YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

VIEWPOINTS : 30 Years Later: AFL-CIO and Teamsters Reunite : Experts Split on Effects of Latest Move

November 01, 1987|KEITH BRADSHER | The AFL-CIO Executive Council voted unanimously on Oct. 24 to allow the Teamsters Union to rejoin the labor federation, 30 years after it was expelled on corruption charges. The decision to readmit the Teamsters was made amid reports that the Justice Department plans to file an unprecedented lawsuit to take over the 1.7-million member union on the grounds that it is dominated by organized crime. Further, Teamster President Jackie Presser is scheduled to go on trial in February on embezzlement and racketeering charges. Times staff writer Keith Bradsher asked a number of observers of the U.S. labor movement about the motivations of the AFL-CIO and Teamsters in getting back together. Excerpts from the interviews follow:

Steven Brill, author of "The Teamsters," published in 1978, and president and editor-in-chief of the American Lawyer newspapers group

"Nothing better expresses the weakness, indeed the desperation, of both the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters, (than) that they are reuniting. I think it's a terrible thing for the AFL-CIO, it's a terribly hypocritical thing.

"The AFL-CIO has for years stood for honest, good unionism, and it is now hooking up with a bunch of thugs, simply so they can get some more dues revenues.

"There is no way this helps the labor movement in the long run, it simply soils the reputation of a lot of very, very good unions and millions of union workers, to have the AFL-CIO embrace the Teamsters.

"(The AFL-CIO's) main competition in many organizing drives is the Teamsters union. This reduces that threat.

"It shows you how desperate the Teamsters are since the way the Teamsters really gained strength in the last two decades was to be able to compete in organizing with AFL-CIO affiliate unions.

"The Teamsters will do everything and anything now to make the Teamsters leadership look a little more respectable, so they can get out of this potential (racketeering) suit.

"It's a terrible, it's just a terrible day for the labor movement. I'm pro-labor, I think it's horribly hypocritical. . . . It is a perfect symbol of the bankrupt leadership of the union movement in the United States."

William B. Gould IV, professor of law at Stanford Law School, and a former United Auto Workers staff lawyer

"The basic decision (by the AFL-CIO to readmit the Teamsters) is a wise one in principle. I think that the labor movement needs solidarity--a greater solidarity than it's had in the past.

"The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is a very important part of the labor movement. At the same time, the world knows that the Teamsters at the national level have had in the past and continue to have serious problems with the criminal law of this country.

"And my own view is that the AFL-CIO must more carefully scrutinize that particular conduct of the Teamsters and require and monitor the ethical behavior of the Teamsters.

"The Teamsters, however, do not differ from a number of other major unions that are affiliated with the AFL-CIO when it comes to problems with the criminal law.

"Some of those unions were involved in the Teamsters (reaffiliation, and) promoted the Teamsters reaffiliation.

"What I would like to see is stepped up AFL-CIO vigilance on the problem of law-breaking by unions as a general matter, whether it involves the Teamsters or other unions.

"But I'd always thought that the Teamsters' behavior is not fundamentally different in kind from those of (some) other unions, (and) it cannot serve as a basis for excluding them particularly when you consider the fact that many of the locals of the Teamsters, particularly in this part of the country, are honest, authentic unions which bargain on behalf of their members in an aggressive and appropriate manner.

"One thing that does concern me is that the Teamsters have been the most aggressive union when it comes to organizing the unorganized over this past 30-year period that they've been outside the AFL-CIO.

"I am concerned that the (lack of competition) could serve as an excuse for lethargy both on the part of the rivals of the Teamsters, and the Teamsters. I hope that doesn't prove to be the case."

Juliet B. Schor, assistant professor of economics at Harvard University.

"One of the problems the labor movement has now is that it's too divided internally, and things which encourage more joint efforts and unity within the labor movement are in general good. So, as a general principle, I support things like bringing unions back into the AFL-CIO

"Joining the AFL-CIO does not preclude the continued existence of turf battles with the Teamsters, because there are plenty of turf battles which go on within the AFL-CIO among various member unions.

"I happen to be working at an institution where one is occurring right now. There's a unionization drive going on here at Harvard, and there is competition between the United Auto Workers and the Assn. of State, County and Municipal Employees, so the fact that the unions belong to the AFL-CIO doesn't preclude this kind of competition, it goes on all the time. . . . "Obviously, the Teamsters hope the connection with the AFL-CIO will help them in their relations with the government.

"That's part of what's behind this, the question of government interference in private affairs of unions, and that, of course, is the thing the AFL-CIO is concerned about."

Audrey Freedman, economist at the Conference Board, a nonprofit business research organization in New York

"I think the AFL-CIO is interested in recovering its budgets and therefore gaining the dues of the Teamsters union members. That may be their primary motivation.

"The Teamsters, on the other hand, are interested in trying to maintain their respectability and wrap themselves in the mantle of the whole labor movement, which is a situation they have not been able to accomplish since they left the AFL-CIO.

"So their return is a political move and a financial move, and it doesn't rise above those motivations.

"The Teamsters is referred to in the media as being very effective at organizing and it probably is a little more effective than the other unions in the AFL-CIO, although no union is very effective these days.

"The Teamsters is directing most of its current organizing activities toward government employees or employees in industries that are somewhat sheltered from competition, such as hospital and education and public transit and government-related employment.

"In other words, employment in industries that are sheltered from competition. I think that's probably the only territory in which unions can continue to grow in the future."

Los Angeles Times Articles