Teamster President Frank Fitzsimmons, claiming he's gotten nothing but trouble from the Carter administration, yesterday spurned its appeals for wage restraints.
Calling his first press conference since 1975, Fitzsimmons said his 2-million-member union, the nation's largest, would respond to continuing inflation by seeking higher, not lower, wage settlements.
The union's contract expires next March and the Teamsters have been singled out by White House inflation fighters as the key target for the administration's efforts to slow the pace of union wage increases.
But Fitzsimmons, who was pointedly excluded from a White House inflation meeting with other labor leaders leaders last month, said he had not been contacted officially by the administration since Carter took office. "No call, no invitation, nothing," said the controversial 70-year-old union chief.
Asked if he tried to contact the administration, he responded, "I don't intend to go and try to stick my nose in when the administration doesn't think the Teamsters union plays any part in the American way of life."
Relations between the administration and Fitzsimmons have apparently been limited largely to Labor Department pressure to clean up the union's scandal-scarred Central States Pension Fund, including a suit against Fitzsimmons and others to recover losses allegedly suffered by the fund through mismanagement.
This, too, brought a counter-attack from Fitzsimmons in what appears to be a new image-polishing policy of going public in asserting the union's positions on various matters. He said the union has been investigated from "hell to high water" and challenged the government to prove any of its allegations with indictments and prosecutions.
Fitzsimmons also gave the back of his hand to union dissidents, one of whom, Peter J. Camarata of Fitzsimmons' home local in Detroit, had just announced his candidacy for the union presidency from the steps of the Teamsters' Capitol Hill headquarters. Camarata, a leader of the 2,500-member Teamsters for a Democratic Union, said he was announcing three years before Fitzsimmons' five-year term expires to start building rank-and-file support to prevent a "rigged" convention.
Asked about Camarata's candidacy, Fitzsimmons responded, "I didn't bring my flit gun today."
On inflation, Fitzsimmons made it clear he doesn't think much of the administration's emphasis on voluntary wage-price deceleration, saying it should focus more on energy costs, trade imbalances and government budget deficits.
He would not say what the Teamsters are likely to seek in the way of wages and benefits when contract talks open in December but warned.
At the press conference, Fitzsimmons also disclosed that Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, a New Jersey union official recently convicted of ordering the murder of a Teamster rival, has resigned his offices and been replaced by his daughter, Josephine. Asked if Provenzano was still his friend, Fitzsimmons said, "Tony Pro was a friend of mine before. He is a friend of mine now."