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Ron Carey; Reformer Who Led Teamsters, Fought Corruption

Ron Carey, in a 1998 photo, appears at a Washington court for trial on his alleged involvement in an illegal Teamsters fundraising scheme. Mr. Carey was later acquitted but remained banned from union activities.
Ron Carey, in a 1998 photo, appears at a Washington court for trial on his alleged involvement in an illegal Teamsters fundraising scheme. Mr. Carey was later acquitted but remained banned from union activities. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ron Carey, 72, a labor leader elected Teamsters president as a firebrand reformer and in a controversial dispute years later banned for life from the union, died of lung cancer Dec. 11 at New York Hospital Queens.

Mr. Carey beat two old-guard opponents in 1991 to become president of what was then the nation's biggest, most-feared and most-corrupt union in its first direct election.

In an era of declining membership and years of setbacks for unions in workplace disputes, he led a 15-day national strike in 1997 against the delivery company UPS over its use of part-time workers.

The victory, which gave the 185,000 workers substantial pay increases, better pension benefits and the promise of 10,000 new full-time positions, was the labor movement's biggest victory in 30 years.

But within weeks of the UPS triumph, Mr. Carey was stripped of his office and charged with perjury over a grand jury investigation of improper fundraising in his 1996 reelection campaign for telling investigators he was not aware of the scheme.

A federal oversight panel barred him from running again for the office and ordered him not to participate in union matters for the rest of his life. A federal jury acquitted Mr. Carey on all counts in 2001, but the panel refused to remove the ban. A Teamsters spokesman yesterday refused to comment on Mr. Carey because of the ban.

Ken Crowe, a former journalist and author of a book on the Teamsters, called Mr. Carey "the most impressive labor leader I have ever seen."

"People accused Carey of being tied into organized crime, but that was a total lie," Crowe said. "Guys I knew [who were connected to the mob] hated Carey because he wouldn't go along with dirty deals."

His reputation for years was based on his identification with and support for the rank-and-file worker. As president of the international union, Mr. Carey cut his own salary to $175,000 from $225,000 and sold union-owned limousines, jets and a condominium in Puerto Rico. He also ended the practice of holding labor union conventions in Hawaii.

He lived for years in the same house in Queens, N.Y., and supporters noted that when he first ran for president, he earned less than the French chef in the Teamsters' Washington headquarters.

But when he turned his 1996 reelection campaign over to a team of political consultants, the team diverted $885,000 from the Teamsters treasury to groups that donated some of the money to his campaign. Several campaign aides were convicted in the scheme, and one testified against him in return for leniency.

Mr. Carey repeatedly denied knowledge of the arrangement, which led prosecutors to charge him with perjury. After his acquittal, still banned from engagement in the labor movement, Mr. Carey retired.


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