Three more members of the Teamsters executive board, including the second highest ranking officer of the union, have reached settlements with the Justice Department in the government’s massive anti-racketeering suit against the union, The Times has learned.
Weldon L. Mathis, the union’s secretary-treasurer, Edward Lawson, a Teamster vice president from Vancouver, B.C., and Don L. West, a vice president from Birmingham, Ala., agreed to the settlement, which is expected to be ratified by U.S. District Judge David N. Edelstein at a hearing in federal district court in New York today. If the judge agrees to the settlements, as he is expected to do, the three would be dropped as defendants in the case and would not be required to give up their union posts.
The agreements call for reforms in the union’s election procedures and the creation of an ethical practices committee to combat corruption in the union, if the government prevails in the case. The three union officials also agreed not to knowingly associate with the Mafia or any other criminal groups.
“I am happy that we finally worked out the agreement to be dismissed from the case,” said Mathis. “It’s a good settlement. It’s good for me, good for the union, good for the balance of the board members,” he said in a telephone interview from his Maryland home Tuesday night. The Times was unable to reach West and Lawson for comment.
Mathis said that neither he nor West nor Lawson would serve as government witnesses during the trial against the union, which is scheduled to begin next Monday in U.S. District Court in New York. “I will testify for the union if they (union lawyers) think it’s a proper thing to do or if I’m needed.”
Six members of the Teamsters board now have been dropped from the case after reaching agreement separately with the government. Last month, vice presidents Robert H. Holmes of Detroit, Maurice R. Schurr of Philadelphia and John Cleveland, settled. Each also agreed to resign but said that their resignations were not a condition of settlement. There are still 11 members of the board who are defendants, including union President William J. McCarthy of Boston.
The Justice Department filed the unprecedently broad case against the Teamsters last June under the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The civil suit asserts that the union is heavily influenced by organized crime and is no longer responsibly serving the interests of its membership.
The suit, the first such case filed against an international union in U.S. history, asks Judge Edelstein to oust the Teamsters top officials, place the union under court trusteeship and bar certain alleged Mafia figures from any contact with the union or its officers.
The Teamsters have denied that the union is Mafia-dominated and decried the suit as an unconstitutional attack on freedom of association.
The Teamsters executive board has rejected two proposed settlement offers made by the Justice Department, according to knowledgeable sources, and the Justice Department, in turn, has rejected one settlement proposal made by the union.
In their agreements with the government, the three union officials do not acknowledge any organized crime influence over the union but they agree that one of their goals is “preventing La Cosa Nostra (Mafia) corruption” of the union.
Mathis and the two vice presidents also endorse changing the method by which the union’s top officials are elected. In the future, the union’s president and secretary-treasurer would be elected either by a direct plebiscite vote of all the union’s members, similar to the elections conducted by the United Steelworkers of America, or by a secret ballot vote of delegates to a Teamster convention. The method of selecting the delegates would also be changed from current procedures.
Sources close to the Teamsters board said that in past talks between the government and the union the Justice Department had taken the position that election of the top two officers had to be by plebiscite vote. They asserted that this provision of the Mathis settlement represented a significant change in position by the government.
“This is better than they (the Justice Department) offered the international officers in their last proposal,” said one source. “It’s obvious that the government is trying to divide” the board.
Staff writer Robert L. Jackson in Washington contributed to this story.