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Teamster Reformer Fired by University of Chicago

by staff |
February 24, 2005
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Chicago, IL - It wasn’t the usual lunch hour. Everyone that walked past the University of Chicago administration building saw it. Students, community activists, members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 73, the Illinois Nurses Association and the Teamsters Local 743 marching together, all united to fight for reform Teamster, Richard Berg.

Berg recently ran for president of the local union on the 743 New Leadership Slate, challenging the current officers. These old guard officials had become known for selling out to University of Chicago management. First, Local 743 officials and the University of Chicago Hospitals management colluded to try to prevent Berg from running, by kicking him out of the union. They brought him up on bogus internal union charges, but were foiled by the 743 New Leadership Slate (743NLS) legal team.

When this didn’t work, their efforts became more obvious. Old guard officials issued ballot box keys to themselves and stole hundreds of votes. This however was not enough because the workers voted against the old guard in such large numbers that Berg and the

743NLS won the election by a margin larger than what the old guard was able to steal.

Then, in true old-time Teamster mafia fashion, they canceled the election they had lost and held a new election. In this election they eliminated all safeguards and made sure they stole enough votes to ‘beat’ the 743 New Leadership Slate reformers.

But then the Local 743 sellouts and the University of Chicago Hospitals did something even more shameful. They colluded to have Richard Berg fired from his job of 16 years at the University of Chicago Hospitals. “UCH management and Local 743 are always making deals behind our back and Richard calls them on it,” said environmental service worker Chantell Harlin, “That’s why they wanted to get rid of him.”

Berg was starting to become a national figure in the Teamsters. Together with Tony Caldera, secretary treasurer of the 743NLS, he led a delegation to the last International Teamster Convention. There Berg and other reformers spoke out against General President Jimmy Hoffa’s dues increase. “We opposed their fat salaries and believe me, they didn’t like it,” said 743NLS delegate Esmerelda Cuevas.

Berg has been an active player in the national teamster reform movement headed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). TDU supported reform candidate Tom Leedham in his bid to unseat Hoffa in the last Teamster national election. Because of his leadership role, Teamsters from around the country elected Berg to TDU’s leading body, their International Steering Committee.

“They don’t want Richard to run against them anymore because they know that they can never beat us unless they cheat,” said Tony Caldera, “and lately they have been getting caught cheating a lot.” Caldera’s comments are borne out by the fact that the Department of Labor has subpoenaed all the documents from the most recent elections that the old guard Local 743 officials stole. The Department of Labor investigation could still lead to Berg taking office.

The picket line in front of the University of Chicago administration building wasn’t just about Richard Berg. The university had disrespected their students, their workers and the surrounding Black community. These movements were starting to come together. “When they attack Brother Berg they attack all union workers,” said Randy Evans, a member of SEIU Local 73. “He understands the need to fight for workers’ rights, not just to accept the cuts management keeps demanding.”

“When the students organized against the war, Richard and the 743NLS were there. When the community organized against the University’s gentrification efforts, when SEIU Local 73 or the Nurses union were fighting for a better contract, Richard and the 743 NLS were there. Now we need to be there for them,” said recent U of C graduate and community activist Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle.

“The great abolitionist Frederick Douglas taught us that power concedes nothing without a demand,” said Berg. “We are even stronger when we make our demands together.”

Berg gave special praise to the Students Organized and United with Labor (SOUL). He noted that the students uniting with university workers especially disturbed management.

To support Richard Berg, you can sign the online petition at The 743 New Leadership Slate will post other calls for support at that site.

Contributions to Berg’s legal defense can be sent to Chicago Labor Support Committee, P.O. Box 805104, Chicago, IL  60680.