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Teamsters hearings focus on coercion during union election

October 14, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Current and former Teamsters officials testified Tuesday they were coerced into supporting union President Ron Carey’s re-election campaign last year.

At the opening session of a House subcommittee investigation into the 1996 contest between Carey and challenger James P. Hoffa, witnesses said they felt they had no choice but to contribute to Carey’s campaign.

``I was required to contribute $50 per month for nine months,″ said Barbara Dusina, a union organizer, who said she was also asked to buy tickets to fund-raisers and attend the union’s 1996 convention as an unelected delegate. ``There was an `unspoken’ message that if any staff person did not contribute, they would be unemployed after a Carey victory.″

Another witnesses told the House Education and the Workforce oversight subcommittee chaired by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., that two payments tied to an allegedly illegal scheme to fund Carey’s election were debated by top union officials. He also said Carey’s supporters maintained an ``enemies list″ of unfriendly local unions.

Richard Leebove, spokesman for Hoffa, said the testimony provided further evidence that federal oversight of the election ``has been a disgrace.″

Carey campaign spokesman John Bell dismissed the hearings, saying they were ``transparently an effort from the ... antilabor forces in America epitomized by the Jim Hoffa Jr. campaign.″

In June 1996, Dusina and Vince Hickman, who said he gave nearly $1,400 to the Carey campaign because he feared refusal could have cost him his job, were called to Washington at union expense to receive their convention assignments.

But instead of convention assignments, they said they were urged to attend a $250 a plate fund-raiser for Carey.

Teamsters officials said many of the charges raised Tuesday were remedied during last year’s election by the court-appointed overseer who threw out Carey’s victory, citing what federal officials describe the illegal scheme to swap union funds for donations to Carey.

Greg Mullenholz, who administered the union’s political action committee until this summer, testified that about $170,000 in union payments to Project Vote and the National Senior Citizens Council were originally blocked by the union’s No. 2 official, Aaron Belk.

Mullenholz testified that the payments ultimately were approved after an exchange of memos between his boss, union political affairs chief William Hamilton and Carey.

However, Mullenholz was unable to say exactly what Hamilton told Carey or whether Carey knew there was an ulterior motive behind the contributions, as federal prosecutors have alleged.

All the news wasn’t bad for Carey on Tuesday. In New York, an appeals officer agreed to consider a previously dismissed protest Carey had filed against Hoffa, alleging that Hoffa’s campaign benefited from improper funds.

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