The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has a new president and potentially new problems. The IBT's executive board has designated Roy L. Williams as a successor to Frank E. Fitzsimmons, who passed on May 6 in his 10th year as president of the country's largest labor union. The choice of Mr. Williams, the union's most powerful vice-president, required only a few minutes in a special 20-minute meeting in Las Vegas.
Mr. Williams will serve as interim president until the union's regular convention in Las Vegas June 1-5, when 2,100 delegates are expected to elect him to a full five-year term, probably with token opposition from Western IBT leaders and a small minority of dissidents.
Ken Paff, a spokesman for Teamsters for a Democratic Union, one dissident group, said a few days ago that the TDU plans to challenge the June Teamsters election in US Labor Department proceedings, alleging that only 200 of the 2,100 delegates were elected directly by the union membership.
"Rank-and-file members will have almost no voice in the election," Mr. Paff says. "The national leadership controls the convention."
About 90 percent of the delegates are regional or local IBT officers or are delegates appointed by the national leadership, according to Mr. Paff.
If there is a challenge under federal labor laws that guarantee democratic procedures in unions, the election will be scrutinized closely, as a number of other major union elections have been under similar conditions. So far, the elections have been upheld.
Williams has pledged that the convention will be "open and fair" with delegates "free to vote the preference of the members they represent." Under existing conditions, the preference will be for Williams.
Nevertheless, he is expected to take over a union less unified than it was under Mr. Fitzsimmons. A number of strong Western IBT leaders oppose him, and there are pockets of opposition elsewhere.
Williams rose to power through the ranks of the IBT. He was close to James R. Hoffa in the 1960s and in many respects he is similar to Mr. Hoffa. He demands loyalty and hard work from those under him and is brusque, direct, and quick tempered. He is expected to administer Teamsters affairs in a no-nonsense fashion and to use his new power to make changes within the union -- "to shake things up," one friend says -- in ways that could stir up troubles within the union.
Employers with whom he has bargained describe him as "a first-rate negotiator" who has a keen understanding of the trucking industry. He has shown contract flexibility to help weak companies stay in business and to preserve jobs for union membership believed to be down from 2.4 million to just under 2 million now.
Williams's brushes with the law worry many in the IBT. He has been indicted three times on charges of embezzlement and altering union records. he was cleared twice and charges were dismissed in the third case. He is involved now with 16 others in a Labor Department suit that seeks to recoup losses from "imprudent" loans made from the Central States Pension Fund of which he was a trustee until he resigned in 1977 under government pressures.
Last year, appearing before US Senate hearings on labor practices, he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights 23 times; a recent committee report questions whether he should hold office under the circumstances.
The Justice Department has been probing Williams's use of "improper" influence to try to sway a Senate committee chairman handling trucking legislation. Several grand juries also have been probing into his affairs.
Denying all charges, Williams says, "I've done a good job and I've been through all kinds of trials and tribulations, and the government hasn't proved anything again st me."