A Teamsters power struggle is causing labor pain for the Texas film industry.
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WHEN THE DALLAS REUNION MOVIE WAS FILMED in North Texas this spring, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 745 in Dallas drove camera trucks and dressing-room trailers. Even though Texas is a right-to-work state—meaning companies can’t be forced to hire union workers—this is how it goes on Texas movie sets. According to film producers, Teamsters get hired for such jobs because they have more experience than nonunion workers and charge less than workers imported from out of state. The 8,100 members of Local 745, for instance, have worked on most of the major Texas shoots of the past twenty years, from films like JFK to TV series like Walker, Texas Ranger. “They know the business,” says Wayne Farlow, the unit production manager on the Dallas movie. “I would trust them with more than just a working relationship. They’re friends.”
But the friendly union climate is changing. In August Teamsters president Ron Carey—who is in a bitter reelection fight against Jim Hoffa, the son of legendary labor boss Jimmy Hoffa—forced out the leadership of Local 745 after an independent review board alleged that the officers paid themselves $750,000 for vacation time in advance, doled out plum movie jobs to friends and relatives, and used more than $178,000 in union dues to buy 1996 Lincoln Town Cars whose titles were in the names of union officers. No criminal charges were filed, but 745, a Hoffa stronghold, was placed in temporary trusteeship. Locks at the local’s South Dallas office were changed, and armed guards were posted at the door.
Officials of 745 insist they’ve done nothing wrong—they say the vacation pay was for time accrued and that the car policy has been in place since the fifties. Charles Rogers, 745’s president, admits that union members who are related to union officials did receive movie jobs that can pay $1,200 to $1,600 a week. But he notes that only about fifty union members have sufficient film experience and are willing to work on grueling fourteen-hour-a-day shoots. The real issue, Rogers says, is union politics. T. C. Stone, 745’s secretary-treasurer, is one of Hoffa’s vice-presidential running mates in this month’s Teamsters election. Moreover, Carey has strong support from powerful Local 399 in Hollywood, which has watched locals like 745 take away some of its film business. Stone says Carey is on a political “witch-hunt”; Carey counters that he’s just trying to clean up the Teamsters, whose history of corruption and alleged ties to organized crime caused the U.S. Justice Department to all but take them over in 1989.
Whatever the truth, the Texas film industry is now caught in the middle. Producers say that the power struggle is cutting into the number of shoots in North Texas, which has already lost ground in recent years to the Hill Country. “This has scared some people off,” Rogers says, noting that at least two productions decided to film elsewhere when 745’s troubles surfaced. “They don’t want to come someplace where there’s a problem.”