Teamsters Dissidents Seek Changes In Election Rules
May. 19, 1986
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) _ Teamsters dissidents, conceding Jackie Presser's election as a foregone conclusion despite his recent indictment, are trying to make the union's convention here a forum for pressuring the government to outlaw the group's way of picking its leaders.
''While the Justice Department grabs the headlines with the Presser indictment, the Department of Labor is busy covering up for this illegal system for selecting our president,'' Doug Allan, co-chairman of the 9,000- member Teamsters for a Democratic Union, said on the eve of the convention's opening today.
With fewer than 60 of the convention's 2,000 delegates, the dissidents hold no illusion about their chances of winning an amendment to the union's constitution calling for a rank-and-file vote of international officers.
''I expect we'll be shouted down,'' Allan said. ''Whether we succeed or not is immaterial.''
Instead, the dissidents freely admit they hope to capitalize on Presser's indictment last Friday to embarrass Labor Secretary William Brock into taking action on their complaint that the Teamsters' process violates the Landrum- Griffin Act governing union elections.
A federal judge in March refused to rule on a TDU suit against Brock over the issue but left open the possibility it could be raised again after the convention.
''It's going to take the Labor Department to make a change,'' Sam Theodus, the only challenger to Presser for the union's presidency, said in an interview Sunday night.
Theodus, president of the largest Teamsters local - 407 with 5,000 members - in Presser's hometown of Cleveland, said the only reason he decided last month to oppose Presser was to be a catalyst for that action.
''I've been around too long to spin my wheels doing something that's not going to gain anything,'' the 55-year-old Theodus said.
Peter Camarata, the last challenger to an incumbent Teamsters president, Roy Williams in 1981, wished Theodus well upon meeting for the first time Sunday night.
Camarata, a Detroit truckdriver and a member of the TDU, received only 10 votes to the 1,177 cast for Williams, now serving a 10-year prison sentence for attempting to bribe a U.S. senator, at the last convention in 1981.
'They just thought I was a total maverick, taking them away from their cocktail parties,'' he said, thanking Theodus for taking up the opposition torch this year.
Unlike Camarata, who never held any elective or appointed office in the union, Theodus does not bear the TDU label. A member of the union since 1952, he has been elected to local office five times during the past 15 years - twice as business agent for Local 407, once as its secretary-treasurer and twice as its president.
''I'm in a little bit different situation because I know some of these people and there's not this hostility,'' he said of the union's mainstream delegates.
''But I understand now what you went through,'' he told Camarata. ''I couldn't vote for you because you hadn't ever been in office. Now I know it took a lot of ... (courage) for you to do what you did.''
The dissidents on Sunday night unrolled before reporters a petition that they said has the signatures of 100,000 union members supporting their amendment for rank-and-file election of officers. They also said copies of letters signed by 100 officers of local unions had been sent to every convention delegate.
Presser, 59, was appointed interim president of the union by its 17-member executive board when Williams resigned after his conviction.
Meanwhile, leaders of the union have maintained a silence since Presser's indictment Friday on charges of embezzling union funds from his Local 507 in Cleveland through a ''ghost employee'' payroll padding scheme.
Presser called the government's case ''a house of cards'' and said he welcomes a trial ''to put an end to what has been a five-year pattern of leaks and false information.''