Morton Bahr, president of the Communications Workers of America, said the Teamsters represent "more than a million good, decent Americans. As we deal with union bashing, this will strengthen the American labor movement." He added: "Allegations of corruption should be dealt with by law enforcement, not by the trade union movement."
"I'm definitely in favor," said William Bywater, president of the International Union of Electronic Workers. "I see this helping us organizationally, in politics and in collective bargaining," he added.
William Wynn, president of the 1-million-member United Food and Commercial Workers Union and a key player in negotiations that led to Saturday's agreement, was even more effusive in his praise of the agreement. "I think it's the greatest thing that's happened to the AFL-CIO," Wynn said, adding that he saw no disadvantages.
A Chance Meeting
The Teamsters have periodically considered rejoining the AFL-CIO since 1979. According to several knowledgeable sources, the latest move began as a result of a chance meeting of Presser and Edward Hanley, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, at a Washington restaurant on Oct. 14. Presser said he was interested in a reaffiliation and Hanley, a longtime friend of the Teamsters, expressed enthusiasm.
The next day, Hanley met with two other Teamsters allies--Wynn and Robert Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO building and construction trades division--to map a plan, sources said. The three men then had further discussions with Presser, then a meeting with Kirkland, who said he was receptive, and then another with Presser.
Four days later, in Orlando, Presser obtained the approval of the Teamsters' executive board to seek reaffiliation. A letter requesting the move was drafted by Teamsters' lawyers and brought here by Hanley, leading to Saturday's action.
Took Place Rapidly
The whole process took place rapidly, leaving little time for opposition to develop. McEntee said he first learned of the proposal when he was in Hawaii and was called by an aide. He said he went there to help his union ward off an attempt by the Teamsters to "raid" a group of correctional officers represented by the AFSCME.
Some observers here and in Washington characterized the reaffiliation as a smart move by the Teamsters in their effort to fight an effort by the Justice Department to take over the union and place it in a federal trusteeship.
In August, the AFL-CIO Executive Council passed a resolution critical of any such trusteeship, saying that "government supervision is synonymous with the destruction of free trade unions, not with their salvation."
The move against a Justice Department takeover picked up steam at a Teamsters rally in September in Cincinnati, when numerous labor leaders and four presidential candidates condemned the idea.
On Saturday, federal law enforcement sources said the fact that the Teamsters are back in the AFL-CIO could create problems for those officials who are pushing for the trusteeship suit to be filed, but other law enforcement officials indicated that they would not be deterred.
One knowledgeable federal source said Saturday's action could create "serious problems about an approach that was already under question because of its sweep and scope." One Justice Department source said the political opposition to a proposed trusteeship--particularly from two presidential candidates, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.)--had stunned many officials in the department.
However, another high-ranking Justice Department official said his "gut first reaction" was "let's not let law enforcement judgment get skewed by developments in political land."
Asked Saturday if the AFL-CIO would be providing a protective umbrella to the Teamsters, Kirkland said it would not. "We're giving them no cover, no insulation from the common duty to follow the law."
Queried about allegations of widespread corruption in the Teamsters, Kirkland responded: "If they (law enforcement officials) can prove it, those found guilty will be removed from office." He denounced the idea of "collective guilt" for the entire union.
Kirkland stressed that under the federal Landrum-Griffin Act, a union official convicted of any of "a long list of federal crimes" is stripped of office. "That's a higher, more vigorous standard than applies to any other institution in American life," he said. "We have no complaint about it. . . . We expect higher standards of our people than in the human community at large, and certainly higher than the business community."
Kirkland said the Executive Council had passed a resolution Saturday recommending that the AFL-CIO constitution be amended to permit additions to the council beyond its current size of 35. This would pave the way for Presser to gain a seat on the council. He also said Presser has been invited to address the convention here Thursday. Presser has accepted, sources said.
At his news conference, Kirkland said he hoped several other unaffiliated unions would join the AFL-CIO, and cited in particular the United Mine Workers.