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

But an affidavit from computer data recovery expert Greg Cunningham casts doubt on Hammond's assertion. After examining Hammond's desktop computer, Cunningham wrote, he concluded that "beyond simply reformatting the hard drive to make the data inaccessible, all files in several subdirectories were deleted, along with the directory structure itself, making the information more difficult to recover."

Cunningham also poked a hole in the botched Windows installation excuse. "The problems I found with these computers were not caused by an effort to load Windows 95," he wrote. "The information I discovered indicates that an intentional effort was made to make the data on these computers inaccessible." He also determined that the tampering had occurred the morning of November 20, 1995 -- the morning Jim Buck arrived at the union hall, and the hour he was at the courthouse getting a court order to turn over the records.

Jim Buck stubs another cigarette into the clogged ashtray on his desk, a look of amusement flickering across his leathery face as he hears another accusation against him or Ron Carey repeated to him. Behind Buck, a framed, inscribed photograph of Carey hangs prominently on the wall. He sips from a Ron Carey coffee mug. "It's no hidden fact that I'm a Ron Carey supporter," the ex-Marine says dryly.

Buck rejects the idea that the trusteeship at Local 988 and the actions against its former leadership have anything to do with the Carey-Hoffa feud. He points out that in the 1991 election, the local's members voted for Carey over Hammond's preferred candidate, R.V. Durham, by 54 percent to 42 percent. "The fact is, this is about financial malpractice. This doesn't have anything to do with politics."

Politics may not be Buck's motivation, but at Local 988, politics are never more than a few inches from anyone's face. Under Hammond, members regularly heard a heavy dose of anti-Carey propaganda at meetings. During the 1994 truckers' strike, he withheld strike update information sent by the International from picketers because, he says, "most of it was repetition, repetition, repetition, or it was blatantly campaign material, or it was false." And Hammond refused to request any of the International-sponsored training or educational programs, which he sweepingly characterizes as "the rah-rah Ron Carey bandwagon."

Buck has removed the obstructions to the International since he took over, and he says he's democratized membership meetings by placing a microphone in the hall for any member to speak his peace. But he's also refused to allow attendees to vote on motions from the floor, which even Hammond opponents concede was never the case in the past. At one recent meeting, a member called for a vote to switch future gatherings to a different time. Buck ruled the member out of order. "I've not always agreed with the business agents or Richard at our meetings," says Teamster Emma Clardy. "But we could ask questions, and they were answered. Now you ask questions and you're out of order, period."

And for all the talk of cleansing the union of its unsavory elements, some of the new faces at the union hall have ethical baggage of their own. Just-fired business agent Chuck Crawley still hasn't paid a $5,000 malicious prosecution judgment awarded to a fellow Teamster and Hoffa supporter while the two worked in Indianapolis. And Sergio Ponce, who is helping organize UPS workers as an employee of the International, was accused by the union of racking up more than $116,000 in travel expenses for 316 days in 1993, when he'd only been on the road for 100 of them. Asked why the International would hire Ponce, who is now allied with Carey, after making the allegations against him, union spokeswoman Nancy Stella would only say that the rules were written in such a way that Ponce wasn't technically ripping off the system. Besides, she says, "He wasn't the only one doing this."

Some of the same inconsistencies exist at the national level, suggesting that political allegiance may have something to do with which locals are placed in trusteeship and which aren't, and how severely individuals get punished for their transgressions. Of the 61 locals taken over for reasons other than a criminal indictment, Stella could only come up with one instance where criminal charges were filed after the fact -- Local 988 -- even though the same accusations of embezzlement and other crimes were levied in many cases as the excuse for the International to move in.

Not that the Teamster locals in question were the victims of political intrigue. The stories of union corruption and Mafia ties are as much fact as myth. Three International presidents -- Dave Beck, Jimmy Hoffa and Roy Williams -- variously served time for income tax evasion, jury tampering, fraud and bribery, and another, Jackie Presser, was under indictment for racketeering when he died. And local leaders did drain membership funds by paying themselves multiple pensions, buying themselves $50,000 luxury automobiles and other extravagant perks and generally treating their locals like personal fiefdoms. Ron Carey has made it the centerpiece of his administration to rid the Teamsters of such abuses of power.

But that's not the centerpiece of most Teamsters' agenda; instead, they are preoccupied by the strength of the contracts the union negotiates on their behalf these days, which is why the younger Hoffa stands a fair chance of winning the election, which gets under way in November and will be settled the following month. After bitter negotiations over a new Master Freight Agreement in 1994 that resulted in a costly strike and a contract that involved some givebacks to the trucking industry, Hoffa has focused much of his campaign energy on the freight side of the membership, which includes workers like Emma Clardy, whose husband has 29 years with Roadway Express. "Whether our contract is better than before, I don't think so," Clardy says. "That's why I'm supporting Mr. Hoffa."

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