Ron Carey's downfall Teamsters president: Leader made people remember, not forget, union's troubled past.


RON CAREY could have been the Teamsters' savior. He rose to union president as the honorable reformer who would redeem the powerful labor organization from its inglorious past. His mission was to vanquish the images of Jimmy Hoffa and mob connections that tarnished victories the Teamsters won for American workers.

But instead of saving the Teamsters, Mr. Carey now has deepened the union's poor image. Federal officials found that his campaign for re-election illegally used more than $700,000 from his union's treasury last year. A federal election officer Monday ruled that Mr. Carey was aware of the illegal diversions.

It is difficult to imagine a worse time for this judgment, which disqualifies Mr. Carey from a rerun of the Teamsters' election that he won in February with illegal advantages.

Organized labor finally had some momentum after decades of watching its influence and stature wane. Mr. Carey brought optimism to the Teamsters even before he delivered labor its biggest victory in years with the favorable settlement of the United Parcel Service strike.

Unfortunately, the cloud of scandal threatens to hover while federal prosecutors continue their investigation into this matter in which Mr. Carey put personal ambition ahead of the Teamsters' welfare. If he cares about the union's credibility, he will step aside immediately and make room for a true reformer.

The union clearly needs an alternative to James P. Hoffa, the son of the former Teamsters president, whom Mr. Carey defeated in February but is a candidate in the election rerun. Mr. Hoffa's connection to the old system will not restore public confidence in labor.

The Teamsters don't need a savior, but one more fresh start. An effective advocate for workers -- who will steer clear of trouble -- can provide that.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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