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Reformer Close to Winning Teamsters Presidency Race

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ron Carey, a feisty New York union reformer who spent the last two years crisscrossing the nation in a quixotic campaign to become president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was on the verge of a stunning upset victory Wednesday night.

With 30% of the ballots counted in the first rank-and-file presidential election in the Teamsters’ 88-year history, Carey had received 63,576 votes, compared to 42,155 for the favorite, R. V. Durham, a Teamster executive board member from North Carolina. A third candidate, Walter Shea, an executive board member from Washington, trailed with 20,405 votes.

Carey, 55, who has raged against “dishonor” and greed in the 1.5-million-member union for two decades while the president of a Teamster parcel-delivery local on Long Island, declined to claim victory. But as his lead increased steadily through the night, glum-faced officials from both rival campaigns privately said it seemed insurmountable, and predicted that Carey supporters will also win a majority of seats on the Teamsters’ 20-member international executive board.

“I’m shocked,” said Jim Smith, an aide to John Morris, a Pennsylvania union leader running on Shea’s executive board slate. “I never thought they (Carey and his slate) would be that high.”

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But Carey’s campaign manager, Ed Burke, said that the apparent victory reflected the rank and file’s anger at Teamster officials who seem more interested in collecting multiple salaries and large pensions than in being accountable to members.

“Working men and women in this country have been taking a beating in the last 15 years. People are not going to take any more of that,” said Burke, a former coal miner. “Ron’s message was that enough is enough.”

Dissident Carey’s rise to power in the Teamsters Union--where four previous presidents have been indicted on charges of corruption, and where dissent has historically been quashed with violence--is one of the most dramatic stories in the history of organized labor.

A campaign like Carey’s was an impossibility until 1989--and regarded as barely conceivable even then--when Teamster leaders surrendered much of their power to the U.S. Justice Department to settle a racketeering lawsuit.

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The settlement gave the government power to expel corrupt Teamsters. It also unleashed glasnost -like ripples of democracy through the nation’s largest union by allowing the rank and file to elect delegates to their national convention and national leaders to five-year terms.

Scores of union leaders--some of whom planned to run for office on slates with Durham or Shea--have been ousted or resigned from the union during the last year.

Durham, endorsed by outgoing Teamster President William J. McCarthy, who is retiring at age 72 because of poor health, had been favored to win. He had the support of leaders in the majority of the union’s 615 locals in the United States and Canada. Conventional wisdom dictated that with less than a third of the membership casting ballots, most members would follow the advice of their local president.

It did not happen.

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Ballots counted Wednesday in more than 150 locals, spread geographically throughout the union, showed that Carey’s promise to cut the salaries of union leaders and to bargain more toughly with employers attracted unexpected support. The results also showed that the coattails of local union executives were widely overstated.

For example, in New Orleans Local 270, where local officials campaigned for Durham, Carey won 61% of the vote.

“I am very, very disappointed,” said the local’s president, Mitch Ledet. “The disgruntled went out and voted and the satisfied stayed home.”

In Local 63 in Los Angeles, one of the largest Teamster locals in the nation and a key target of the Shea campaign, Carey won 63% of the vote. In a Charleston, W. Va., local where Carey supporters had been defeated last spring in an attempt to become delegates to the union’s national convention, Carey won 69% of the vote.

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Where Carey was expected to lose badly, he often came close to winning. In a large Indianapolis local headed by John Neal, president of the Indiana Conference of Teamsters, who urged members to vote for Durham, Carey won 44% of the vote. In an Oakland local headed by Chuck Mack, a Durham supporter who is the highest-ranking Teamster in Northern California, Carey won 43% of the vote.

In a Seattle local headed by Durham supporter Arnie Weinmeister, the chairman of the union’s Western Conference and a symbol of evil to Teamster reformers because of the $525,000-a-year salary he is paid for holding four different jobs in the union hierarchy, Carey easily beat Durham.

“He’s (Carey) just kicking them in places we didn’t think he was going to be kicking them,” said Gene Giacumbo, president of a New Jersey Teamster local who ran on Carey’s slate as an international vice president.

Michael Holland, a labor lawyer who serves as the union’s election officer under the government monitoring program, said he hopes that the 400,000 ballots can be counted by week’s end. Ballots are being counted by machine, but the process is tedious because all ballots must be checked for member eligibility. Only about 1.3 million Teamsters were eligible to vote.

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