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A few days after she announced she would challenge the incumbent president of the nation's largest Teamsters local last fall, Eunice Rodriguez drove from her Bronx home to a strategy session at a Greenwich Village church.
Near the end of her trip, she noticed that she was being followed by a van driven by two top aides to Carroll Haynes, the man she was seeking to unseat.
She tried to dismiss the idea that they were tailing her, but she watched in the rearview mirror as the van pulled up behind her on Waverly Place. When she came out later to feed the meter, the van was still there, double-parked nearby.
"It spooked me, that's for sure," said Rodriguez, a former school safety officer who is now the local's recording secretary. "I almost got into accidents over the next few days looking over my shoulder as I drove."
The incident was later included in a 24-page complaint filed this spring in federal court by Rodriguez and her running mate, Nicholas Mancuso, who serves as secretary-treasurer of the 23,000-member Teamsters Local 237, which represents city workers ranging from janitors to lawyers.
The alleged tail-job, they said in the complaint, was just one part of an effort by Haynes to squelch the threat posed by two top local officials seeking to defeat him in elections scheduled for this fall. In addition, they said, Haynes had assigned a union-paid lawyer to work full-time on his re-election campaign, and had created a flying squad of loyal members to track down the dissidents whenever they gather at work.
Haynes dismissed those claims as "ridiculous," and has asked that the lawsuit be thrown out. It's all just part of his opponents' attempt to garner pre-election publicity, he said. As for the challenge to his rule by two people he has worked with for years, he is "disappointed but not alarmed" by their candidacies, he said. "This is a democratic union. When I get bitter, I think about peoples' rights," said Haynes.
Defeating incumbent union bosses at the polls is almost as hard, and about as rare, as ousting any other entrenched elected official. With their hands on the perks and powers of their office, sitting leaders can reward supporters and punish dissenters. And while even Rodriguez's supporters give her no better than even odds in her quest, it's clear that this election bid is the strongest yet against Haynes, who has long been the quiet man of municipal labor.
Installed as president of Local 237 in 1993, Hayneswho is called Carltook over from a fiery outspoken union leader who never seriously considered that Haynes or anyone else would ever replace him, let alone fill his shoes. Barry Feinstein made a reputation as a firebrand in the 1970s fiscal crisis when he had his bridge-tender members pull up their drawbridges and walk away, snarling traffic in all directions. Feinstein settled down after that, making alliances of political convenience with everyone from former Democratic presidential aspirant Jesse Jackson to Republican U.S. senator Alfonse D'Amato.
At the same time, Feinstein got a taste for the high life, with the union paying for a poshly furnished East Side apartment decorated with Chinese silk wall coverings and Oriental rugs. Feinstein, a Dutchess County resident, said the apartment was available for any union official who needed to stay late in Manhattan for business. But when Haynes, who lives in West-chester County and was then Feinstein's No. 2, was asked under oath if he had ever had occasion to use it or even visit, he mumbled that he hadn't.
Charged with fiscal abuses, Feinstein was later ousted from the union altogether by the Teamsters' court-appointed overseer, and Haynes picked up the local's reins. But whereas Feinstein was like a one-man car alarm, blaring loudly on virtually every issue, Haynes has been silent and all but invisible.
Even though his union, like those of the cops, teachers, and firefighters, is still without a labor contract from the city, he declined to take part in last month's massive downtown rally that brought some 60,000 city workers into the streets outside City Hall.
"They asked me to participate; I could have participated, but it didn't serve my purpose. This union isn't the rah-rah type of organization; we do our thing quietly and efficiently," he said last week.
The approach hasn't hurt his labor career. In addition to the presidency of Local 237, Haynes serves as an international vice president of the Teamsters, director of its public employees division, executive board member of the national AFL-CIO, and vice president of the citywide Central Labor Council.
All told, Haynes, 70, pulls in multiple salaries that make him the highest paid local municipal labor leader at $303,000. Despite the high income, he has avoided the ostentatious lifestyle that sank Feinstein. When the Daily News ran a two-page feature in March trumpeting the vast gap between Haynes's own earnings and the $24,000 his lowest-paid members receive, it focused on his five-bedroom Tudor-style home in New Rochelle worth some $725,000. But as Haynes points out, he has lived there since 1980, when he and his wife bought it for $120,000. "We live in a nice neighborhood; the market went up," he said.