Rome Aloise seemingly behaved as though nothing happened the first time around. It may be a lot harder for him this time. On February 14, independent investigator Joseph E. diGenova issued a critical memorandum citing the San Francisco Bay Area Teamster leader’s “methodical and Machiavellian steps” to maintain power all but in name during a two-year suspension. The alleged steps included extortion and unauthorized participation in contract talks. The report sets the stage for a union Executive Board hearing and a review officer ruling. Aloise, an international vice president as well as a local and district boss, called the report “an insidious and incessant violation of my rights.” The diGenova memo came just three days before the union was freed from more than 30 years of federal control.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), with some 1.4 million members, in March 1989 became a ward of the U.S. government with the settlement of a civil racketeering suit. The complaint was justified. For at least three decades, the IBT had operated virtually as a branch office for organized crime syndicates, and with tacit or overt approval from a succession of general presidents. The RICO complaint, originally brought forth by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, cited “a pattern of racketeering that included 20 murders, a number of shootings, bombings, beatings and a campaign of fear.” The settlement with the Department of Justice put the union under the supervision of U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska. A new three-member entity, the Independent Review Board (IRB), went into operation in 1992, armed with broad powers to investigate corruption, expel guilty persons, approve appointments and oversee union elections.
Teamster leaders bristled but were hamstrung. Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, who took office in 1999, bitterly opposed this arrangement but was unable to sway the DOJ in the union’s direction. The fact was that the Teamster cleanup program was well short of complete. According to then-Teamster internal reform chief and former federal prosecutor Ed Stier, Hoffa and his people not only hadn’t finished the reform process, but by 2004 weren’t even cooperating. Eventually, the Justice Department approved a plan for independence in January 2015. IRB control over the Teamsters would be phased out over five years contingent upon the union establishing necessary anti-corruption safeguards. A little over two weeks ago, on February 17, federal control ended, although there would be some residual oversight. For the first time in over three decades, the union did not need permission to conduct everyday business.
The decision to impose disciplinary action now was in the hands of Independent Review Officer Barbara Jones. On December 22, 2017, Jones suspended Aloise from all Teamster activity for two years. By the end of last December, having served his penance, he was ready to assume his duties again. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that he remained the de facto IBT leader in the Bay Area despite his “suspension.” That was the conclusion of Teamsters Independent Investigations Officer Joseph diGenova. In a 31-page memorandum issued on February 14, diGenova, a Reagan-era U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, concluded that Rome Aloise continued to exert control over union affairs in unethical and possibly criminal ways. The report specifically alleges that he unduly influenced union members and engaged in what might have been extortion. Aloise denies the charges, claiming they are based on “unsubstantiated information” brought forth by political opponents. The evidence seems to tell a different story.
Back in February 2016, the Independent Review Board had issued a 122-page report charging Aloise with various acts of official misconduct. Nearly two weeks later, President Hoffa, after reviewing the evidence, filed charges with the IRB against Aloise. The two had been longtime allies, but Hoffa felt that he needed to take action given the looming possibility of the government extending its control beyond the five-year limit. Aloise is a major Teamster wheel in the San Francisco-Oakland area. He served as president of the San Leandro (Alameda County)-based Local 853, president of District Council 7, one of several vice presidents of the international union, and a trustee of various benefit plans. Allegations against him included: pressuring employers into hiring relatives with a troubled background; soliciting Super Bowl party tickets in return for imposing a subpar contract on a Minnesota local; conducting an illegal election campaign against a rival local; and signing a sham contract in exchange for steering a health benefit plan to a well-connected third party. The evidence was sufficient enough for Officer Jones to issue a two-year suspension.
But was it a suspension in practice? According to the diGenova report, it wasn’t. Following his exile in December 2017, investigators say, Aloise frequently participated in collective bargaining sessions and even led a few. He also made heavy use of email in communicating with other members. Aloise allegedly sent about 1,040 emails to members of Local 853, and hundreds more to members of another local and to IBT headquarters in Washington, D.C. during his suspension. In one email, he mentioned a meeting he had planned with Hoffa over how to organize drivers who work for ridesharing services Uber and Lyft. Union spokeswoman Kara Deniz said that the meeting never took place, but the mere fact of its scheduling was a violation of his suspension agreement. To cap it off, Aloise in November 2019 ran unopposed for principal officer of Local 853. That was a month before the suspension ended.
The extortion accusation likewise appears credible. Back in April 2019, alleges the diGenova report, Aloise threatened a union-affiliated nonprofit organization, Instituto Laboral de la Raza, with economic harm if it didn’t revoke an honorary award intended for Rick Hicks, president of Teamsters Joint Council 28, at a banquet. Aloise apparently was upset that Hicks refused to use the council office for the event out of fear that his (Aloise’s) presence would violate the terms of his suspension. The threat paid off. The nonprofit group revoked the award, and turnout for the event was lower than expected. Leaving aside the objectionable purpose of the awards dinner – promoting labor rights for immigrants who may be in this country illegally – Aloise’s actions in this instance likely constituted extortion under state and federal law. The diGenova memo read: “The conduct is particularly troubling because Aloise’s threats do not appear to have been motivated by simple political rivalry, but rather as a direct retaliation for good faith efforts to comply with the IRO’s [Independent Review Officer’s] order.”
The irony of the diGenova memo is that on February 17 – only three days after the memo’s release – the government formally relinquished its role in Teamster operations. This was the final act of the five-year phaseout plan established in January 2015. The Justice Department had announced at the time that organized crime’s influence over the union “has long been expunged.” This statement was accurate. Whatever the lingering corrupt outside influences, they paled before the mobster domination during the 1950s through the 1980s. Moreover, the union was more democratic. Local union members now elect delegates to Teamster conventions, an arrangement that contrasts with the old days when delegates were appointed by local chieftains. That said, the case of Rome Aloise underscores the reality that bad behavior within the Teamsters is not extinct.