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AFL-CIO Votes to Let Teamsters Reaffiliate : Action Could Have Major Impact on Movement as U.S. Looks at Union's Reputed Crime Ties

October 25, 1987|HENRY WEINSTEIN | Times Labor Writer

MIAMI — In a historic move that could have a major impact on the American labor movement, the AFL-CIO Executive Council voted unanimously Saturday to take the Teamsters Union back into the labor federation, 30 years after expelling it on corruption charges.

The move comes amid reports that the Justice Department is planning to file an unprecedented lawsuit to take over the 1.7-million-member Teamsters on the grounds that the union is dominated by organized crime.

AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, who lobbied in favor of the reaffiliation, said he is pleased with the council's action, which will take effect Nov. 1. Kirkland said he thinks the reaffiliation will "strengthen" the entire labor movement.

Teamsters' Presser 'Elated

"I believe in a unified trade union movement," Kirkland said at a news conference at the Fontainbleau Hilton Hotel here. "And I will do everything I can to bind up the scattered leaves of this movement."

Jackie Presser, president of the Teamsters, issued a statement saying he is "elated" at the development. "We belong together and we will work together for all workers of America to ensure a continuing high standard of living and a better quality of life as we prepare for the 21st Century."

Charles Craypo, professor of labor economics at the University of Notre Dame, said AFL-CIO unions could be helped in organizing, political action, financial resources and strike support by the link with the Teamsters. He said the AFL-CIO might receive some negative publicity as result of the move. But noting the Teamsters' pending legal problems and the large loss of members suffered by AFL-CIO unions in recent years, he said: "On both sides they need each other more than they have in the past."

Kirkland and a host of union presidents, gathered here for the AFL-CIO's biennial convention, said the addition of the Teamsters to the 12.7-million-member federation would put an end to years of organizing warfare between the Teamsters and affiliates of the AFL-CIO. They defended the move while acknowledging that the unsavory reputation the Teamsters have acquired over the last 35 years may cause problems for the federation.

Four of the last five presidents of the Teamsters have been indicted on federal charges and three of them were sentenced to federal prison. Presser, the union's current president, is scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Cleveland in February on payroll-padding charges.

Knowledgeable sources said that Owen Bieber, president of the United Auto Workers, and Gerald F. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, expressed serious reservations about readmitting the Teamsters after learning of the plan Thursday. Neither man, however, voted against the move.

'Raiding' by Teamsters

"A number of people had concerns," McEntee said Saturday after the council meeting. He said the questions focused primarily on the issues of Teamsters' "raiding" of work sites represented by one of the AFL-CIO's 89 unions. "There were some concerns about image," McEntee added, but said his concerns were alleviated during a lengthy discussion at Saturday's meeting.

He acknowledged it is likely that some adverse publicity will ensue. But he said that concern was overridden by a "more serious institutional question--union solidarity. That's most important in terms of giving workers unity."

The Auto Workers' Bieber refused to comment on the recombination.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said he favored the move, although he expected some tough questions about it from his members.

One longtime adviser to unions, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said he is disturbed by the alliance.

Expelled in 1957

"The Teamsters are clearly a corruptly led organization," he asserted. "To that extent, not much has changed since 1957," when the union was expelled from the AFL-CIO for refusing to sign an ethical practices code. The code was drawn up in the wake of labor racketeering hearings chaired by the late Sen. John L. McClellan (D-Ark.), which focused on the Teamsters and its then-President Dave Beck. Beck later was sent to prison for accepting a Cadillac purchased with union funds.

Another veteran union public relations consultant expressed dismay at the move, saying the federation should have demanded more from the Teamsters than a mere agreement to abide by the AFL-CIO constitution. "You have to try to put a good face on it, but it's not an easy task," said the man, who also spoke on condition that he not be identified.

However, numerous union presidents gathered here expressed support for Saturday's vote by the Executive Council.

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