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EDITORIAL

Teamsters Local 25 and Charlie Baker are strange political bedfellows

PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF/FILE/2017

Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, right, arrived at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in August 2017 to testify in the teamsters trial.

 

What is Charlie Baker thinking?

By accepting the endorsement of Teamsters Local 25 on Thursday, the governor has effectively ended the union’s political ostracization — and done so with a bipartisan exclamation point.

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Four years ago, the Democrats who usually receive organized labor’s support retreated from the group after one of the local’s most recent brushes with the law, when members hurled racist and sexist epithets at a TV host in Milton. Then-candidate Maura Healey, for instance, returned donations she’d received.

That was the right thing to do.

Now the governor — the Republican governor, no less — is expressing his pride in Local 25’s support.

What’s changed to merit the local’s redemption?

The leadership, described by reformers within the union as allied with national president Jimmy Hoffa Jr., remains the same. And while the acquittal of the individual Teamsters in the “Top Chef” case last year rendered a legal verdict, that shouldn’t be confused with political exoneration for its actions. The basic facts — that the Teamsters resorted to racial and sexual harassment and threats of violence — weren’t challenged in the trial.

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And those are just the latest in a string of troubling events, going back for decades, including extortion and racketeering and links to organized crime. The union’s defenders tend to write off its thuggish history as part of the distant past — but new problems keep emerging. Even before the 2014 “Top Chef” incident, the current president, Sean O’Brien, was suspended by the Teamsters’ Independent Review Board for two weeks after saying rivals within the union “need to be punished.”

In a statement, Billy Pitman, Baker’s deputy campaign manager, cited the court acquittals:

“The governor is pleased those issues were thoroughly examined and settled in a court of law and believes harassment, hateful speech, and bullying have no place in Massachusetts and are not representative of the 11,500 hardworking members and families of Teamsters Local 25 who are a driving force behind the Commonwealth’s growth and success,” he said.

But to be clear, the problem isn’t, and never has been, the rank-and-file workers in the union. It’s the institutional behavior of an organization whose leaders have been given little reason to change their ways.

To be fair, Baker is far from the first Massachusetts political figure to enable the Teamsters. Senator Elizabeth Warren and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, among others, seem all too happy to look the other way.

But all of them — Baker, Warren, DeLeo and the rest of the state’s politicos — can do better than this.