Associated Press

House Panel Probes Teamsters Strike

By Kevin Galvin Associated Press Writer

October 6, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House panel investigating the

Teamsters examined on Tuesday what the Clinton administration did to help the union resolve a bitter strike in 1995.

The question is at the center of a Justice Department inquiry into whether an independent counsel should probe former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes' role.

But while the Education and the Workforce subcommittee showed that the union pressured several agencies to take action against Diamond Walnut Growers Inc., there was no new evidence that Ickes did more than ask former U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor to call the company. Witnesses denied any link between the action and union campaign donations.

Kantor told the committee his call to Diamond Walnut's former chief, William Cuff, wasn't motivated by fund raising, and that the administration never acted to punish the company on behalf of the Teamsters.

``No one ever tried to persuade me to do anything nnegative to Diamond Walnut, and we didn't,'' Kantor said.

Justice is weighing whether to request an independent counsel to probe testimony Ickes gave to a Senate panel that examined Diamond Walnut earlier.

The Teamsters had worked since 1993 to pressure Diamond Walnut to settle with more than 500 mostly minority and female workers who had granted contract concessions in the 1980s to help the company compete but were denied wage increases in negotiations in 1991, when profits were up.

In 1995, Ickes met with Teamsters leaders about the standoff. An administration memo prepared for Ickes noted that the Teamsters had given $2.4 million for Democrats in 1992. It also suggested that if Democrats wanted to continue to receive Teamsters support, they should consider helping the union on key issues, such as the strike.

People who participated in the meetings have denied that campaign contributions were discussed.

While Ickes has acknowleged asking Kantor to make the call, and that such a call would at least implicitly carry a message of pressure to the company, Justice investigators are considerng whether he perjured himself when he told Senate negotiators under oath that he wasn't aware of any steps the administration had taken to help settle the strike.

``I'm not aware of him doing anything, except for this phone call,'' Jennifer O'Connor, a former Ickes aide, told the subcommittee Tuesday. ``He didn't seem to be particularly focused on the issue or concerned about the call.''

Memos produced at the hearing show that the Labor Department targeted Diamond Walnut under the short-lived striker-replacement law, and that the Teamsters urged Agriculture Department officials to cut the company from its school lunch program and end subsidies that helped it market products abroad.

But Ron Carver, a Teamsters official who played a key role in pushing the administration to pressure the company, said the union was bitterly disappointed by the lack of support it received.

The workers have been replaced and the strike remains unresolved.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

Return to

(c) All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved..