DisUnion

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

The International says the contract actually protects jobs and benefits, though most Carey supporters recognize that the union was not operating from a position of strength, given the state of the industry and the anti-union political climate. "Obviously, the leverage isn't there like it was 20 years ago," says Jim Buck.

And though Hammond avidly rips Carey's negotiating skills, he sounds strangely in sync with the International president when explaining why many Local 988 members feel that the most recent bakery worker contract, which was negotiated at the local level while Hammond was in power, is inferior to the previous one. "The bakery industry as a whole is in decline," he says. "The ability to negotiate isn't there anymore."

In this larger context, the question of Richard Hammond's guilt or innocence almost takes a back seat. While many members say they'll feel betrayed if Hammond is proven guilty of stealing their money, they're more worried about taking a hit when their contracts come up, or when they face a grievance panel.

"I would certainly hope that Hammond isn't guilty," says UPS steward Bill Groweg. "But he did a very good job of representing the members and saving people's jobs."

The troubles at Local 988, combined with the vicious tenor of the Carey-Hoffa campaign, has left many in the rank-and-file discouraged. Attendance at meetings has dropped since Hammond was removed, though Buck says he hopes to build it back over time. If that in turn translates to even less participation in Teamster activities than the members currently invest, however, it would mean a weaker local union at a crucial period in its history, which could well mean trouble come contract time. The current UPS contract, for example, one of the Teamsters' biggest, runs its course next year, and the union expects to be locked in a brutal battle with the company over wages, benefits and work rules. With only half the UPS employees in Houston union members, and that half further split into warring factions, the local's leverage is minimal. "The lack of unity will hurt us in negotiations," said former business agent Dennis Bankhead.

More important, if only a handful of members actually vote in elections (less than one-third of the local cast ballots in 1991), let alone attend meetings or get involved in organizing campaigns, the strength of the union -- its membership -- is sapped to the point of impotence.

"Everyone sits back and bitches about Hammond, or bitches about Carey, or Hoffa," says Bill Groweg. "How many of us are getting off our lazy Teamster asses and participating actively in the union? That's the biggest problem.

"Everybody's quick to point the finger of blame. But where you should be pointing it is in the mirror.

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