The defeated officers of Washington's biggest Teamsters local - long denounced by their opponents as undemocratic - have refused to turn over the local's headquarters on L St. NW to the winners of last Friday's election.
The slate that won the election - campaigning as a reform ticket - sought a federal court order yesterday to force the defeated officers of Local 639 to vacate the union's headquarters at 2021 L Street NW. Chief Judge William B. Bryant said he would rule on the dispute in U.S. District Court today.
Yesterday's clash was the latest in a series of angry disagreements that have split the more than 7,000-member local over the last seven years.
Since 1970, Daniel George, the local's newly elected president, has fought to unseat the local's entrenched leadership.
George and his allies have attacked Frank DeBrouse, the defeated local president, as undemocratic and allegedly cozy with the management of companies for which Teamsters members work. They have also criticized the terms of contracts and other benefits negotiated by DeBrouse for union members, calling them inadequate.
DeBrouse did not appear in court yesterday and remained unavailable for comment, apparently secluded at his union office.
Solaman G. Lippman, a lawyer representing the local, said in court yesterday that DeBrouse has asked the union's national leaders - the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers - to send a representative to "arrange for an orderly transition of power" from the former to the newly elected officers. DeBrouse, he said, wants an audit conducted of the local's financial records.
A spokesman at Teamsters international headquarters here declined to say whether the international would intervene. "Since the matter is in court, we don't have anything to say about it," the spokesman said.
In a further development, Lippman disclosed that DeBrouse and his defeated slate have filed a protest with the Teamsters Joint Council for the Washington area, contesting the election's outcome.
In their protest letter, they charged that George's slate improperly coerced union members into filling out election ballots at open meetings, that George was ineligible for office because of an earlier union dispute, that George's slate made "false, libelous and unsupported charges" against DeBrouse's ticket and that George's slate received financial aid from people with no legitimate interest in the local. This charge apparently was a reference to PROD, Inc., a dissident Teamsters group that hailed George's victory as a breakthrough.
George disputed their assertions in an interview, saying, "I see no basis for their charges."
All 13 members of George's slate were elected, according to results announced Friday evening. The ballots were cast by mail. The election was supervised by the American Arbitration Association. George, who had been defeated in two previous campaigns for president and a third race for business agent, trounced DeBrouse this time, 1,450 to 868.
Local 639 represents truck drivers and others employed at the Safeway Stores and Giant Food supermarket chains, United Parcel Service, The Washington Star, and a number of local moving, cement and liquor companies.
Yesterday's morning and afternoon court hearings were filled with charges and countercharges about alleged improprieties by the two union factions.
John V. Long, George's lawyer, told Judge Bryant that George has evidence there "may be improper conduct going on" at the union offices where DeBrouse is still in charge. Long cited reports that checks were issued over the weekend. In an affidavit, George also complained of reported removal or destruction of or tampering with union records.
Lippman rejected these allegations in court, saying. "That's all poppycock." In an interview later, Lippman asserted that DeBrouse fears he may be left open to similarly false charges by George if he, DeBrouse, vacates the union office without proper supervision by a neutral party.
Several during the court proceedings, Judge Bryant said he would order DeBrouse to vacate the union offices by this morning, indicating he believes DeBrouse has no authority to remain there.
At the end of the hearings, however, Bryant backed away from his earlier statements, saying that he would review the issues and rule today.
Yesterday, the Labor Department also supported George's right to take office.
For George, 41, who has repeatedly fought the union in the federal courts during the past seven years, yesterday's disputes were only another step in a continuing battle. "I spend half my life in court," George remarked as the sourt session began.
In earlier proceedings in various courts through the Labor Department, George succeeded in having a 1972 election set aside because of irregularities. A new election was ordered, but George was defeated.
He also has been reinstated in his truck driving job, from which he had been fired in 1971 because of his union activities. Two of his court disputes have ended inrrulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
A slender, soft-spoken, articulate man, George has had a career of protest - as a civil rights activist in ealier years and as a union reformer in recent years.
In an interview, he said he had considered an Army career during the 1950s, but left the Army in 1958 because, he said, "They sent me down to Louisiana and I couldn't the segregation in the Army."
He later quit a job as a biological technician for the National Institutes of Health in 1965, he said, because of pressure brought against him as a result of his civil rights activities.