October 28, 2004

Local 743 elections move forward amid negotiations

While Local 743 remains in contract negotiations with the University, members of the union have another concern to deal with—their leadership elections.

There has been a recent groundswell of support among the workers of Local 743, a branch of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters consisting of 1,100 members employed at the University since the 1970s, for an overthrow of the current officials, led by Robert Walston. An investigation into Walston's administration, the Chicago Tribune reported last week, has resulted in serious allegations of corruption linked with mob influence, kick-backs, and underhanded job-shifting schemes.

A group of union members who hope to turn the tides for the Teamsters Union in Chicago have been working hard to bring reform to the current administration. Richard Berg, a housekeeper and member of Local 743 at the University of Chicago Hospitals since 1989, is the New Leadership Slate's current presidential candidate.

The election broke into scandal when the votes of a group of workers from Silver Capital, the same group that initiated the campaign for union leadership reform, were challenged. The administration initially said that they would recognize the votes that had been challenged, but after checking the current tally, officials changed their minds and decided to hold a new election entirely.

New Leadership Slate candidate Berg was up by seven votes at the time Silver Capital's votes were challenged. It has been strongly suggested that the new election was a tactic of the current administration in an attempt to buy time, gather support, and avoid Berg's victory.

"We won this election," Berg told Chicago Independent Media Center. "They are trying to steal it [but] we won't let them profit from their own theft."

Here at the University, many students have been involved in the fight for union regime change through a group called Students Organized United with Labor (SOUL). SOUL spokesperson Miranda Nelson offered some insight to the group's most important work.

"We try to work in solidarity with the unions on campus," she said. "We talk to them about what they're doing and what they need from us." Nelson commented that the most help they can provide is often to disseminate literature and help raise awareness about what is happening with union negotiations and elections.

Nelson said that SOUL supports the New Leadership Slate. "We're trying to help them in their election fight, because we think they're a much more progressive branch of the Union," she said. "We've been going into the dorms and dining halls and encouraging people to cast a ballot for change."

In the meantime, the fight for a fair election process continues. Students who wish to get involved may join SOUL's listhost by contacting Miranda Nelson at or visit the Teamsters New Leadership Slate Web site at for updates and information on rallies.