Forget Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters Union is getting a far more telegenic representative. Oscar-nominated actor Mark Wahlberg is lending his name to a new reality TV show based on the union.
In Boston, preproduction is underway on the pilot of a reality show about the The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a a union representing mostly blue-collar transportation and factory workers that's likely best-known for the infamous disappearance of its president, Hoffa, nearly 40 years ago.
Wahlberg, who produces the HBO show Entourage, is co-producing the project. According to the Boston Globe, the show will "focus on the lives and struggles of members of Boston’s Teamsters Local 25."
For decades, the Teamsters were considered the nation's most corrupt union -- with deep ties to organized crime -- until a federal intervention in 1989 forced out more than 200 officials accused of corruption.
Wahlberg, who's father was a Teamster, also has a somewhat shady past. As a teenager he was arrested numerous times and spent 45 days in jail for attempted murder. In more recent years, he's acted in films that play on his working class Boston background, including "The Departed," a Martin Scorsese-directed thriller set in Boston, starring Jack Nicholson as a powerful Irish mobster. More recently he played a working-class boxer in "The Fighter," which takes place in a hard-scrabble neighborhood similar to the one where Wahlberg grew up.
Teamsters Local 25 has a colorful history of its own, especially when it comes to the entertainment industry. In 2003, the previous president of the local, George Cashman, pled guilty to conspiracy charges, and was allegedly involved with shakedowns of movie producers.
Earlier this month, the Teamsters local put out a statement stressing that it has now cleaned up its act:
Acknowledging that some critics would say the organization as a whole has had a storied past, [local President Sean] O'Brien said that his union has worked hard to restore a level of integrity and professionalism that is shared throughout the 11,000 member organization. "The Teamsters Local 25 members of today are proud, hardworking citizens of the community. We take pride in being a voice for working people."
A&E is producing the show, and appears to be counting on the Teamsters' and Wahlberg's colorful past to draw viewership. From their press release announcing the show:
Set in the real-life world that provided such color to films as The Fighter and The Departed, ‘Teamsters’ will give viewers a first hand glimpse of the most legendary union in the most aggressive and territorial city in America: Boston. Here, the Teamsters Local 25 battle for the rights of their 11,000 members
But some labor advocates are concerned that the show may harm the cause more than it helps.
"There’s some risk that previous Hollywood conceptions of blue-collar Boston will get all moshed together in ways that will not necessarily enhance labor’s image, increase public understanding of what unions do, or even boost Brother O’Brien’s upward mobility in the IBT," writes lawyer and reporter Steve Early, who lives in Boston and has actively supported the Teamsters, in In These Times, a non-profit progressive newsmagazine.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Mark Wahlberg grew up in the neighborhood where "The Fighter" was set. It also incorrectly stated that Wahlberg won an Oscar. He has, however, been nominated twice.