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Local Teamsters Under Investigation
Tue, 08/01/2000 - 01:00
Local 25 of the Teamsters Union is now under federal investigation for corruption -- a development many filmmakers feel is long overdue.By Daniel M. Kimmel
Is Local 25 of the Teamsters Union, located in the Charlestown section of Boston, a corrupt entity bent on making huge financial demands from visiting and local filmmakers, or are they going out of their way to foster regional filmmaking?
The two views may be at odds with each other, but it is a discussion that has been ongoing in the New England film community for many years. Horror stories abound of demands to make unnecessary hires or pay high fees, but the union has also been involved in efforts to bring Hollywood features to the area and to make concessions to low budget film productions.
Now it appears that the charges may finally be fully aired and resolved one way or the other. "The Boston Globe" broke a story that a Federal grand jury is investigating the local for several practices, including forcing filmmakers to hire particular drivers or contract with a particular company. No details were forthcoming from the office of U. S.
Attorney Donald K. Stern in Boston since the Justice Department refuses to confirm or deny reports on ongoing investigations. Published reports indicate that both the FBI and
U. S. Department of Labor's Division of Labor and Racketeering are involved in conducting the investigations.
The specific charges fall into two areas. First, there is the claim that a handful of union members are handpicked for the lucrative movie jobs. On a major feature, this could account for $2,000 per week per drive plus additional expenses. Second, there are allegations that film companies are required to utilize the services of Location
Connection, a Boston company that rents such equipment as honeywagons and wardrobe trailers. "The Boston Globe" reported that Local 25's transportation coordinator, James P. Flynn, is supposed to control Location Connection.
As the stories broke in the local press, additional allegations came to light, including supposed organized crime links held by some of the drivers. "The Boston Herald" cited several drivers who were convicted of a 1994 New Hampshire robbery that led to the death of two guards who had also worked on several films shot in Massachusetts, such as "The Good Son" and "Blown Away."
Records and contracts have been reportedly subpoenaed not only from local union officials, but also from DreamWorks, the studio that produced both "In Dreams" and the current hit "What Lies Beneath" in New England.
Local filmmakers tell stories of Teamsters disrupting sets until they get the contract terms they want. One producer who is outspoken on the subject is Laura Bernieri, who told "The Boston Globe" that during the shooting of "Next StopWonderland," on which she served as co-producer, "[O]nce they showed up on the set, we just couldn't proceed." According to Bernieri, the problems stopped when a member of Local 25 was hired.
Even Local 25 president George Cashman admits the union is perceived as a problem by filmmakers both locally and in Hollywood. He has tried to alter that perception by providing concessions on some low budget films and by backing a movie soundstage to be built in cooperation with Bunker Hill Community College. Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, a noted film buff, remains a strong Cashman backer, recently reappointing him to another term on the board of directors of the Massachusetts Port Authority.
The governor promised to talk to Cashman about the charges. "All I know is that when I have been involved, when I call the Teamsters at the request of the Hollywood studios, they have always been very responsive," said Cellucci to "The Boston Globe."
Cellucci has been approached by Hollywood producers looking for help with the union, most recently when Warner Bros. said they were being forced to consider not filming any of "The Perfect Storm" in Massachusetts because of the wage demands of the Teamsters. Cellucci interceded and the production did shoot partially in Gloucester.
Asked by "The Boston Globe" if he is a target of the investigation, Cashman said, "Absolutely not. If I am, no one has told me."
Since those who are talking are denying the charges and the investigators are not even confirming that there is an investigation, much of what is being reported on the front pages is old news. Writers attempting to cover this story previously -- both for the mainstream media and the trade press -- had a hard time getting sources to speak on the record. Instead stories of "union troubles" would be passed among filmmakers who would choose to film elsewhere, even when the story seemed to require Massachusetts locations. Those who did film here claimed to have no problems with the union which the local's defenders offered as proof that things have changed and their critics argued showed that people were afraid to speak out.
Governor Cellucci's spokesman, John Birtwell said that there were some complaints from studio executives while he was out there looking to attract productions to Massachusetts, but described the stories as "anecdotal." Robin Dawson, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office, concedes that filmmakers have told her that the union costs are a major factor in whether a production shoots in Massachusetts.
For filmmakers who believe there is a problem, or who may not know what to believe given the lack of hard reporting on the subject, the investigation comes as long overdue. The end result should lead to either clearing Local 25 or else begin the process of cleaning it up.
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