When the federal government agreed last month to drop racketeering charges against the Teamsters Union, the deal was based on the union carrying out election reforms and cleaning up its gangster image. Yet the Teamsters seem to be up to their old tricks already.
A Detroit-area Teamsters official - twice convicted for union-related offenses - has quietly been named an international vice president of the union. The action raises serious questions about the union's pledge to carry out reforms.As the Deseret News indicated just a few weeks ago, the government deal with the Teamsters left a "lingering sense of unease" that the union was getting off too easily. The editorial said a public trial on racketeering charges might have resulted in a better, more thorough housecleaning.
Those fears seem to be borne out already with the appointment of George Vitale as an international vice president to fill an existing vacancy. The selection was made by Teamsters President William J. McCarthy without any public announcement.
Vitale, a former president of a Teamsters local in Michigan, was twice convicted in the early 1970s for accepting an illegal payment from a Teamsters employer and for illegal use of union funds. He was put on probation and allowed to keep his union job.
It's true those convictions happened some years ago and Vitale has not had problems since, but just the same, he is not exactly the "Mr. Clean" that the Teamsters badly need to fill a top office. The choice has already drawn fire from dissident Teamsters groups.
Part of the government's deal with the Teamsters calls for a court-appointed administrator who can review union actions and discipline Teamster officials. But that appointment has not yet been made.
When the new court-appointed monitor is named in the next few weeks, one of his first actions should be to take a hard look at the Vitale situation and see if the union is really living up to its pledge to improve its image. So far, the Teamsters don't seem to be trying very hard.