The International Brotherhood of Teamsters' takeover of Local 988 last November had that certain tabloid quality that has been associated with the union for decades. Jim Buck, the trustee appointed by International president Ron Carey to manage the local's affairs, arrived unannounced at the union's Heights-area hall with the bad news: A months-long audit of Local 988's books revealed that Richard Hammond, who had headed the local for 25 years, had embezzled almost $28,000 in membership funds. The money had been charged to the union's American Express card for such personal items as monogrammed luggage, hunting trips to Mexico, clothing and guns.

Hammond refused to turn the local over to Buck, who subsequently obtained a federal court order against the local president and other Local 988 officers. Rumors of impending violence swirled. Within 24 hours, Buck had moved into Hammond's office and begun sifting through the local's records and firing and replacing staff. The trustee accused Hammond of shredding documents, destroying computer files and carting important papers out of the building under cover of darkness.

Over the months, the charges against Hammond swelled to epic proportions. By the time a panel appointed by Carey convened in May to hear the case, Hammond's alleged illicit credit-card tally approached $200,000. In addition, he was accused of looting more than $100,000 from a pair of union funds, and ten other officers and employees had been cited for theft or breach of conduct. Periodic news accounts mentioned assault weapons, monogrammed silk underwear and a cache of illegal explosives that were allegedly found in a self-storage shed rented by the union.

"The abuse here was so mind-boggling," says Buck. "Ray Charles could have followed the path."

In September, Hammond was indicted by a federal grand jury on 13 counts of embezzlement paralleling the union's charges, as well as making false statements on a bank loan application. A month later, an additional count of income tax evasion was tacked on. If convicted on all charges, Hammond faces up to 125 years in prison and fines of up to $6.25 million.

Hammond and his many allies in the union say the charges are a blatantly political move orchestrated by Ron Carey, who is locked in a tight election battle for the presidency of the International with James P. Hoffa, son of the late Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Since Carey took office in 1991, Hammond has been one of his most outspoken critics and a vocal Hoffa supporter. The ousted local president notes that Carey has installed trustees at 65 locals around the country, most if not all of them controlled by Carey opponents, and says he's being punished for the same reasons as the others. "I wasn't smart enough to keep my mouth shut," Hammond says.

About the only thing missing from the saga of Local 988 is an allegation of mob ties, something that surfaced in Dallas after the International wrested control of Local 945 from longtime president T.C. Stone in August.

The sensational nature of the charges and countercharges wearies all but the most hardened of Local 988's more than 3,600 members, who must live with the public perception of their union as fat and corrupt.

"Every time you meet someone and you tell 'em you're a Teamster, they want to think you're a gangster, you're overpaid and you're lazy,' says Paul Rogers, a truck driver for Yellow Freight and a Teamster for the last 30 years. "The people who don't work for a union, they hear so much negative press, they believe it."

It's hard for the members themselves to know what to believe these days. The two factions have become so firmly entrenched that even the most outrageous claims are repeated as gospel. Current Local 988 organizer Tom Mitchell says Hammond cut deals with management and let his opponents take the fall; Hammond calls Mitchell "a lying rat bastard." Hammond says Buck wouldn't let him call witnesses at his Teamster hearing; Buck calls the charge "another blatant lie."

One recent rumor, fueled by an incendiary Hoffa campaign piece, had Buck pegged as a ten-year Manley Truck Lines supervisor who fired an entire shift of Teamsters. Buck says he drove for Manley in Kansas City before a Local 41 steward helped land him an 11-month stint as a dock foreman. After that, he was hired as a union staff member. "If [the charges] were true, why would the president of Local 41 help get me a job?" he asks dismissively. "Tell enough lies, and some of 'em will stick."

Buck anticipates that the local's affairs will be straight enough to dissolve the trusteeship early in 1997. But that's not likely to end the schism that has divided the union and set Brother against Brother, because both sides will be in the thick of the election for officers that will follow. If the International takes disciplinary action against Hammond, a likely scenario given previous actions against other local leaders, he'll probably be ineligible to run for office, though he says he'll challenge that in court.

But even if he's not a candidate, Hammond will be a presence in the race, just as he continues to be in the local almost a year after being booted from his post. He says he still considers himself an "elected representative of the membership" and continues assisting members when they call, writing grievances for them and interpreting contracts -- everything short of contacting the companies.

"I still do as much as before," Hammond says, "I just don't get paid for it."

Since the glory days of the 1960s and '70s, when companies feared unions as much as recession, organized labor's fortunes have taken a dive. Union membership, which peaked at 35 percent of the work force in 1945, dipped below 15 percent in 1995. Massive layoffs, the increased use of temporary and part-time workers and trade policies that shifted thousands of union manufacturing jobs across the border have contributed to the decline.

So has state and federal government hostility to organized labor in the form of striker replacement laws, attacks on OSHA and other anti-union legislation. Texas, for instance, prohibits collective bargaining for public-sector employees and is one of 21 right-to-work states, meaning that workers can't be required to join a union even if the majority votes one in. And business has become increasingly aggressive in its tactics, employing union-busting firms (the AFL-CIO knows of at least 8,000) and taking advantage of weak penalties for unfair labor practices. "Employers will use anything to fight the union," says Harris County AFL-CIO chief Richard Shaw.

With the slump in union membership has come a corresponding decrease in real wages, down 12 percent since 1979, according to Bureau of Labor statistics. The link between the two is more than tenuous, however, as any union workers who know what their non-union counterparts make can tell you. Non-union trucking firms such as Overnite, for example, have to pay their drivers at least close to union scale to compete. "If it wasn't for us," says Yellow Freight driver Paul Rogers fiercely, "Overnite [drivers] wouldn't be making the money."

Until recently, organized labor's response had been to hunker down and try and ride out the lean times, focusing more on protecting previously won wages and benefits than scrabbling for new gains or organizing workplaces. It didn't work. "We went to sleep," says Teamster forklift operator Wesley Coleman. "We thought that our bed was made for us. All of a sudden we opened our eyes, and we were getting our butts kicked."

Labor organizations have been taking the offensive of late. Reinvigorated by new leadership, the AFL-CIO has pumped millions into political campaigns to help unseat such anti-labor congressmen as Steve Stockman. And in recognition of the dismal turnout of union workers in the '94 election, Richard Shaw has put together a "Labor Neighbor" get-out-the-vote drive at the precinct level.

Unions also have hit the organizing trail with renewed vigor, using basic math to push their key points. The 1,800 Local 988 Teamsters who work for UPS, for example, currently top out at almost $20 an hour; non-union Federal Express employees peak in the $15 range.

But if labor is to survive the century, it will require the kind of unity and cooperation that has been conspicuously absent for some years. And nothing embodies that lack of unity more than the ongoing battle among the Teamsters that has raged since Ron Carey took office.

The upcoming Teamster election may resolve the issue of which faction will have control of the union for the next five years, but it's unlikely that either side will lay aside its vitriol for the sake of unity if the other wins. The Hoffa forces say that if Carey is victorious, it will be because the fix was in. "I wouldn't put any money on it being a free and fair election," says Richard Hammond.

And if Hoffa wins, bet against the government's getting out of the labor business anytime soon. The federal judge who oversees the International as part of a 1989 consent decree with the government recently stated that his tenure might not end after the election, as initially planned. And if the Internal Review Board, the federal panel that adjudicates all disputes under the decree, were to continue supporting the positions of the Carey side, as it has in almost every previous case, the effectiveness of a Hoffa-led Teamsters at the bargaining table could be seriously compromised.

Against that backdrop, the struggle within Local 988 is far more significant and complex than an internal turf war. The substantial gains workers have won the last 30 years are anything but secure, and employers relish the thought of the unions aiding their cause by fighting among themselves.

"It's very frustrating, I'm sure, for the Teamsters," says Richard Shaw. "They fail to see the bigger picture, and they fail to see just how much in jeopardy their pay and benefits are."

With his wide eyes and boyish looks, Bill Groweg hardly resembles a prototypical Teamster. But Groweg, a 12-year UPS employee, talks a tougher line than his appearance suggests. "I'm anti-management," he says firmly. "I'm a union steward. I'm proud to work for the best parcel delivery service company in the world. I just do not trust my employer."

Groweg has reasons to be suspicious of UPS management: lots of reasons, in the form of firings and suspensions routinely visited on employees just to keep the workers off-balance, or so Groweg believes. "Management has always taken the attitude, we're gonna discipline who we want, when we want, where we want, regardless of fairness," he says.

Lately, Groweg says, the actions are coming faster and more furiously than ever. "I've never seen us get our asses kicked by management the way we're getting our asses kicked now," he says.

Kenneth Davis had his kicked in August, when UPS fired him for taking too much time on his lunch break and falsely logging deliveries on a hand-held computer while actually waiting in line at a bank and Burger King. Davis filed a grievance against the company, but he says union business agent Dennis Bankhead, who was hired after the trusteeship was in place, failed to help him with his case and even took management's side, at one point suggesting he resign so the termination wouldn't appear on his record.

Davis gathered his own evidence, including written statements from package recipients that he'd actually been delivering to them when the computer indicated, and a bank slip that noted a transaction time coinciding with his claim. He drove to Oklahoma City, where the grievance panel met to hear and rule on the charges, and presented his own case, though Bankhead was there. The panel deadlocked, and Davis' case will be reheard by another panel next month. Asked by the panelists if he felt he'd been adequately represented, Davis answered no. "I had to do what I had to do myself," he says, "because I had nobody representing me."

Bankhead says he recommended resignation as an option because he truly believed the evidence against Davis was overwhelming, and that he had no chance to beat the rap. And he disputes Davis' assertion that he left Davis to the wolves at the hearing, saying he was ready to present the case if the driver had failed to show. "I quite honestly felt like Ken was going to lose his job at that panel," he says.

Next to collective bargaining, nothing is as close to the heart of a union's reason for being than its representation of workers. If the business agents are ineffective and employees lose confidence in them, the ability of the union to withstand management pressure can be seriously undermined. And a number of Teamsters say that since Hammond's ouster, the quality of their representation has severely deteriorated. "It's kind of like trying to run a mule at the Kentucky Derby," says Consolidated Freightways driver Tommie Jones of the business agents he considers ill-equipped to go toe-to-toe with management.

"Our office can't seem to get help from the union," says Emma Clardy, a clerical worker and steward at Consolidated Freightways. Clardy says the new staff members at Local 988 freely admit they're not familiar with the portion of the 1994 Master Freight Agreement covering office workers, and that the assistant shop steward resigned a couple of weeks ago in frustration.

Bill Groweg and others believe their companies are exploiting the disarray at Local 988 and the lack of experience among the business agents, an assertion that even Jim Buck acknowledges is true. "The employers seem to think that a trusteeship is an opportunity for them to screw everybody," Buck says. He says he's heard complaints about certain business agents and is investigating them case by case. "If I find the agent is not doing his job," he says, "I'll terminate him."

Buck, in fact, did fire two business agents last week, including Dennis Bankhead.

On the other hand, most of the disgruntled workers are also supporters of Richard Hammond, and it's not hard to find rank-and-file Teamsters who believe that they're better represented under Jim Buck than they ever were under the Hammond regime.

"It's totally different," says Rainbo Baking Company driver and steward James Johnson, who's currently under suspension for alleged union organizing at a grocery store he delivers to. "They are hearing every case," he adds, a contrast to the old days, when grievances would disappear without explanation. "Every grievance we file, they're there."

Roosevelt Yancey agrees, and he should know -- Yancey has been a Teamster for 48 years, and was the first full-time black driver hired at Rainbo. Before, he says, "People would walk through [the plant] and bat their eyes, and if they didn't like the way you batted, they'd fire you." Because of weak representation, he says, a number of members left the company, and new employees wouldn't join the union. In contrast, says Yancey, "I've been represented more since the trustee took over than I had [in years]."

To some extent, the difference in perception has as much to do with the skill of the individual business agent as with who's in power. "You're gonna have some people who are better than others," says staunch Hammond supporter Bobby McCoy, who admits that even before the takeover, disciplinary cases were lost that should have been won. "There's gonna be mistakes made."

But if a problem exists, the best way to solve it is with good communication between union staff and workers, something that the factional infighting has made almost impossible. Company supervisors, trying to further drive the wedge, have alternately suggested -- and workers have repeated -- that each side is in bed with management, a mortal sin to faithful Teamsters.

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.

But as Hammond explains the various purchases and withdrawals that are the heart of the indictment, it's clear his arguments have some gaping holes, though he says they'll be filled by the time he goes to trial (which is currently slated for November 5 but likely will be postponed until the new year).

Most shaky is his defense of the $24,320 in checks he wrote himself between June 1994 and September 1995 from the Teamsters DRIVE (Democrat and Republican Independent Voter Education) political action fund, which is stocked by voluntary member contributions. Hammond says that he deposited the checks in his personal bank account, then withdrew the same amounts in cash, which he distributed to judges and other candidates. The largest totaled $11,500.

Hammond argues that it's standard practice to give candidates cash, though such contributions would be illegal if they exceeded $100, even if they were disclosed in campaign finance reports. As Hammond told the panel at his internal union hearing in May, "It may not be legal, but it's a fact of life." And he says that he's unwilling to disclose the names of those candidates because they've been supportive of the Teamsters and he doesn't want to compromise them: "There's politicians, good people, that I'd rather not be involved with this."

Besides, Hammond claims, all the names of the candidates and the amounts they received were contained in a blue binder that was in the local's office when the trusteeship was imposed, a point he plans to make at trial. "There's at least three other people who knew it was there," he says.

The indictment charges that an additional $19,300 in DRIVE money was spent to maintain hunting leases for Hammond's use. An avid hunter, he says the money was a legitimate political expense, that he entertained various candidates and elected officials and thereby kept the Teamster name fresh and positive in their minds. Asked at the internal union hearing in May about a $6,000 payout to "The Game Preserve," Hammond replied that judges and state and county officials were taken there "so that we would have close association with those individuals."

Also difficult to defend will be Hammond's draining of a union Health and Welfare Trust Fund. Endowed by employer contributions and intended for distribution to workers to reimburse medical claims, the fund had been inactive since 1982 but still had more than $90,000 in it when Hammond fired the previous administrator, Floyd Forrest, in 1990. He paid himself a salary of $1,200 a month, about the same as Forrest had been paid, until the fund was empty.

Hammond insists that the payments, which were made in irregular installments ranging from $500 to $6,000, were perfectly legal. "We were paying somebody else to do it," he explains, and as local president he was the logical, if not the only, person who could assume the role of administrator after Forrest was fired. The irregular amounts, he says, covered expenses he paid from his own bank account to accountants and others who worked on the fund's books. That explanation seems a stretch, especially in light of the fact that Hammond paid himself more than $20,000 the first two months he was in charge.

Hammond may have a hard time justifying his self-appointment as legally valid. According to International Teamsters spokeswoman Nancy Stella, such a move would violate the federal Employee Retirement Income Securities Act, designed in part to protect such funds from plunder. In 1988, a court ruled that former Chicago Teamster boss Daniel Ligurotis had to give back $120,000 he paid himself to administer a Health and Welfare and another fund.

The allegations that Hammond rang up thousands of dollars in personal expenses on the local's American Express card may be tougher for the government to prove. From Jim Buck's sweeping laundry list that topped $190,000, the indictment has narrowed the amount to a little more than $66,000, though prosecutors have yet to release the list of exactly which $66,000 is at issue. Hammond says most of the hunting and electronic gear that makes up the bulk of the items purchased with the card was either given away at meetings or donated to area hunting groups as charitable contributions.

But while Hammond will produce witnesses to testify about multiple giveaways of guns, clothing and accessories, including a semiautomatic pistol, he may have a hard time convincing the jury that other charges were legitimate. Topping the list are $12,000 worth of repairs to cars registered to family members. Hammond says he used their vehicles on union business and paid for repairs resulting from that use. Why not use his own car? "There's been times you use different automobiles than you normally would use," he says vaguely.

Hammond did admit to running up one personal expense on the local's AmEx card, a trophy he ordered to commemorate his slaying of a rare grouse on a hunting trip to Siberia. He calls that charge an "accident."

And while not part of the indictment, the question of computer files may weigh negatively on Hammond's credibility. When trustee Jim Buck attempted to gain access to data on Hammond's desktop and laptop computers as well as several others at the union hall, he found his path blocked. According to Buck, an analysis showed that many of the files had been purposely deleted. Hammond says that he inadvertently erased files on his and another linked computer when he "attempted to install Windows [95] without doing something right, and I screwed it up." The glitch happened several days before the trusteeship was imposed, he says, and if any data was erased, it was probably Buck's doing. "When they say they lost all this information, that's bullshit."

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."

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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