A government attempt to take control of the Teamsters has dissolved a three-decade marriage of convenience between the nation's largest union and the Republican Party while forging an unlikely alliance: Michael Dukakis and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"To try and put in trusteeship a complete union like the International Brotherhood of Teamsters smacks of totalitarianism," says Hatch, who is an outspoken critic of unions but fervent defender of Teamster President Jackie Presser."It's the kind of thing you would expect in Russia, not the United States," Hatch said of the government's suit last week branding the union corrupt and seeking to dethrone Presser and 17 other top Teamster officers.
Dukakis also condemned the Justice Department's use of the 1970 Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization Act to place the 1.6-million-member union under the supervision of a court-appointed trustee.
"Such an extreme remedy is fundamentally inconsistent with the very concept of independent and democratic trade unions," he said in a letter to AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland.
Dukakis, who with union support has wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would vigorously prosecute and seek to remove from office individual union leaders, corporate executives or government appointees who misuse their jobs.
"However, I simply see no need to resort to an extreme legal approach that would unnecessarily deprive rank-and-file union members of their right of self-governance."
Equally ironic is what Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Vice President George Bush have in common on the government's proposal to take over the Teamsters: Neither has anything to say about it.
"Don't wait on us for a reaction," said a spokesman for Kennedy, the liberal, pro-union chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, whose brother Robert succeeded in putting both Presser's father and former Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa in jail.
Bush declined a solicitation from labor leaders to all of the presidential candidates to criticize the government's anticipated takeover attempt when U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani of Manhattan was still putting the suit together.
New York Rep. Jack Kemp and former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, two one-time contenders for the GOP nomination, both eagerly responded to Teamster pleas for support, as did all of the Democratic candidates.
With the biggest campaign war chest of any group in the country - 50 percent larger than the American Medical Association's this year - Teamster leaders for decades have danced with politicians from both parties while prosecutors pursued them in court.
Lost in the glare of publicity over the Teamsters' support for Republicans Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan for the presidency was the flow of most of its money in congressional and state races to Democrats.
In 1986, for example, 87 percent of the Teamsters' campaign money in Senate and House races went to Democrats. But with a political fund of $4 million two years ago and $6 million so far this year, the union has plenty of cash to spread among members of both parties.
"The majority of Teamsters are probably Democrats," Hatch said. "Most of the people they endorse are Democrats. But that has nothing to do with the philosophical and legal approach being used here. This is not what you do to free institutions in our society."
Whether it's the campaign dollars or the fact that one of every 70 workers in the country is a Teamster, the union has no problem raising an outcry from politicians to counter the government's prosecutors.
Prior to the filing of the suit last week in New York, at least 269 of the 535 members of Congress signed letters to Attorney General Edwin Meese III condemning the suit as "a precedent which strikes at the very foundation of government."