Teamsters President Jackie Presser, who died after leading the nation's largest union for five years, is being remembered both as a great leader and a man who maintained the Teamsters' reputation for corruption.
"Jackie will be remembered for guiding the Teamsters through difficult and successful contract negotiations during some of the hardest years for organized labor - the period of Ronald Reagan's all-out attack on the trade union movement," said Tom Turner, president of the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO.Presser, 61, died late Saturday in a suburban Cleveland hospital of cardiac arrest after being treated for brain cancer.
A federal lawsuit filed in New York last month claims the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is dominated by the Mafia. Presser was a defendant in the lawsuit.
The Teamsters leader also was awaiting trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on felony embezzlement and racketeering charges for allegedly participating in a payroll-padding scheme at Teamsters Local 507 in Cleveland. "It was pretty much more of the same, and the union went downhill," Ken Paff, national organizer for the dissident Teamsters for a Democratic Union, said Sunday of Presser's tenure.
"Presser said many times in public that he made millions of dollars off the union. He saw it as a business, and he inherited it from his father. We believe the union is a grass-roots union, that almost everything good we have in this country comes from unions," said Paff, a member of the small but vocal opposition within the larger 1.6-million member union.
Because of his health problems, Presser, who was paid about $800,000 a year, temporarily relinquished his duties in May to Teamsters secretary-treasurer Weldon Mathis.
A statement released Sunday by Mathis and the union's executive board said Presser's death "will be deeply felt."
"He will long be remembered for his progressive ideas and deep commitment to the labor movement," the statement said.