Beyond the Teamsters trial

The conviction of Teamsters union president Roy Williams - after the conviction of two prior Teamsters presidents - once again underscores the need for Congress to enact tough new legislation to protect unions from racketeering and corruption. It also raises fundamental questions about whether the organizational structure of large unions like the 1.8 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters is sufficient to prevent possible misdeeds by its national leaders.

This is not, of course, to say that the jury trial convictions against Mr. Williams and his four codefendants will necessarily be upheld during the appellate process. Mr. Williams may still be vindicated of wrongdoing. That will be determined by the judicial system in the months - and possibly years - ahead. Mr. Williams, it might be noted, has already been acquitted two times in prior cases.

But beyond the legal questions of guilt or innocence posed by this case, in which top union officials are charged to have conspired to bribe US Sen. Howard Cannon to block a trucking deregulatory bill and to have defrauded the union's huge Central States Pension Fund, are fundamental policy issues.

Congress has unfortunately stalled in its effort to enact tough new anticorruption legislation, even though it now seems clear that the anticrime provisions of the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 are inadequate to prevent abuses by union officials. Whatever the outcome for Mr. Williams, two of the last three presidents of the Teamsters served jail sentences. Under current federal law, Mr. Williams will not be forced to yield his presidency during the appeals process. That review could stretch on for years. Yet, under the terms of the Labor Management and Racketeering Act that was passed by the Senate this past summer, Mr. Williams would be required to step down from his post now, following this week's conviction. That legislation is bottled up in the House Labor Standards Subcommittee. Assu-ming that the bill will not get out of committee, as now seems likely, lawmakers will have to start all over again next year - when it will be even more difficult to get a law given the more labor-oriented stance of the new Con-gress.

Organized labor as a whole has a sound record on the issue of corruption. Most unions - in large part because of the vigilance of the AFL-CIO - have managed to police themselves. Yet serious problems remain, as evidenced by the convictions of high- and lower-level officials in both the Teamsters and the International Longshoremen's Asso-ciation.

One other aspect in the current Teamsters case ought not go unnoticed. That is the matter of the land allegedly offered as a bribe. Senator Cannon has not been indicted or found guilty of any wrongdoing - and in fact voted in favor of the regulatory measure opposed by the Teamsters. But there is a disturbing issue that goes beyond Senator Cannon himself. How is it that officials of a large union would even feel confident enough to talk up private land sales, of all things, in the company of a US senator?

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