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Ousted Teamsters Officers Ask to Stay On

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Ousted Teamsters Officers Ask to Stay On

Teamsters Local 743 organizer Makia Burns led a picket last fall at SK Hand Tool Corp. The local’s president, Richard Berg, says the union has been more aggressive with employers since he took office two years ago. (Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)

The leadership of one of Illinois’s largest Teamsters locals is up in the air.

Teamsters Local 743 represents about 11,000 workers, many at hospitals of Chicago-area universities.

Two years ago, a slate led by Richard Berg and Eugenia Alvarez unseated Local 743 leaders accused of selling drugs on union property and rigging the local’s elections. Berg and Alvarez say since then the local has been more aggressive with employers.

Ambi: Chanting.

Last year they led a 10-week strike that restored health insurance at a Chicago tool-making plant.

Teamsters Joint Council 25 spokesman Brian Rainville says Berg and Alvarez also violated Local 743 rules last year when they signed a check to a fired union staffer.

RAINVILLE: In order to spend the $20,000, the board had to approve it, and it was not approved.

Rainville says Berg also improperly denied union membership to some of the local’s business agents.

Berg and Alvarez dispute the charges.

But Monday, the joint council suspended them from the union -- Berg for five years, Alvarez for three. If the punishment holds, the two will lose their Local 743 posts and a chance to be reelected this year. Rainville says politics has played no role in the case.

RAINVILLE: The people who made the charges are political allies of Richard Berg. These are the people who ran together as a group two years ago.

That team started splintering shortly after taking office. Berg’s explanation is that some staffers didn’t want to follow through on campaign promises.

BERG: We said we were going to cut the salaries and perks for officers and put it to work for members. And, when we took office, I and Secretary Treasurer Alvarez did exactly that.

Berg says even if he and Alvarez had broken the rules, they wouldn’t deserve the boot.

BERG: The people that were in office before us got caught dealing drugs out of the union hall, stealing union elections. The federal government prosecuted and put these guys in jail.

But he says the Teamsters hierarchy had turned a blind eye and left them in office.

Berg and Alvarez are asking the union’s international chief to let them stay while they appeal. A statement from Teamsters headquarters in Washington says President James P. Hoffa will consider the evidence and the interests of the Local 743 membership.

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