Next week brings an unwelcome conjunction of events for the AFL-CIO hierarchy in general and Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka in particular. At the labor federation's executive counsel meeting Oct. 11 in Los Angeles, Trumka will press hard for an immediate presidential endorsement of Vice President Al Gore. On the next day, when a labor-Democratic Party federal corruption trial begins in New York City district court, Trumka will be praying just as hard that he is not involved.
The offstage actor in both events is Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. The reason the AFL-CIO brass has to work so aggressively for the Gore endorsement is that the Teamsters support that would have gone automatically to the vice president was withdrawn immediately when Hoffa was elected president nearly a year ago. The New York trial charges a money-laundering conspiracy aimed at keeping Hoffa out of power.
Hoffa and his friends, occupying the Teamsters palace on Capitol Hill, threaten the cozy partnership between the Democratic Party and big labor. Indeed, they are still bitter about plotting between the White House and AFL-CIO that rigged the 1996 election to keep Hoffa out power. The Teamsters don't figure they can block the Gore endorsement, but they want no part of it.
Gore is desperate for help from his friends in labor. Moving his headquarters to Nashville and challenging Bill Bradley to a series of debates betray weakness. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney wants to endorse the vice president, and the heat has been applied to recalcitrants by Trumka and Gerald McEntee, head of the big government workers' union.
But the United Auto Workers have not been charmed by Gore's long-standing vendetta against the internal combustion engine, and its president, Stephen Yokich, has held back from endorsing the vice president. So have the painters and electricians.
Trumka's high-profile activity for Gore pins down Teamster non-support. In November 1997, a court-appointed master ruled that Trumka had improperly raised $50,000 for then-Teamsters President Ron Carey's 1996 reelection, which defeated Hoffa but was voided by court order. Trumka then invoked the Fifth Amendment in refusing to cooperate with the federal government's investigation. Sweeney did not ask for Trumka's resignation, reversing an AFL-CIO practice of 40 years.
According to Justice Department sources, Trumka has been in the investigative spotlight, and though not officially targeted, he could become involved in the New York City trial scheduled to begin Oct. 12.
Just how far afield that trial goes is up to the defendant: William Hamilton, the Teamsters' political director during the Carey regime. He is charged with orchestrating the money-laundering conspiracy intended to swap inflated contributions to the Democratic Party in return for funds to reelect Carey. He has been under intense pressure to make a plea bargain by testifying against other conspirators. The master's report also has McEntee improperly sending $20,000 to the Teamsters, but he is not a prosecutorial target.
A government source says that if Hamilton is to avoid the possibility of a prison term, his best bet would be to "give up" Trumka. If he did, it might be too late to save from prosecution even someone so close to the Clinton-Gore political apparatus as Trumka.
Thus, the voiding of Carey's 1996 election and Hoffa's victory in the 1998 special election pose long-term consequences for the labor-Democratic marriage. The new Teamsters leader rejected a feeler from Pat Buchanan to be his vice-presidential running mate on the Reform ticket. But Hoffa has signaled he likes Buchanan because they share the same views on NAFTA and Mexican long-haul trucking.
The Republican front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, also has good relations with Hoffa and opposes a continuation of court-ordered supervision over the Teamsters. So the Teamsters say no to Al Gore and secretly hope the money-laundering case actually does go to trial.
(c) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.