PHILADELPHIA -- The Teamsters have removed a powerful Pennsylvania union leader from one of his posts amid accusations that he created a climate of fear and stockpiled weapons for a "war."
John P. Morris, 73, was removed as secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 115 on Monday. He had served in the post for more than four decades.The feisty, combative union leader blamed his ouster on union politics, saying it was retribution for not supporting Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa when he ran for office.
Greg Tarpinian, a consultant with the national Teamsters, said Morris used union money to buy two shotguns, 20 stun guns, pepper spray, boxes of combat fatigues and boots, two cars, two campers and five buses, which he stored on rented property not far from union headquarters.
"These purchases were in preparation for what Morris describes as 'war,"' according to a statement by the Washington-based union and signed by Hoffa.
Union officials wouldn't elaborate on what kind of war Morris might have been preparing for. Hoffa said Local 115's leadership had "placed the membership in jeopardy."
The removal of Morris follows the Teamsters' efforts to repair their reputation after a decade of federal supervision. Hoffa this summer asked the Justice Department to end a decade of federal supervision of the union and allow it to police itself against organized crime in its ranks.
Union officials said Morris created an atmosphere of intimidation, including assaults on at least three of union members. He was also accused of using union dues to pay premiums on his $1 million insurance policy.
Union officials did not say whether they would seek criminal charges against Morris, who vowed to challenge his ouster in court.
Morris said the clothing and some generators he purchased were to be used by union members as protection from the cold when they had to walk picket lines during wintertime strikes. The stun guns were bought for security purposes, he said.
The union dismissed his reasons for the purchases.
"I've been in the Teamsters for 27 years, and I don't know of any other local union that has containers of army helmets and army fatigues and boots. They must be going to invade Grenada or something," said Edward Keyser, secretary-treasurer of Local 500 who was named emergency trustee of Local 115 and its 2,700 members.
Morris recently purchased a building behind the headquarters so that if the national Teamsters took over the local, "he would burn the Local down and operate the Local from this building. He also referred to this building as a sniper's or sharpshooter's nest," the national Teamsters' statement said.
The headquarters were converted into a barracks with sleeping quarters for about 30 people and a fully equipped kitchen and mess hall for 160 people, the union said.
"The threat was extraordinary, with all the money expended on things unrelated to the local union. But the biggest threat was to individual members who were harassed physically and emotionally," Tarpinian said.
The union also alleged that Morris colluded with employers to help union members who were loyal to him and demanded required union stewards to collect thousands of dollars in cash from members as a Christmas gift to him.
Morris made $184,423 in union salary last year. Officials said it remains to be seen whether Morris will be removed as president of the 140,000-member Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters and the Teamsters Joint Council 53, made up of union locals in Philadelphia.