The Prosecution and Persecution of Ron Carey
Yet the I.R.B.'s history does not bode well for Carey. In more than 200 cases, the board has almost always validated the charges at hand; this has usually led to the accused being tossed out of his position or the union. Even if Carey triumphed with the I.R.B., that would not necessarily affect the Conboy decision to disqualify him from the election rerun, now scheduled for this summer. At best, a favorable I.R.B. decision would permit Carey to serve out his term, claim vindication and remain a Teamster. (The I.R.B. decision might also influence whether the U.S. Attorney seeks an indictment of Carey.) Unlike their mood at the end of the first I.R.B. hearing, Carey's lawyers and supporters were buoyant when Nash left the stand. It was probably the best day Carey had seen in a year.
The I.R.B. and Conboy charges do raise a criticism Carey cannot escape: The Teamsters scandal happened on his watch. Repeatedly, Carey's defenders have portrayed him as a big-picture leader who delegates details to others. He was constantly on the move, often on the road and hard to reach. But it was in this environment--with hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing to and fro--that a small band was able to hijack the funds of the members, with or without Carey's participation. Ultimately, Carey does share responsibility. As the union election rules note, "Ignorance by a candidate...[that union funds] were used to promote a candidacy shall not constitute a defense." The I.R.B. could find him uninvolved in the swap scheme and still whack him for failing in his fiduciary obligations. Malfeasance or nonfeasance--that is the question, and it's not a good choice for Carey.
The Ron Carey saga is a sad one. He is a thirty-year veteran of the Teamsters wars who, with the backing of a rank-and-file movement, transformed a sleazy union into a revitalized force. Yet he has not been a figure to which progressives can easily rally. The rules have rendered it difficult for him to fight back, and his side has been ineffective in bringing his version to public attention--a difficult task when his defense rests on I-don't-recall. But since the Teamsters scandal will continue to have reverberations for the labor movement and U.S. politics, it is important to understand that the affair may be a tale of political consultants perverting a union--and not one of traditional, top-down union corruption. If there is a lesson to be lifted from this mess, it is this familiar chestnut: Those who challenge the status quo have to be damn careful. Carey took on powerful forces, in and out of the union, and his foes were forever on the lookout for ammunition. In 1994, the old guard within the Teamsters drew up a memo on how to bring down Carey--"we have to go after his clean image," it urged--and today it seems as if their master plan succeeded. By slip or by crook, Carey made it easy for others to discredit him and, consequently, the entire union and the labor movement. And being railroaded does not change that.