The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is a union that believes in diversification. Beyond its core work force – private-sector truckers and warehousemen – the Teamsters has come to represent employees within such occupations as flight attendants, industrial cleaners and police officers. The problem is that the union, though under federal supervision for nearly two decades, still exhibits an occasional blind spot for bad apples in its ranks. One of them is Joe Bennett, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 327, which represents Metro Nashville police officers. Nearly 20 years ago Bennett was convicted of hiring a hit man to carry out a murder. The killing didn’t happen, but many local police aren’t happy about his presence anyway. “Not only is it morally wrong to be involved in an organization who employs convicted felons, it’s also against our policy to associate with convicted felons,” said an unnamed cop, a Local 327 member.
The revelations about Bennett’s past came from an investigation by the “News 2” team at WKRN-TV in Nashville. He’d been arrested in nearby Hickman County, Tenn., convicted in 1989, and served some prison time. How he came to handle the finances of a police officers’ union is less than clear. But the decision wasn’t the doing of Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas. “I don’t know his name,” Serpas told News 2. “I’ve never met him.” When asked if departmental policy bans officers from dealing with felons, he responded, “I believe that to be true.” The police officer quoted above was more direct: “To know a man who conspired to commit murder to have access to my financial information bothers me. He might use that money for personal gain.”
Metro police officers elected the Teamsters to represent them over a year ago. It’s entirely possible that few, if any, of the officers knew about Bennett’s past. One person who might know something is Local 327 President Jimmy Neal, known for his loyalty to International President James P. Hoffa; in the 2001 IBT election, Neal ran on a “Hoffa’s Choice” slate. Hoffa since taking office in 1999 has shown a tendency to avoid taking action on his own against shady behavior among allies, most of all, longtime Michigan allies Carlow Scalf and Michael Bane. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Hoffa endorses Bennett’s presence in the union. But it does suggest that Neal, anticipating support from Hoffa in the event of bad publicity, felt extra leeway in inviting Bennett into the local. Nashville police might not be in so generous a mood. (WKRN-TV, Nashville, Tenn., 7/19/07; other sources).