 55-year-old labor lawyer, is a relative newcomer to the union's politics.

Case Against Carey

*

Hoffa backers blame Carey for the union's nearly tapped-out treasury and say their candidate would strengthen the union by putting it on a better financial footing. And they provide assurances that Hoffa would keep the mob from infiltrating the union again.

"The mob killed his father," said Michael J. Riley, a Hoffa backer and the dominant Teamster leader in Southern California, voicing what authorities believe happened when the senior Hoffa mysteriously disappeared in 1975. "This guy doesn't want anything to do with them."

A winner in the Carey-Hoffa battle should be declared next week, within a few days of the close of the monthlong balloting on Tuesday.

California--home to 234,000, or nearly one out of six of the 1.4 million Teamsters in the United States and Canada--has been a key, and unpredictable, battleground in the Carey-Hoffa contest.

Since 1991, when Carey became the first Teamster president ever elected by the rank and file, California has often been on the native New Yorker's mind.

In a move laden with symbolism, Carey extended a peace offering early this year to the California-based United Farm Workers union, and the onetime enemy labor organizations are now quietly coordinating some recruiting efforts.

Carey's administration also recently forged an alliance with the Los Angeles Manufacturing Action Project, a nonprofit group trying to organize immigrant workers. The alliance scored its first victory in September, when a group of 160 truck drivers who deliver Guerrero-brand tortillas won a new contract following a six-week strike engineered by the Teamsters and LAMAP.

Impact on State

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While some observers argue that these novel organizing efforts wouldn't necessarily end if Hoffa wins, the fate of several California Teamster leaders clearly will be affected by the voting results.

Perhaps the leader with the most to lose is Los Angeles' Riley, who was one of Carey's main targets two years ago when his administration reined in powerful regional Teamster leaders receiving multiple salaries.

Riley still draws around $200,000 a year from his jobs as head of both Teamsters Joint Council 42 and Teamster Local 986. But before Carey acted, Riley was drawing a sum variously put--depending on whether reimbursed personal expenses were included--at anywhere from $250,000 to more than $320,000.

While Riley, 64, denies speculation that he will retire if Carey wins, observers say his long-standing power within the union would be sharply reduced.

Stuart Silverstein can be reached by phone at (213) 237-7887 or by e-mail at stuart.silverstein@latimes.com

Friday: LAW

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