When the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Justice Department agreed last January to replace the tight government oversight established over 25 years earlier with union self-regulation, the terms called for phasing out the federal role over five years rather than lifting it all at once. Dues-paying members may be grateful for such a precaution. This February 10, the court-approved monitoring agency known as the Independent Review Board (IRB) issued a report charging Northern California Teamster leader Rome Aloise with various acts of corruption, including racketeering and influence-peddling. Nearly two weeks later, Hoffa, after reviewing the report, filed charges against Aloise with the union disciplinary board. Aloise has run for election on the Hoffa slate. But loyalty alone might not be enough to save his job.
The Washington, D.C.-based Teamsters have been a ward of the Independent Review Board since that three-member body was launched in 1992 in the wake of the March 1989 settlement of a Justice Department racketeering lawsuit. There was good reason for the suit. For some three decades the Teamsters had operated as a virtual mob subsidiary. A succession of general presidents – Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Fitzsimmons, Roy Williams and Jackie Presser – and allied executive board members worked with organized criminals and did their bidding. The suit, filed in 1988, cited “a pattern of racketeering that included 20 murders, a number of shootings, bombings, beatings and a campaign of fear.” The IRB, armed with broad powers to investigate allegations of corruption and to expel guilty parties, would ensure that the IBT and its affiliates would walk a straight and narrow path. The board still has an active workload. And Rome Aloise is a big reason why.
Rome Aloise arguably is the most powerful Teamster official in Northern California. He’s head of the San Leandro (Alameda County)-based Local 853, president of District Council 7, and a vice president of the international union. His combined salary in 2014 from these entities was slightly over $300,000. In addition, he is director of the Teamsters’ Food Processing and Dairy Divisions. And he is a trustee of a number of Teamster benefit plans. The Independent Review Board isn’t impressed. On February 10, the board released a 122-page report (not including letters, e-mails and other exhibits) accusing Aloise of multiple misuses of power. Its “Recommendation” section read: “The Independent Review Board recommends to the IBT General Executive Board that charges be filed against Rome Aloise, an International Vice President, President of Joint Council 7, and principal officer of Local 853, for requesting and receiving things of value from IBT employers…allowing an ineligible person to obtain membership…and entering into sham collective bargaining agreements. The IRB charged Aloise with “(engaging in) a pattern of misconduct designed to prevent a fair officer election in (Stockton, Calif.-based) Local 601,” and “failing to act to end a Local officer’s known failure to comply with instructions from the General Secretary-Treasurer’s office for political reasons.”
The IRB's allegations are specific. They include the following:
- During contract negotiations, Aloise used his position as a union official to pressure union employers into hiring relatives with a troubled background. He especially put the heat on Costco and UPS to hire his stepson, Rico Valledor, not a union member, who was facing charges for assault, robbery and displaying a weapon. Aloise also pressured SWS (Southern Wine and Spirits) to hire a cousin, Mark Covey.
- Aloise solicited six tickets worth a combined $9,600 from SWS to the Playboy Super Bowl Party of 2013 for Hoffa’s executive assistant, W. C. Smith. As a quid pro quo, he helped SWS “keep a troublesome local official in line with the company’s expectations,” which caused Minneapolis-St. Paul-area Teamsters Local 792 to accept a below-quality contract. Aloise allegedly reported to the SWS attorney: “Hoffa’s Ex Asst and his friends loved it!
- Aloise financed and coordinated an illegal campaign against members of Local 601 who ran for office against an Aloise ally, Ashley Alvarez. Aloise allegedly used union funds and worked with out-of-state vendor and Hoffa ally, Richard Leebove, CEO of RL Communications, to deny rank-and-file members certain rights during the campaign. Toward this end, he allegedly enlisted the help of the Oakland-based union law firm of Beeson Tayer & Bodine. Aloise also boasted to the IRB about advising Alvarez to illegally distribute leaflets that read, “That’s my political advice,” which were signed by one opponent attacking another opponent.
- Aloise signed a sham contract in return for providing health benefits for Charles Bertucio, a principal in the investment firm, The GrandFund, which assists clients in selling financial products to union benefit funds. Aloise and Bertucio long have been close. Since March 2004, Aolise’s Local 853 has had a collective bargaining agreement in force with The GrandFund. Even before, in 2003, Aolise intervened to stop IBT General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall from banning Teamster affiliates from doing business with Bertucio, plus a business Bertucio was assisting. Bertucio, moreover, was a Teamster member as of 2012, despite being ineligible, as specified under the bargaining agreement, the Teamster Constitution and local bylaws.
Aloise claims these and other alleged actions were nothing out of the ordinary; they simply were standard procedures of doing business found in any union. But the details suggest that he faces an uphill and expensive battle in effectively making his case.
Will these and other charges lead to Aloise’s dismissal? In its cover letter, the Independent Review Board indicated to the Teamster General Executive Board that it had 90 days in which to file charges, hold a hearing, and forward a final report to the IRB. Failure to do so may be considered noncooperation. Aside from Aloise’s alleged wrongdoing, however, is an even larger issue: Was President Hoffa aware of the alleged acts? The IRB report does not make insinuations here. But it would be an act of naivete to deny such a possibility. Even with federal oversight, bending the rules appears to be a Teamster trademark.