Just 21,207 Ballots Cast : Teamsters Endorse Bush; Only Major Union to Do So

Times Labor Writer

The Teamsters Union executive board endorsed Vice President George Bush for President Monday after a poll of the union’s members gave Bush a narrow edge over Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic candidate.

The union is the only major one in the country to endorse the Republican candidate, just as it was when it endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

Only 21,207 of the union’s 1.6 million members returned ballots, which had been distributed in the Teamsters monthly magazine, according to Duke Zeller, the union’s communications director. Of those who voted, Bush got 50.2%, Dukakis 46.4%. Other political figures, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, received the rest of the votes.

Meeting in Florida

“The board has endorsed the results of the poll among our rank and file,” said William J. McCarthy, Teamsters president, at a news conference at the Grenelefe Resort in Haines City, Fla., where the Teamsters board is holding its fall meeting. “I feel, as well, that Vice President Bush is better qualified to lead and to serve this nation in the White House.”

McCarthy, a conservative Democrat whose home local is in Charlestown, a Boston suburb, is a longtime foe of Dukakis. He supported Edward J. King when he toppled the Massachusetts governor in the 1978 Democratic primary and again in 1982, when Dukakis beat King in the primary and went on to recapture the governor’s office.


Some members of the union’s board tried to persuade McCarthy not to make a formal endorsement, considering the closeness of the vote, sources said, but he said the vote showed the members’ sentiments.

Prediction in Error

In May, Weldon Mathis, the Teamsters’ secretary-treasurer, when serving as acting president during the illness of now deceased union President Jackie Presser, said he was confident that the union would endorse Dukakis.

The Teamsters have grown distant from the Reagan Administration because of policies that are viewed as hostile to organized labor, prime among them a federal lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in June that seeks to remove the entire Teamsters executive board from office on the grounds that the union has been dominated by organized crime.

But, when McCarthy was chosen to succeed Presser by the union executive board in July, he said no endorsement would be made until the fall.

Teamster sources acknowledged Monday that there was skepticism about the results. “There were some shockers,” one source said. “Bush got his highest vote in Massachusetts--78.7%.” Dukakis’ strongest state was Iowa, where 73% of the Teamsters who cast ballots supported him. Sources said California Teamsters split their ballots almost equally between the two and would not disclose who prevailed.

Locals Back Dukakis

McCarthy made no detailed statement about what the union would do for Bush in the remaining weeks of the campaign. And several Teamsters sources said the endorsement would have no major impact. Numerous Teamster locals around the country already have endorsed Dukakis and are expected to continue working on his behalf.

“The locals are the ones that can make a difference,” said one Teamster source, who spoke on condition of not being identified. “They have people to man phones and stuff envelopes.”