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Union chief at Tropicana suspended

BRADENTON -- The president of Tropicana’s local labor union has been suspended amid an ongoing internal investigation, the Bradenton Herald has learned.

A representative from the union’s parent headquarters in Washington, D.C., has flown to Bradenton to investigate Robert Tuttle, president and business manager of the Teamsters Chapter 173 union, which represents local Tropicana workers. But the exact allegations against Tuttle were not disclosed Friday.

Tuttle is awaiting an internal hearing, and until the investigation is complete, the chapter has been stripped of its local authority, union spokesman Bret Caldwell said Friday.

“Because this is an internal investigation, we don’t talk about the specific allegations involved,” he said. “We will work as hard as we can to turn this back over to the membership as soon as possible.”

The union posted a four-page memo to its private message board late this week outlining the allegations against Tuttle and informing members of the investigation, federal officials said.

A federal trustee has overtaken control of the union’s board and Bradenton office at 824 26th Ave. until a ruling is made at Tuttle’s hearing. That will be scheduled within the next 60 days, once the investigation concludes.

“The day-to-day business of the union will continue,” federal Teamsters Trustee Mike McElmury said from his new desk at the Bradenton office Friday.

If the union panel finds Tuttle misused his office in any way, the entire board will be removed to make way for new elections. The chapter could lose it local control for up to two years, Caldwell said.

Tuttle could not be reached for comment Friday. The union’s local attorney was traveling out of the country.

McElmury will handle all labor negotiations and grievances on behalf of union members until the case is resolved, Caldwell said.

Tuttle, who works in Tropicana’s maintenance department, wasn’t on the job Friday. His absence was directly related to the union issue, Tropicana security staff confirmed.

The company had no official statement. A Tropicana spokeswoman declined to disclose Tuttle’s job status as of Friday.

Teamsters representatives said if the investigation was spurred over union finances, the U.S. Department of Labor would also be called in to investigate at some point in the process. As of deadline Friday, the department had no active cases against Tuttle, spokeswoman Sonia Melendez said.

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095.