Teamster Woes Detailed Nationwide By Filmmakers
By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Correspondent and Shelley Murphy Globe Staff
July 8, 2000
Allegations of strong-arm tactics, mob ties, and favoritism in local Teamsters' dealings with the movie industry - being investigated by a federal grand jury - have been variously described as disturbing and overblown.
But one thing they apparently are not, union officials say, is unique.
An examination of Teamsters locals across the country reveals widespread problems with those who deal with movie and television productions, resulting in the suspension and firing of union officials, and even criminal charges.
In Boston, for example, a powerful member of Local 25 has allegedly intimidated movie officials into renting equipment from a company he runs on the side. Last year in Honolulu, a Teamster was convicted of torching trailers belonging to a rival rental company.
In Boston, disgruntled rank-and-file union members say lucrative film and TV work goes to a select group of members, many of whom have criminal records and ties to organized crime. Similar allegations have dogged local union officials in Florida, Texas, and Illinois, contributing to their locals being taken over by the international union.
Defenders of the union, including Teamster officials interviewed in recent weeks, have said the complaints stem for the most part from movie executives who are upset about the high salaries drivers on the set earn. George Cashman, president of Boston's Local 25, told the Globe last month that while he tries to be flexible with studios to encourage film production in Boston, he is unwilling to throw out the wage scales and other benefits covered in their contract.
Specialists say problems are rampant in the Teamsters' dealings with the movie industry because the glamorous and cushy jobs often are used to curry loyalty.
Those who get the jobs remain loyal to keep them; others, hopeful to one day make it onto the coveted movie lists, are cowed into silence.
"It's like a closed system that feeds on itself," said one local member of Teamsters For a Democratic Union, the reform faction of the 1.5 million-member union. "It becomes a retro-power center in the local, and it is only natural for that to connect with corruption and organized crime."
In a 1997 report to Congress, the Independent Review Board, a government-appointed watchdog group established as part of a civil settlement between the Teamsters and the Justice Department, apparently agreed.
In the case of Teamsters Local 714 in Chicago, a review board investigation found that nepotism and favoritism were the guiding criteria for assigning the best work controlled by the local.
Control of that work - the movie and trade-show business contributed to control of the 10,000-member local by members of one family, the review board report said. In fact, the board found that there hadn't been a contested election for a union office since at least 1961.
Other locals have had similar troubles, including Local 390 in Miami, which was placed into trusteeship by the international in 1996 because of alleged nepotism in the assigning of jobs on film and television shoots. The previous year, the president of Local 79 in Tampa was suspended for giving jobs to family members and friends.
In Dallas, meanwhile, the review board recommended putting Local 745 into trusteeship after finding that the premium work under the local's control was assigned on the basis of nepotism and favoritism. The review board also found that leading organized crime figures from the Midwest had infiltrated the union.
Closer to home, several members of the Teamster local in Rhode Island, who have criminal backgrounds or ties to organized crime, have landed jobs as drivers on major film productions in Massachusetts.
According to sources, at least four such members of Teamster Local 251 in Providence have been working on the set of "Osmosis Jones," a movie by the Farrelly brothers being shot in the Plymouth area.
They include Anthony Parrillo, who was paroled in 1993 after serving 16 years in the manslaughter death of two men. He also belonged to the Teamster crew that worked on the 1999 Farrelly production "Me, Myself, & Irene," according to documents.
In addition, other sources say Ronnie Carter, another member of Teamster Local 251 in Providence, who has been arrested on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, drunken driving, and possession of cocaine, also has worked on movie productions in Massachusetts.
Carter, who helped establish the Rhode Island chapter of the Hell's Angels, is one of several men with ties to the motorcycle gang or to organized crime who are caught up in an investigation of the Teamster Local 251 by Rhode Island authorities. The other two Teamsters from Local 251 in Providence who have worked on the "Osmosis Jones" set are Danny Allen, a close associate of Parrillo's who has been under investigation by Rhode Island authorities for allegedly fencing stolen property, and Jeff Chakoian, whose late brother had ties to the Patriarca crime family.
In a 1997 interview with WPRI-TV (Channel 12) in Providence, Stuart Mundy, president of Local 251, defended the practice of giving the highly paid positions of film crew drivers to individuals with criminal records. Parrillo was assigned such jobs based on his work record, not his criminal record, Mundy said.
Mundy did not return phone calls yesterday. Cashman, of Local 25 in Boston, also did not return phone calls.
A source familiar with the "Osmosis Jones" production said the four from Providence were among two dozen drivers for the movie who had been hired by Robert Martini, the Teamsters transportation coordinator on the set. The others were members of Local 25, the source said.