Cam and Gary continue discussing the Teamsters and the mob. In this episode, they examine Jimmy Hoffa and his efforts to consolidate bargaining with all trucking companies and have one agreement rather than separate agreements with each company, how he used mob muscle, how he ended up in prison and his deal with the devil to get released.
Master Freight Agreement
Many people view the Pension as the only interchange between the mob and Hoffa, but the relationship went both ways. From 1961-1964, with the help of his fellow Teamster Frank Fitzsimmons and the Executive Board, Hoffa put together the Master Freight Agreement. He negotiated, cajoled, called in favors, and threatened over the course of three years with every Local and shipper in the country in order to set flat salary rates for shipping everyone was willing to accept. Problem was, no one wanted to accept, locals, or shippers, and this is where Jimmy got creative.
When the president of some Teamster local decided he wanted more for his members than the Agreement, Jimmy would work with the local mob to get him voted out or knocked around until he agreed. If some business didn’t want to agree to a price across the board, Jimmy called strike, and the mob broke the place up, tires were slashed, windows were broken. When members somewhere didn’t like the deal Hoffa was putting together, he worked with a shipper to hire scab (non-union) labor on the sly until the Teamsters guys started to get hungry from not working. This was incredible negotiation, but even with the mob’s help, it took 3 years to put this contract together.
At the same time the Master Freight Agreement was being drafted, Hoffa was also dealing with the legal issues leftover from Bobby Kennedy, jury tampering, and unresolved issues with the mob. Hoffa had appeals, which he would lose, and he would go to prison in 1967. The mob was tired of Jimmy being so tight with the purse strings. They eyed the billion-dollar pension fund and did not want Jimmy to refuse any loans they recommended? The mob groomed Frank Fitzsimmons to move up and replace Hoffa.
Jimmy Goes Away
When Jimmy went to prison in 1967, he left specific instructions. Allen Dorfman in Chicago and Bill Presser in Cleveland would control the pension. Frank Fitzsimmons would be the acting president. Jimmy went to the infamous “Mafia Row” in Lewisburg. Vinnie Teresa wrote that he was tight with Carmine Galante. He had a falling out with Tony Provenzano while there, which was overseen by Lucchese consigliere Vinny Rao. John Gotti, Paul Vario and Henry Hill were there.
It was while Jimmy was away that the mob learned how good it could be. Fitzsimmons was much easier to deal with than Jimmy. The mob liked him for the same reason Jimmy did…he just couldn’t say no. In addition, Allen Dorfman and Bill Presser strengthened their own factions within the Teamsters. Dorfman controlled the money, while Presser and Cleveland built a huge power base. Roy Lee Williams was the only Teamsters official who had the respect of the men, and this gave him a great deal of power within the organization.
With Tony Provenzano in prison since 1966 no longer on the Executive Board, the New York Genovese family’s grasp of the Teamsters slipped. The Chicago Outfit wrestled control of the organization and the pension fund—and eventually Las Vegas—away from The Genovese and the New York Mafia. Chicago, Kansas City, and Cleveland would stand at the top of the Teamsters for several more years.
The Mob Moves On with Frank Fitzsimmons
Hoffa intended to run the union from his prison cell, using Fitz as his mouthpiece; Hoffa wanted to keep total control, but after years of abuse, Fitzsimmons rebelled…and the Board supported him. The mob liked their new control without Hoffa. Hoffa could say no to the mob, and because of his popularity with the men, he was too powerful to ignore, but with Hoffa gone, the mob directed their area locals and Teamster Delegates to fall in behind Frank Fitzsimmons, and Fitz liked the new power.
Hoffa ran the Teamsters like a dictator, all decisions came through him, and he had total control. Fitz liked golf, so he delegated more power, letting others make decisions, and also gave Presser and Dorfman on the Pension Board free reign. With more regional control and increased access to the Central States Pension, the mob gained a major foothold in the Teamsters, becoming totally entwined in policy-making.
Hoffa had created a program called DRIVE—Democrat, Republican, Independent Voter Education—for Teamsters to make political contributions. Hoffa used this huge fund to line up politicians in his favor, but now, the regional Teamsters had greater control of their area DRIVE funds, which gave the mob access to major pay-off money for Senators, Congressman, and other elected officials.
Finally, Fitzsimmons had connections to the White House. In 1970, Nixon began courting the Teamsters. Fitzsimmons had a direct line to Nixon, and the first thing on his mind, was the Justice Department and the unfair investigations into the Teamsters. Charles Colson, Nixon’s lead advisor, advised Justice to lay off Teamster investigations. Afterward, Nixon and Fitzsimmons played golf at LaCosta, a resort built as a vacation spot for the mob using money from the pension fund. Power, politics, and protection…why would the mafia EVER want to deal with Hoffa again?
Hoffa and Provenzano
Hoffa and Provenzano were in prison in Lewisburg together. Initially, they had been allies but had a falling out while locked up. Provenzano was a dangerous enemy, and he also carried enormous power in the mafia and the Teamsters. Provenzano was released in 1970 and began building up northern Teamsters to support Fitzsimmon’s campaign. This fight is the earliest direct confrontation between Hoffa and the mafia.
Hoffa resigned from the presidency in 1971, allowing Fitzsimmons to be elected actual president. Hoffa was losing control of his union completely, and he was furious. Many Teamsters were still loyal to Jimmy, and he called on them to block pension loans and undermine Fitzsimmons’ leadership. The mob was losing its patience.
The other man in the Teamsters the rank and file respected was Kansas City board member Roy Lee Williams. Nicknamed “The Rancher,” Williams wielded enormous negotiating power and popularity with the men that catapulted him to Teamsters leadership, giving Kansas City crime boss Nick Civella a seat at the table. As long as Fitz and the mob had Williams, the men would follow him.
In the end, Fitzsimmons agreed to help Jimmy out of prison—probably to try to stop Jimmy’s meddling. Time Magazine reported that FBI informants were aware of $500,000 in cash raised by Anthony Provenzano and the Genovese Family, and $500,000 from Allen Dorfman with the Chicago Outfit, raised at Fitzsimmons request—all from skimmed Teamsters fund. Someone delivered this money to President Nixon to secure Jimmy Hoffa’s release, with one (probably unconstitutional) stipulation: Jimmy Hoffa would be banned from participating in the Teamsters for the next five years. With that ban, the mob stole the Teamsters from Jimmy Hoffa.
Show Notes by Camillus Robinson
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