Tevlin: A fundraiser for a real cause: Union leaders on suspension
- Article by: JON TEVLIN
- Star Tribune
- December 14, 2012 - 10:06 PM
A long, salacious report released by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Independent Review Board (IRB) a few weeks ago accused Teamsters Local 120 leaders of some pretty incredible things, including corruption, kick-backs, "sham" deals and missing liquor and sports tickets.
Perhaps the most unsettling allegation, however, was that one of the bar managers wanted to hold a fundraiser for a "nonexistent fake sick baby" and direct the funds instead to a bar the union owns in Fargo.
Well, at least the fundraiser some supporters are holding Saturday in Oak Grove is for a real cause.
This time, the fundraiser is for Brad Slawson Sr. and Brad Slawson Jr., the father-and-son team that led the union until being put on unpaid leave pending investigations, which sources say now include inquiries by the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Many of the most egregious accusations by the IRB are leveled against the Slawsons and people close to them, including Todd Chester, who is the father of Slawson Sr.'s grandchild.
The IRB says Chester received a $90,000 "finder's fee" for directing Local 120 to a construction firm that ended up building the new union hall. That's a pretty sweet get-to-know-you fee, if true.
So where is the fundraiser for the Slawsons? At Mac and Chester's SRO, owned by -- you guessed it -- Todd Chester, according to minutes of a Blaine City Council meeting. The fundraiser comes two days before union hearings in Minnesota on whether to continue the trusteeship of the local while the Slawsons are suspended.
Two Teamsters who won't be going to Mac and Chester's $50-a-head event are David Kremer and Eric Bucholz.
"Isn't that something?" asked Kremer, a Local 320 member who was a delegate to the International's convention. "They need a fundraiser for guys making that kind of money?"
According to Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a group dedicated to exposing corruption inside the union, Slawson Sr. made more than $278,000 last year, while his son took home more than $190,000, "plus multiple lucrative pensions."
The IRB report accused the Slawsons of culling part of those salaries from undisclosed "stipends" for running or being on a board overseeing the liquor store, which reported income deficits despite paying the board members $335,000 from 2007 to 2012.
A lawyer for the Slawsons said recently that they were not guilty of any charges and that their side of the story would come out soon.
But some are not sure that will be at the hearings that start in Minnesota Dec. 17. Bret Caldwell, spokesman for the international, said people facing IRB charges often won't testify if they suspect they might also be facing criminal charges. "And we've been cooperating with [the Labor Department] and ATF," said Caldwell.
Bucholz, a member of Local 120 and a Supervalu employee for more than 30 years, isn't waiting to hear the Slawsons' side.
"I sure won't be there," he said. Though he can retire, Bucholz said the scandal couldn't have happened at a worse time. "We have contract negotiations this summer. This is not a good sign."
Chester and Slawson are certainly familiar with fundraising. According to the IRB report, Slawson is vice president of the Blaine Youth Hockey Association, which has raised money over the years from bars associated with Chester. It is apparently a profitable marriage for both. In an application to the Blaine City Council to do charitable gaming at the bar, Chester talked about how "significant financially the [hockey association] was to his bar."
The flier for the fundraiser portrays the Slawsons as heroes and scapegoats. "After working their entire adult lives protecting the middle class," it reads, "the Slawsons were suspended by their employers, Local 120, for accusations that are completely false. The cost of fighting an international union will be very expensive."
Not to mention fighting the feds.
Bucholz, however, saw leadership of the local as "completely a family affair."
"They were supposed to be working for us," Bucholz said. "We weren't supposed to be working for them."
Staff writer Mike Hughlett contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org 612-673-1702
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