What Are Clinton and Obama’s Positions On Lifting the Consent Decree on the Teamsters?

By Saira Anees

May 5, 2008 11:14am

Comes in the Wall Street Journal today a story about Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, the Teamsters-endorsed candidate, "privately telling the union he supported ending the strict federal oversight imposed to root out corruption…It’s an unusual stance for a presidential candidate. Policy makers have largely treated monitoring of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as a legal matter left to the Justice Department since an independent review board was set up in 1992 to eliminate mob influence in the union."

"Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed the candidate’s position in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, saying that Sen. Obama believes that the board ‘has run its course,’ because ‘organized crime influence in the union has drastically declined.’ Mr. Vietor said Sen. Obama took that position last year."

John Coli, vice president for the Teamsters central region, tells the Journal Obama was "’pretty definitive that the time had come to start the beginning of the end’ of the three-member independent review board that investigates suspect activity in the union…Sen. Clinton was ‘more wishy-washy’ than Sen. Obama in discussions on the issue, said Mr. Coli."

In Clinton’s Teamsters General Executive Board on March 27, 2007, Clinton said the following after being asked her opinion on the consent decree by Teamsters Western Region International Vice President Jim Santangelo.

"The world’s longest consent decree?" Clinton laughed. "You know, I am of the opinion that based on what I’ve seen over years of observation, you know, this union has really done a tremendous job in turning itself around. That’s my observation. And at some point the past has to be opened. You know, if you screw up in the future, that’ll be, that’ll be a new day, right? That’s the way the system works. But you gotta’ – you can’t go around dragging the ball and chain of the past. And I think that’s true for anybody, any organization, any individual, you know, and so I would be very open to looking at that and to saying, ‘Well, you know, what is it we’re trying to accomplish here?’ And seeing what the answers were because at some point turn the page and go on."

Listen to that HERE.

Obama’s the one who may have sounded a bit wishy-washy today when asked about this issue by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America this a.m.

SAWYER: Want to turn to the news of the day. Front page of "The Wall Street Journal" today, it says before you won the endorsement of the Teamsters, you indicated to them you would support ending strict federal oversight of the union, which was imposed back in the early ’90s to deal with corruption. Was that commitment made to them?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, I wouldn’t make any blanket commitments. what I’ve said is that we should take a look at what’s been happening over the Teamsters and at all unions to make sure that, in fact, you know, organized labor is able to represent its membership and engage in collective bargaining in accordance to what we’ve always believed.

SAWYER: But if they heard you to be saying that you did support, you did support lifting this strict federal oversight, are they wrong?

SEN. OBAMA: No, what I’ve said is that I would examine what is going on in terms of the federal oversight that’s been taking place, but it’s been in place for many years, the union has done a terrific job cleaning house, and the question is whether they’re going to be able to get treated just like every other union, whether that time has come and that’s something that I’ll absolutely examine when I’m president of the United States.

Watch the exchange HERE.

Compare that to what Obama told the Teamsters during his endorsement interview, when asked a similar question:

"Well look, this, under the president now with his leadership, I think the union has been transformed," Obama said. "I think that’s the assessment, generally, and the problem is you have an administration that hasn’t been particularly friendly to the union spirit and this union in particular.  And I think that if you’ve got somebody in the White House that you know and you trust and you’ve got history with, then you are going to see a change in terms of how we evaluate these consent decrees.  Now obviously, there is a legal aspect to it.  It’s got to run through the paces to make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted.  So, I don’t want to talk as if I snap my fingers and it suddenly happens, but as president with the authority to appoint an attorney general who actually understands the law…"

Listen to that HERE.

The Clinton campaign hit Obama hard on this issue today, implying that he says one thing in private and another in public. Team Clinton says their candidate made no promises about the consent decree, whereas Obama’s position is difficult to ascertain — his campaign and the Teamsters have said the consent decree should be lifted, Obama this morning said "we should take a look at" the issue.

- jpt

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus