Rent by charges of corruption and ineffective representation, Teamsters Local 988 may be driving itself to destruction

Scott Hendries, a former UPS shop steward turned Local 988 business manager, was fired from his post and permanently barred from holding a job with the union after being accused of conspiring with management at Northwest Transport (now NationsWay Transport) to blackball a pair of Carey supporters. Buck says Northwest Transport officials admitted that Hendries told them to fire the workers, but the company denies it.

A supporter of Hammond and Hoffa, Hendries also has been accused by Buck of embezzling almost $18,000 via a union credit card. He maintains that the charges against him and the others are phony. During the internal hearing, he points out, Buck only asked him about $4,000 of the total, every dollar of which he could account for. "The issue is to get everybody out of the way so they can't run [in future elections]," he says.

Teamsters are undermining one another in other ways, not cooperating on organizing drives and constantly tearing down initiatives in conversation. "If someone does not want the people in here that are in here, they're not going to cooperate," said Scott Bankhead shortly before he was fired. "They want it to be a failure, so they can sit back and say, 'Look, I told you those people aren't worth a shit.' "

With the split among the members becoming increasingly rancorous, Hendries is in the majority in lamenting the local's prospects if no bridge between the factions can be established.

"We're destroying ourselves," he says.

Fidgeting slightly in a straight-backed chair in his lawyer's office, Richard Hammond chalks up his discomfort to a general distrust of the media and distaste for being photographed. But behind his restive movement is a self-assuredness that comes from being in charge for 25 years, the person most responsible for the welfare of the members, the one on whom, literally, their jobs can depend.

Ironically, Hammond arrived in Houston much the same way as he went out, during a trusteeship. A native of Cleburne, Hammond had been working for the Miller Brewing Company in nearby Fort Worth and was instrumental in switching the workers from an AFL-CIO brewery workers' union to the Teamsters. When the two unions merged in 1971, Hammond says, his presence was an affront to the AFL-CIO group, and he was moved to Houston to serve as chief business agent and principal officer of Local 988 under the trusteeship, which had been imposed because of money problems. "They couldn't manage 15 cents," Hammond says of the former staff.

What he found when he arrived, says Hammond, was a local in disarray. In addition to the financial troubles, the members had divided along racial lines and fought constantly. Membership meetings were out of hand, and fistfights were frequent, a recollection backed by a number of Teamster old-timers. "We had to frisk some people when they came in the doors," Hammond recalls.

After six months, the books were in decent enough shape that the International dissolved the trusteeship and called an election. Hammond ran for president and won, which he's done every three years since, sometimes in a contested race, sometimes not. But the result was always conclusive. "I beat [the opposition] every time, in every election, by two or three to one," he says proudly.

Labor in Houston was enjoying a time of relative prosperity during Hammond's first decade in office, and he built the local membership from a low of 1,100 when he arrived to more than 4,000. But in the 1980s, deregulation hit the trucking industry, which employed a large percentage of Local 988's members, and in a matter of months a number of companies folded or merged. Since then, membership has remained static, hovering between 3,200 and 3,700. "We never got back to where we were before," Hammond says.

Still, Hammond's reputation as a fair and tough negotiator who looks out for the membership has generally survived the leaner years, evidenced by the fierce loyalty many members still show for him.

"I've had dealings with Richard Hammond for 25 years," says Yellow Freight truck driver Paul Rogers, who believes Hammond is innocent of the embezzlement and other charges. "He's always shot straight with me. He's never lied to me."

Whether Hammond can convince a jury he's telling the truth is another matter. Some of the more sensational early charges against him wilt under scrutiny: The "assault weapons" he charged to the union credit card consisted of a legal semiautomatic pistol and rifle, which he claims were given away as door prizes at membership meetings to boost attendance. The "monogrammed silk underwear" was neither monogrammed nor lacy women's lingerie, as had been implied, but thermal long johns from a hunting supply catalog.

And the explosives that were purportedly found in the union storage locker turned out to be illegal hand grenade firing pins, but they won't be an issue at Hammond's upcoming trial. According to George Lambright, chief of the district attorney's organized crime division, there were no fingerprints on the pins and no evidence that they were ever in the storage shed in the first place. (Buck says a worker conducting an inventory of the shed brought the pins to his office, where they sat for a few days before Buck turned them over to the police.) "There was a problem with an affirmative link between [Hammond] and the devices," Lambright says.

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