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The plot thickens in Hollywood union election

Teamsters Local 399 members are casting ballots in what has turned into a bruising and divisive battle for its top leadership post.

October 08, 2013|By Richard Verrier
  • Steve Dayan, left, who is running for secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399, speaks with union member and chef Ruben Enriquez during filming of “House of Lies” at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Steve Dayan, left, who is running for secretary-treasurer of Teamsters… (Wally Skali / Los Angeles…)

Leo Reed has been a professional football player, a police officer and bodyguard to Sylvester Stallone.

But he is best known in Hollywood as the leader of Teamsters Local 399, the powerful union representing 4,500 studio transportation coordinators, location managers, casting directors, animal wranglers and drivers who haul stars, props and equipment to film and TV sets.

Reed, the undisputed leader of Local 399 for nearly 25 years, now faces his first serious challenge in what is widely acknowledged as an unusually close and deeply divisive election to select the next secretary-treasurer of the union.

Members are casting votes in the contest, which provides a rare glimpse into a real Hollywood drama playing out behind the camera. 

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Reed's challenger is Steve Dayan, who said he was fired from his job as a Teamsters business agent in July after he told his boss he wanted to run against him. Dayan has portrayed Reed, 74, as an out-of-touch leader who runs the local as if it were his personal fiefdom. He cites Reed's hiring of two relatives, including his son for a job that federal records show paid him nearly $174,313 last year in salary and expenses.

"Leo has got to leave," Dayan, 56, told drivers working a location shoot in Griffith Park recently. "We've got to push him out the door because he's not making good decisions on our members' behalf. He's more concerned about his family than he is about the local."

Reed, who is seeking his ninth three-year term, has portrayed Dayan and his supporters as "traitors" who are "pro-management" and support lowering wages, comments posted on Reed's website that Dayan says are untrue.

"He is desperate and is he is trying anything just to win the election," Reed says on his campaign website, which also includes an endorsement from Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa. 

The drama behind the election, results of which will be announced Oct. 15, is the talk of film sets across Hollywood.

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Tensions boiled over recently at a union meeting of more than 500 members at Pickwick Gardens Conference Center in Burbank. A scuffle erupted after transportation coordinator Marlo Hellerstein criticized Reed for his union hiring practices, Hellerstein and other witnesses said.

Hellerstein hadn't finished speaking before one of Reed's associates gave a hand signal to a muscular sergeant of arms — who promptly pulled Hellerstein away from the microphone, Hellerstein, Dayan and others present said.

"All of a sudden I turned to my right and here's this giant grabbing my arm and pulling me backwards," Hellerstein said. "All hell broke loose."

Reed declined to comment. "Leo doesn't give interviews," said Joe Kaplon, Local 399's attorney. "He's standing on his track record." 

Reed, born and raised on Oahu's North Shore, has a size and competitive nature that led him to excel while playing football for Colorado State, and later the Houston Oilers and the Denver Broncos.

When his professional football career ended, Reed joined the Honolulu Police Department, where his brawn — he once told colleagues he could bench-press 500 pounds — made him an intimidating presence.

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Reed later joined the Teamsters in Hawaii and moved to Hollywood in 1980, where he worked as a bodyguard for Stallone and drove a truck on film sets. He joined Local 399, and within nine years was elected top officer of the union.

His predecessor, Earl Bush, was charged by a court-appointed officer in 1991 with embezzling at least $16,200 from Local 399. The charge was later dropped and Bush resigned from the union as part of a settlement of an investigation into corruption allegations against Michael J. Riley, the highest-ranking Teamsters official in Southern California. Charges against Riley were also dropped. 

"He came in at a time when we were in a terrible disarray,'' said Jordan Edelman, a studio driver who now supports Dayan. "He was our savior."

Reed also gained the respect of his crew for standing up for their rights, including getting "Baywatch" producers to back down from a demand for a wage cut as the TV series moved from Los Angeles to Hawaii in 1999.

In Los Angeles, Reed also is credited with keeping the peace. The last major strike was a walkout by drivers in 1988. He cites other accomplishments, such as expanding the union's coverage to cable television and commercial production and growing its pension plan.

But Dayan says Reed hasn't done enough to organize in the burgeoning area of digital media or lobbied hard enough to boost California's film incentives. 

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