Is Ryder In Bad Company?

For decades, the Teamsters has been branded for its links to organized crime. But as the government cleanup of the union proceeds, it's the Teamsters' turn to point a finger. Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a dissident group that long has attacked corruption in the union, charges that the nation's largest hauler of new cars, Ryder System Inc., is kowtowing to the Chicago mob.

The allegation comes amid bargaining over a new contract between car-hauling companies and the Teamsters, which represents more than 95% of the industry's 18,000 drivers. Several large car haulers have tried to circumvent the union by hiring non-Teamsters drivers. But Miami-based Ryder, which controls 39% of the new-car hauling business, has gone further.

Through a Cleveland labor-leasing company, Ryder is using some 200 drivers who belong to a Chicago union called the National Production Workers Union. The NPWU offers cheaper rates and lower benefits. But the dissident Teamsters charge that it is tainted by organized crime.

The alleged link: The NPWU, which isn't affiliated with any national union, is run by Joseph Senese. And his father, Dominic, also known as "Big Banana," was recently removed by court-appointed overseers as the president of Teamsters Local 703 because of allegations that he's a member of the Chicago mob. Dominic has appealed the charge. Joseph hasn't been accused of mob ties. Lucien, his brother and the heir apparent in Local 703, was nearly killed by a car bomb days after his father's ouster last August. "It's a dangerous crowd Ryder is associating with," says William J. Carothers, a car hauler and member of the TDU.

Ryder officials decline to comment. So does Joseph Senese, though a lawyer for the NPWU denies that Dominic or the Mafia is involved in the union or has tried to influence it. But officials at the TDU charge that Ryder is dealing with mobsters who are trying to escape the government cleanup of the Teamsters. Indeed, after Dominic was removed, Local 703 transferred some members to the NPWU. The Teamsters has challenged the move in court.

Charles M. Carberry, the overseer who is cleaning up the Teamsters, says he can investigate Teamsters only. So if federal investigators find mob ties at the NPWU, they'll have to start from scratch--just as they did with the Teamsters 40 years ago.