Chicago Teamster corruption protected by Hoffa

The books show that workers at Granja & Sons, a small printing company in Chicago, joined Teamsters Union Local 714, one of the union's most influential locals, in January 1998. But the reality is a bit more complex.

The company's four union members, as of a year ago, were the owner's daughter, two sons and another worker, and it paid their union dues, which violates U.S. labor law, according to federally-mandated union investigators.

At another company the Teamsters contract called for a starting wage that was $1 below the minimum wage at the time.

And at a metal recycling firm Teamsters business agents "knowingly ignored the company's widespread use" of non-union workers to do the work of the local's members.

These were among at least five "sham" contracts a federally mandated oversight panel found in a lengthy probe of Local 714's dealings.

The contracts were one of the reasons that the Independent Review Board urged Teamsters President James P. Hoffa on Aug. 30 to install new leaders of the 10,000-member local. Hoffa told the investigative group in late September that he had named Brian Rainville, the spokesman for the Chicago Area Joint Teamsters Council, as his representative to the local.

Recently the union said it would hold a hearing Nov. 28 to decide whether to place the local into trusteeship.

Rainville would not comment Monday, nor would Teamsters officials in Washington. Local 714 officials could not be reached. The oversight panel also said Local 714 officials skirted union rules to divert lucrative jobs at trade shows or on the crews for movies being filmed in Chicago to relatives.

Ed Stier, a former federal prosecutor who headed a cleanup effort of the local, said that the latest probe "basically confirms many of the things that we said in 2004."

Founded during the Great Depression by the late William Hogan Sr., Local 714 has long operated as a Hogan family dynasty.

In 1996 an oversight panel recommended that the local be placed under trusteeship, saying it operated for the benefit of the Hogans and their friends.

When the trusteeship was lifted in 1998 William Hogan Jr. returned in an election to again lead the local. He stayed in that job until the review board barred him in 2002 for taking part in a plot to drive down the wages and benefits of Las Vegas Teamsters.

Since then the local has been run by his son, Robert J. Hogan, as secretary-treasurer, and William Hogan's brother, James M. Hogan, as its president.

In 2003 the union's own anti-corruption unit recommended that Hoffa place the local under trusteeship, saying many problems that had surfaced previously still existed.

The recommendation came in a sweeping call by the anti-corruption unit for an in-depth look at wrongdoing and mob ties among Chicago-area Teamsters locals. But the group's report, which was never made public, was rejected by Teamsters officials. The Tribune obtained a copy of the report.

Angered by the decision to kill their probe, the anti-corruption unit, largely made up of former federal prosecutors and investigators, resigned.

Until then the union had held the unit up as a sign that it was cleaning up its ranks and no longer needed federal monitors.

In the latest probe investigators found one company where Local 714's members had not voted on the last two contracts, nor had they received pay increases agreed on in the pact.

At another firm, the investigators said, the contract called for a starting wage that was $1 below the minimum wage at the time. The contract did not provide for any retirement or pension benefit nor health insurance, according to the report.

In the case of General Iron Industries, a metal recycling firm in Chicago, the oversight investigators said that, after they raised questions about non-union workers doing Teamsters member work, the local briefly tried to organize the non-union workers. The effort failed, and one business agent told investigators that union representatives were not able to talk with many of the workers because the workers spoke Spanish.

Eventually, the local cut its ties with the company, leaving behind seven workers who had been Teamsters for over 20 years, the investigators said.

Dick Laner, an attorney for the company, disputed the investigators' claims, saying that the company had hired temporary workers for years and had written such a condition into a 1996 contract.

"I'm offended by the inference of some special deal," he said, adding that the local's leaders several years ago demanded that the company stop hiring temporary workers.

"We said no, they threatened to strike us, and for whatever reason they didn't," Laner said.

Similarly, the local walked away from its contract last year with Granja & Sons.

And though a business agent for the local told investigators that he regularly visited the printing firm, one of the four local members told probers that he had never seen him before.

Griselda Granja said what took place at her family's company was not their fault.

"It turned out that we got involved with the Teamsters wrongly," she said.

The daughter of the owner and founder said that her father, who does not speak English, was "misinformed" and "taken advantage of" by the local.

"His interest was to get more business," she said of Ignacio Granja, adding that the company's union ties did, indeed, produce more clients.


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