Challenge to a Quiet Boss

Flying squads, charges of dirty tricks by incumbent plague a teamster local election

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.

The challenger: Eunice Rodriguez
photo: Drew Tillman
The challenger: Eunice Rodriguez

"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, Haynes—who is called Carl—took 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.

The bigger issue haunting Haynes, one that resonates with many of those low-earning members, is just how hard he is working for them. Even after the city's labor negotiators announced that any union that didn't get to the bargaining table by July 1 would have to provide even deeper concessions than those already agreed to by the biggest municipal union, District Council 37, Haynes simply left town.

He spent a week in Atlantic City at the union's annual shop stewards' conference (where supporters and aides openly promoted his re-election bid), and then took off for another week's vacation. "I get a vacation and I took it," said Haynes. "I was exhausted." As for not being at the table, he said he had already made his decision not to accept the DC 37 contract and was only waiting for an opportunity, as he put it, "to put my nuances in the package" he hopes to win from the city.

Yet last month's trips followed at least four others he took earlier this year to attend conferences in Florida and Las Vegas (each with high-level junket value) associated with his Teamster and AFL-CIO posts.

"He's just not minding the store," said Rodriguez, 54. "The clock is ticking and he's not there representing us."

Rodriguez's strongest base of support is among the 4,000 school safety officers, who staged a tiny but loud 24-person rally outside Local 237's offices last week. "We can't find Carl Haynes when it comes to fighting to make our jobs better," said John Daniels, a school guard for 15 years. "We can't even communicate with the police department on our radios. They tell us to call 911. We ask where's Carl Haynes, and it turns out he's in Florida."

As Rodriguez and other dissidents passed a bullhorn back and forth, a group of Haynes loyalists in blue T-shirts who call themselves the Local 237 Street Team tried to drown them out with their own shouting. The Street Team, which has its own van and banner, is a group created last year after Rodriguez and Mancuso announced their defections. The group is a constant presence at dissident meetings with the membership, loudly denouncing Rodriguez and her allies. "They show up whenever we are trying to speak to members and start screaming," said school safety officer Mike Waldo.

Haynes insisted he has nothing to do with the group. "That's a rank-and-file group. I have no control over that," he said.

But the flying squad tactic began shortly after Haynes won the services of one of Teamster national president Jim Hoffa's top guns, international representative George Geller. Haynes said Geller was assigned to Local 237 to work as a research director on child care issues. But child care is hardly Geller's specialty. He served as Hoffa's election lawyer and campaign adviser, helping shape a strategy that brought down disgraced former Teamsters reform president Ron Carey.

A former follower of zany political extremist Lyndon LaRouche, Geller has long served as a consultant for members of the Teamster old-guard leadership trying to fight off incursions by dissidents. Geller declined to comment on his role in Local 237, but his presence there underscores the importance that Haynes holds for Hoffa, who is worried that Local 237 and its votes could fall into the hands of rivals in New York.

Rodriguez and Mancuso said they have protested unfair tactics to Hoffa's office, but so far haven't heard back.

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