Locked in a power struggle with internal rivals three years after his election as a reform leader, Teamsters President Ron Carey unveiled a plan Monday to strip four of his major opponents of much of their clout.
The head of the nation's second-largest labor union said he will ask the Teamsters' general executive board, dominated by his supporters, to scrap the four "U.S. area conferences" that for years have handled regional contract talks and grievance disputes.
Carey argued that the area conferences needlessly duplicate services offered by national Teamsters officials. He also pointedly criticized the highly paid union leaders heading the four regional divisions, all of whom are opposing Carey's efforts to put his stamp on the union.
Those four officials include Los Angeles-based Michael J. Riley, who Carey said has earned more than $320,000 annually in salary and expenses by holding several union posts. Along with being chair of the Teamsters' 13-state Western Conference, Riley heads Southern California's Teamsters Joint Council 42 and Local 986.
Carey also warned that union members were willing to stage a nationwide trucking strike if no new contract agreement is reached. With the current contract covering some 120,000 truckers due to expire at the end of the month, union officials said a membership poll showed that 90% of the respondents favored authorizing their leaders to call a strike.
Contract talks between the Teamsters and Trucking Management Inc., an employer group, for a new National Master Freight Agreement have been mired in several issues, including union charges that companies have been transferring work to lower-paying, non-union subsidiaries.
The willingness of members covered by the union's biggest contract to support a work stoppage precedes by a matter of days the results of a referendum on whether dues should be increased to replenish the union's strike fund.
Carey has faced stiff resistance to his proposed 25% dues increase from Riley and the three other conference chairman. The four ran unsuccessfully against Carey's reform slate, but were separately picked by fellow union leaders to their influential conference posts.
Carey acknowledged the possibility that the dues increase will be defeated when ballot-counting is completed Friday. But he said both supporters and opponents of the increase "have sent a strong message that there is still too much waste, duplication and bureaucracy in the Teamster structure--despite the changes at the international union in the past two years."
The Teamsters' executive board will meet April 19 to vote on Carey's plan to eliminate the four conferences. But the Teamsters president said he had dispatched personal representatives to the area conferences in the meantime, to safeguard members' interests and "deter looting" of the organizations' treasuries.
Elected in 1991 in the union's first rank-and-file presidential vote, Carey, who turns 58 today, has dramatized his campaign against union officeholders receiving multiple salaries and pensions by cutting his own pay to $150,000, down from his predecessor's $225,000.
He said he expected his opponents to challenge his plan in court. Riley could not be reached for comment but the Eastern conference chair, Walter Shea, told the Associated Press that "we're going to fight it."