Seattle Times

Trustee Takes Over Meatpackers' Local

By NANCY CLEELAND, Times Staff Writer

Tuesday, July 13, 1999

A Teamsters local representing more than 1,200 meatpacking workers in eastern Washington state was placed under trusteeship Monday, less than a week after workers at a plant owned by IBP Inc. ended a bitter monthlong strike by narrowly approving a new contract.

Teamsters spokesman Chip Roth said the unusual move--which substitutes leadership of the local with a person chosen by the Teamsters--was needed "to protect the integrity of the union contract with IBP and to ensure that members' grievances will be effectively addressed." He said the situation was considered "an emergency," a necessary condition for changing a local's leadership without a public hearing. An election for new officers of the local--held every three years--had been set for November. Now that election could be delayed for at least 18 months.

The Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a dissident wing of the labor giant, charged the move was calculated to derail several strike leaders who had hoped to gain control of the local in November. The leaders were aligned with the TDU, which had a full-time organizer at the picket line throughout much of the strike at the plant in Walulla.

"This is an attack on democracy," TDU spokesman Ken Paff said. "These workers didn't get the support of the international, and now the international is trying to strip them of their right to a democratic election."

Roth, however, said the trusteeship "has nothing to do with politics. It would be totally unacceptable to allow the membership to go three months without adequate contract protections."

Allen Hobart, secretary-treasurer of a Teamsters local in nearby Yakima, was appointed trustee. He had been called in to help with negotiations during the strike, after workers refused to deal with the secretary-treasurer of their own local. They said the local had not acted on complaints about hazardous working conditions for years.

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