In a major development in the world of organized labor, the Teamsters Union is seeking to reaffiliate with the AFL-CIO, both organizations disclosed Thursday.
The request from the scandal-plagued Teamsters Union will be taken up at the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting Saturday in Miami, according to a statement issued there by federation President Lane Kirkland at the end of a day in which rumors were swirling about the issue.
On Monday, at a meeting at the Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort in Orlando, the executive board of the 1.7-million-member Teamsters unanimously voted to formally approach the AFL-CIO about rejoining the labor federation, from which it was expelled on grounds of corruption in 1957, according to Duke Zeller, Teamsters communications director.
This move occurred after numerous preliminary conversations between officers of the Teamsters and the labor federation indicated that AFL-CIO Executive Council members would be receptive to it.
Paul Weiler, professor of labor law at Harvard University, said it would be highly significant for the labor movement for the Teamsters to rejoin the AFL-CIO because of the union's size, ability to aid other unions during strikes and its political clout. He said it would make the 1981 reaffiliation of the United Auto Workers after a 13-year hiatus "pale by comparison."
Several sources said the Teamsters Union could enhance its image and strengthen itself politically by coming under the umbrella of the larger organization.
Four Presidents Indicted
For years, the Teamsters have been marked by scandal. Four of the union's last five presidents have been indicted on federal charges and three of them--Dave Beck, Jimmy Hoffa and Roy Williams--were sentenced to federal prison terms. Current President Jackie Presser faces federal payroll-padding charges.
In June, The Times disclosed that the Justice Department is contemplating an unprecedented lawsuit seeking to seize control of the union on grounds that it is under the influence of organized crime. The suit would attempt to invoke the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Numerous labor leaders--including Kirkland--have denounced the idea of such a suit as a threat to the entire labor movement. Several of them spoke in support of the union at a Teamsters-sponsored rally in Cincinnati in mid-September.
Some of those union leaders--including William Wynn, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers; John Sweeney, president of the Service Employees International Union, and Robert Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department--have participated in preliminary conversations with senior Teamsters officers, including Presser, about the reaffiliation in recent weeks, according to several sources.
Sends 'Positive Message'
"It would be a historic event for the Teamsters to come back into the AFL-CIO," said Sweeney in a telephone interview from Miami. "It will send a positive message to our members in terms of the unity of the labor movement."
Another well-placed labor source said Teamsters leaders in New York had approached presidents of three other AFL-CIO unions with substantial New York membership about a reaffiliation and received a favorable response. Presser has been holding periodic conversations with leaders of AFL-CIO unions about reaffiliation since he became president of the Teamsters in 1983, said John R. Climaco, the union's general counsel. He recalled that, in Presser's first speech as Teamsters president that year, he said that "the house of labor must be under one roof."
One well-connected Washington labor lawyer said his understanding was that the move for the Teamsters to rejoin the "house of labor," as the AFL-CIO calls itself, was on "a fairly fast track." He said "the question is what will the terms be and what will the conditions be."
Key considerations would include whether the Teamsters would automatically get a seat on the 35-member AFL-CIO Executive Council and an agreement that the Teamsters would not "raid" any workplaces where an AFL-CIO union represents workers or has an organizing campaign in progress.
Machinists Want Pact
A source close to William Winpisinger, president of the International Assn. of Machinists, said he was amenable to a merger as long as it contained a strong no-raiding pact. Both the Machinists and the Teamsters have been attempting to organize workers at the Adolph Coors Co. brewery in Golden, Colo.
Caught Off Guard
But some presidents of unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO were caught off guard by the development. Owen Bieber, president of the United Auto Workers union, said through a spokesman prior to the AFL-CIO announcement that he was "not aware of any discussions on this matter and will not be able to comment until he has been briefed."
Douglas Fraser, Bieber's predecessor, was outspokenly opposed to any link between the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO.