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Business

Teamsters shut down ‘dysfunctional’ local

The Teamsters Union has shut down a controversial South Boston local that once handled all the trade shows at Boston’s two convention centers, concluding that years of infighting and allegations of corruption and nepotism had made it too “dysfunctional’’ to survive.

Teamsters officials ordered Local 82, which had about 500 members, to merge with the larger Local 25 in Charlestown at the end of last year. The merger, completed last month, allows Local 25 to take over Local 82’s trade show contracts at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston and the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in the Back Bay.

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“The old local union had effectively ceased to function,’’ said Bret Caldwell, a spokesman for the national Teamsters office.

Local 82 had been beset by controversy over the years, becoming the target of numerous regulatory and law-enforcement investigations of alleged wrongdoings within the union. It also came under fire for hiring ex-convicts right out of prison, including the younger brother of gangster James “Whitey’’ Bulger, John P. “Jackie’’ Bulger, convicted of obstruction of justice in 2003, and Vincent Federico, a convicted killer whose Mafia initiation rites were secretly recorded by the FBI in 1989 when he was on a weekend furlough program.

Bulger and Federico briefly worked for Local 82 after they were released from prison.

In addition, rank-and-file members complained that John Perry, the longtime boss of Local 82, his relatives, and close associates so dominated the union that they did not get a fair shake at lucrative trade show jobs. Some Teamsters earned $100,000 per year loading and unloading trucks and installing staging and equipment at the city’s convention centers.

Perry, ousted as leader of Local 82 in 2010, could not be reached for comment.

James Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, expressed relief that the saga involving Local 82 has ended, suggesting the union’s past problems garnered too much negative publicity within the highly competitive convention business.

Teamster members are technically not employees of the convention center authority, instead working under contract for third-party trade show companies. But they work in convention centers and hold clout during shows.

The national Teamsters Union took over Local 82 in late 2010, under pressure from a Teamsters oversight board created by court decree in the late 1980s to root out corruption in the national union. The Independent Review Board was a harsh critic of the way Local 82 was run.

James T. Hoffa, the Teamsters’ national president, ultimately concluded that the South Boston union was unsalvageable and ordered the effective end of Local 82, via a merger with Local 25, Teamsters officials said.

Local 25 has about 11,000 members, working at UPS, Stop & Shop, and other large employers, said Sean O’Brien, the head of Local 25. It also handles transport related work for movies filmed in Massachusetts.

O’Brien, elected to lead Local 25 in 2006, has won praise for cleaning up the local after its own scandals, including charges that members used strong-arm tactics to secure and keep film industry jobs. Industry officials say O’Brien has made the union more professional when dealing with production companies.

O’Brien vowed to end Local 82’s controversial practices, including the hiring of convicted criminals right out of prison to work at center shows.

“That’s obviously going to be stopped,’’ said O’Brien. “This isn’t going to be a furlough program.’’

He also vowed to address complaints of favoritism and nepotism by former members of Local 82. As new members of Local 25, their seniority will be respected when trade show jobs open up, said O’Brien. “This is going to be a better opportunity for the members,’’ he said.

Not everyone is happy with the merger. David Levin, an organizer at the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a Teamsters reform group, said the demise of Local 82 could have been avoided if Hoffa had cracked down on alleged abuses earlier. Instead, Levin said, Hoffa for years turned a blind eye to the problems out of loyalty to his friend, Perry.

“There’s no doubt 82 was [engulfed] in controversy and dysfunctional at the end,’’ he said, “But it didn’t have to end this way.’’

Caldwell dismissed Teamsters for a Democratic Union as a “tiny dissident group.’’ He said the national union wanted to be thorough in its investigation of Local 82 before it acted.

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