When a union’s president and a close associate wind up in federal prison, there aren’t too many places for its new leadership to go but up. Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters during the Nineties and the early part of this decade had been the scourge of the Boston area. Led by current President Sean O’Brien, the local wants to expand membership. For the time being, it has its eye on an independent municipal employees’ union in Somerville, Mass. In an August 17 letter to members of the Somerville Municipal Employee Association (SMEA), O’Brien wrote that his union “has been approached by a large number of your fellow city employees who are very unhappy with the leadership of SMEA.” The association, which includes school nurses, clerical workers, traffic clerks and other public-sector employees, seems warm to the idea.
In his letter, O’Brien revealed that the 250-member SMEA has been working for a year without a new contract, and that the City of Somerville has created a new collective bargaining unit without soliciting association advice. City Personnel Director Richard Tranfaglia confirmed that “negotiations are ongoing,” but added that no new collective bargaining units had been created. Local 25, like any union, wants new members. Still, it has to grapple with an image problem. The local’s former president, George Cashman, pled guilty in April 2003 to extortion and embezzlement in connection with the diversion of funds from a union benefit plan. He was ordered to serve a two-year, 10-month federal prison sentence and pay a $30,000 fine. A union contractor, trucking company owner Thomas DiSilva, also pleaded guilty that month. The local might want to put the Somerville employees in a comfort zone before moving ahead. (Boston Herald, 8/21/07).