Teamsters Have Internal Strife

By Kevin Galvin

Associated Press Writer

Saturday, June 27, 1998; 12:44 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As doubts grow about the upcoming Teamsters election, acting union president Tom Sever has raised tensions with political rivals by dismantling the union department responsible for reaching out to members.

Sever, who rose to the top of the 1.4-million-member union when incumbent Ron Carey took a leave of absence, has dismantled the Field Services department which was responsible for member outreach. He is also weighing the possibility of layoffs.

Critics say his actions are politically motivated and threaten programmatic advances made by union reformers over the past six years. Teamsters spokesman Matt Witt declined comment on what he called internal matters. Sever was traveling and a did not return a message left at his office.

A dozen rank-and-file organizers working under Field Services head David Eckstein have been let go and 12 members of his field staff were reassigned. Eckstein was stripped of his power. Two of his aides and a colleague in the research department had their computers impounded by Sever.

"The bottom line is it's all retaliation against me for running for union office," said Eckstein.

The action comes less than a week after Eckstein, who ran the grass-roots mobilization effort behind last year's United Parcel Service strike and the member-to-member organizing that Carey emphasized, announced he was joining Tom Leedham's ticket as a candidate for union trustee.

Leedham is one of the candidates for president and has the backing of the grass-roots group Teamsters for a Democratic Union and of many union department heads who served under Carey.

Sever, however, plans to run again for secretary-treasurer, the post he held under Carey, on a ticket topped by John Metz, a local leader from St. Louis.

Eckstein has filed two protests with the election officer.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press obtained a list of Teamsters staff and the amounts they donated to the 1996 Carey-Sever ticket that union sources said was compiled at Sever's direction.

Addressed to Sever, a cover sheet to the Jan. 29, 1998 memo says, "attached is a list of all (Teamsters) employees donations over $80 to the Campaign.... Also attached is a list of those who gave nothing."

The list of about 250 donors to the Carey-Sever slate was prepared at union headquarters and on union time, according to union officials, and appears to violate campaign rules that guard against mingling union work and politics.

Revelations about the increased infighting at Teamsters headquarters comes after the court-appointed election monitor said he would end federal supervision of the contest if a funding dispute wasn't soon resolved.

The rank-and-file election of union officers is key to the government's cleanup of the union, taking place under a 1989 consent decree the Teamsters signed to avoid racketeering charges.

Carey's narrow re-election over James P. Hoffa in 1996 was overturned after investigators uncovered an illegal fund- scheme that pilfered more than $800,000 from the union treasury.

Carey won the union's first-ever election for general president in 1991 and built a reputation as a reformer, whose high point was the two-week UPS strike last year when 185,000 manned picket lines.

Carey was barred from the rerun, and the coalition of grass-roots reformers and local leaders backing him split.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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