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Teamsters Press Congress to Avert U.S. Seizure of Union

September 16, 1987|ROBERT L. JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

CINCINNATI — The Teamsters Union has launched a massive lobbying effort--to be backed by millions of dollars in political contributions--to persuade members of Congress that it should not be taken over by the Justice Department.

Teamsters President Jackie Presser announced the effort Tuesday after more than 4,000 cheering Teamster officers from across the country heard Democratic and Republican presidential candidates and officers of other unions denounce the Justice Department's plan to seek a court-ordered takeover of the Teamsters on grounds of internal corruption.

'You Are the Soldiers'

"We are going to win this war," Presser told leaders of 700 Teamster locals gathered for a nationwide rally here. "You are the soldiers."

Presser distributed lobbying kits to all the delegates with instructions that said: "You and your members must flood your congressional offices with letters, post cards and phone calls . . . to get Congress to say (to the Justice Department), 'No, you can't do this.' "

He said that the Teamsters' political action arm, DRIVE, already has spent $2 million on the 1988 congressional elections. And, he declared:

"We're going to spend $2 million more, and maybe another $2 million beyond that. The entire labor movement is in jeopardy."

The object of the protest is the department's secret preparation of a civil racketeering lawsuit that would ask a federal court to remove Presser and all other members of the Teamsters' executive board on grounds that the organization--the nation's largest trade union--long has been under the influence of organized crime.

Preparation of the lawsuit, first disclosed by The Times in June, is expected to result in a massive court action later this year or in early 1988. It would implement a major recommendation two years ago by the President's Commission on Organized Crime.

Wearing large yellow buttons reading "And Justice for All--Even Teamsters," the overflow crowd at the Cincinnati Convention Center heard words of support from two Republican presidential hopefuls, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., as well as from two Democratic contenders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois.

The others attended the meeting, but Simon sent a videotaped message from Washington, where the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member, was in its first day of confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.

Kemp said that a Justice Department lawsuit would amount to "a declaration of guilt or guilt by association even before charges are made. The U.S. government is not meant to be in the business of taking things over. It should not take over newspapers, businesses, schools or labor unions."

Haig, addressing the issue indirectly, praised independent labor unions as the backbone of this country and said: "Free labor unions should be free to govern themselves and also to reform themselves."

Jackson brought the Teamsters to their feet by declaring that dozens of Reagan Administration officials have been indicted or are under investigation for possible violations of federal ethics laws.

Union-Busting Charged

"Hold them in trusteeship," he shouted. Any takeover of the Teamsters, he said, would be "the beginning of union-busting by this Administration."

Sounding a similar theme, Simon said in his taped message that, "if the U.S. government can take over the Teamsters, they can take over the steelworkers, the United Mine Workers or the First National Bank in your community."

"If there is corruption, remove the person who's guilty," Simon said. "That's the way our system works."

Other union leaders who supported the Teamster protest included Richard Trumka, president of the United Mine Workers of America; William H. Wynn, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and Lenore Miller, secretary-treasurer of the Retail Workers Union.

Robert A. Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, said that "the threat to the Teamsters is a threat against all of us."

Although the Teamsters split off from the AFL-CIO 30 years ago, some unionists at the rally said privately that the Justice Department's action may have a healing effect.

Presser and two associates are awaiting criminal trial later this year on charges that they illegally siphoned off $700,000 in union funds to pay Mafia-related "ghost employees" who performed no work for the union. The three have pleaded not guilty.

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