Ranking Teamsters officials Tuesday vigorously denied published reports that Jackie Presser has stepped down as president of the 1.6-million-member union because of ill health and that he will be succeeded by Weldon Mathis, the union's secretary-treasurer.
Mathis said in a telephone interview that the story, printed in Tuesday's Chicago Sun Times, is "garbage." He said it is true that Presser did not attend a meeting of the Teamster executive board in Chicago on Monday because he is in Scottsdale, Ariz., recuperating from radiation treatments he had earlier this year for lung cancer.
Presser had called for an informal meeting of the Teamster board in Chicago on Monday because he was to receive an award there from the United Cerebral Palsy Assn. But he was unable to attend because he is still weak from the treatments, sources said.
Mathis said he has been in daily telephone contact with Presser about Teamster business and that he expects him back in Washington in 30 days.
Presser, 61, is scheduled to go on trial in Cleveland in mid-February on federal payroll-padding charges.
Rumors about Presser's health have circulated since he had a cancerous tumor removed from his lung earlier this year. Presser's trial was delayed as a result of his health problems.
However, on Tuesday, Paul Lefkowitz, one of Presser's lawyers, said that Dr. Thomas W. Rice, Presser's Cleveland physician, had written a letter to U.S. District Judge George W. White last month saying that his patient would be ready to stand trial in 12 to 16 weeks after completing radiation treatments. Those treatments were concluded early last month, Lefkowitz said.
Michael J. Riley, president of Los Angeles-based Joint Council 42, who also was at the board meeting Monday in Chicago, said there is "no accuracy" to any report that Mathis had been tapped to replace Presser.
Mathis said the only subject of Monday's board meeting was a discussion of some matters relating to the union's recent reaffiliation with the AFL-CIO. Specifically, he said that the board discussed provisions of the AFL-CIO constitution governing jurisdictional disputes among unions and sanctions that can be imposed on one union for "raiding" another.
He said that a particularly thorny issue involving an organizing campaign among Coors brewery workers in Golden, Colo., had not been resolved yet. Both the Teamsters and the International Assn. of Machinists have been vying for the right to represent those workers. On Oct. 24, the AFL-CIO Executive Council voted to take back the Teamsters after a 30-year exile.
Henry Weinstein reported from Los Angeles and Robert L. Jackson from Washington.