Will Local 700 Members Say No to a Coli Takeover?

July 13, 2012: John Coli, the head of Chicago Joint Council 25, wants to tighten his grip over the 12,500 members of Chicago Local 700, but the members are starting a movement to say No.

Most recently they spoke out at the July 10 union meeting, attended by some 250 members. One steward told us it was the largest meeting in a long time, because members are starting to respond to the takeover threat.

They criticized Coli’s close friend, Becky Strzechowski, for her role in promoting a “wellness” monthly health care payment by Teamsters employed by the City of Chicago. Why would a union leader support increasing the members’ health care cost?

Another steward told us that “Teamsters who work for the City of Chicago know their politics and can smell a rat a mile away. They recently voted down an effort by the city to potentially privatize more of their work. We think the overwhelming no vote embarrassed Coli and his flunkies when it came to relations with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

Coli created Local 700 in 2010, merging together Local 726 (mostly Chicago city employees) and the corrections and law enforcement units of Local 714, the old Hogan family local, which was dissolved. Local 700 became one of the largest public worker locals in the Teamsters.

Coli installed his long-time employee and associate, Becky Strzechowski, into leadership. He appointed a second assistant trustee, Billy Logan. But Strzechowski couldn’t win an election there, so she ran for the number two spot on a slate headed by Logan.

Last March Coli got Hoffa to appoint Strzechowski to a vacancy on the General Executive Board. That was a shock to a number of Chicago Teamster leaders.

But that’s not enough for Coli and Strzechowski. They want her in charge of Local 700, so they are cooking up schemes and charges against Logan and the local vice president, Vince Tenuto.

So while public workers in Cook County are under attack, the top Chicago Teamster is mainly interested in making deals with the mayor and tightening his grip on the Local 700’s members.

Coli heads Chicago Joint Council 25, and is an International VP as well. Coli’s family has run Local 727 as family business for many years, and that’s his model of how a union should operate. Just this week his business agents had to appear at an NLRB trial for selling out workers employed by GES.

Another veteran Local 700 member told us that “Some members remain skeptical that either Logan or Strzechowski can truly represent the membership. We’ve been dissatisfied with the representation under the trusteeship and we still are.”

The members of Local 700, whatever their political preference, have a right to control their local. If they want new leaders, they have a right and duty to vote for them in the next election. They don’t need Coli to become their dictator and create another family-run local which prefers to cozy up with politicians.

Coli used trumped up charges to remove the elected president and secretary treasurer of Local 743, Richard Berg and Gina Alvarez, in 2010.  Now he may try a similar takeover here.

It won’t happen if the members and executive board unite to say No. Members are starting to get involved, but a grassroots movement is needed to build a strong local which can resist the attacks on public workers.