Dissidents to Head Chicago Teamsters Local; Win Contested Election

Richard Berg has been vindicated. Convinced that a corrupt slate had stolen the officers’ election at International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 743 in Chicago three years earlier, he complained to the U.S. Department of Labor, who responded with a civil suit against the union leadership. In addition, federal prosecutors this past September filed a seven-count indictment of incoming President Richard Lopez and three other persons on the union payroll on charges of conspiracy to commit election fraud and embezzlement of ballots. This past fall the effort paid off: DOL announced that Berg and his New Leadership slate were the winners in the latest balloting to determine the leadership of the 12,000-member local.  


It was the culmination of a long and bitterly contested election battle. Union Corruption Update previously had reported that Lopez and several allies within the union had mailed ballots in a “do-over” election held in late 2004 designed to suppress the vote for New Leadership. In the original election, held only a few months earlier, the incumbent Unity leadership stopped counting ballots, discovering that Berg held a slight lead. In the next election late that year, the Robert Walston-led Unity slate won. Berg smelled a rat and complained to the Labor Department. After an investigation, the DOL concluded that Walston ally Richard Lopez and several associates willfully mailed out any number of ballots to wrong addresses if the addresses belonged to persons likely to vote for Berg. After much delay, Lopez took office early this September, a reign lasting only about a week; he resigned shortly after his indictment. In the most recent election, the results of which were announced this past October 22, the New Leadership slate won six of seven contested positions. They were close races, too. Berg’s victory over the Unity candidate, Reginald Ford, for example, was only by a margin of 1112-1058.   

Berg, a supporter of the nationwide Teamsters dissident group, Teamsters for a Democratic Union, noted this past December that corruption long had been ingrained into the way local had done business. “It was a great victory for all the members who’ve worked so hard and so long to get rid of the criminal element in our union and turn it over to the rank-and-file,” he said. “Right now, the current officers are looting our dues money. We’re going to cut salaries and hire more people.” Taking office at the beginning of this year, he vows zero tolerance for corruption. But given how close his slate’s victories were, there may be some people unwilling to adjust to the new ways.  (Teamsters for a Democratic Union, 12/5/07; Chicago Indymedia, 10/23/07; other sources).