A group of dissident Teamsters, accusing their union of "whitewashing" misconduct charges against its president, Frank Fitzsimmons, asked the Labor Department yesterday to order a special recall election to remove him.
The request was taken under consideration, but an official indicated that the department believes it lacks legal authority to call such an election.
The Professional Drivers Council (PROD), which filed the recall request, said it expects to take the issue to court if the department refuses to act.
PROD, which claims to represent 6,000 of the International Brotherhood to Teamsters' 2 million members contends that the Landrum-Griffin Act empowers the department to reorder recall elections for union officers accused of serious misconduct when internal union disciplinary procedures fail. The department says the recall authority applies only to local union officals, not national officers.
The dissidents filed internal union charges against Fitzsimmons two years ago, alleging misuse of union funds, nepotism and employment of "disreputable individuals" with organized crime connections. The charges were recently dismissed by an internal union board.
PROD said it was turning to the Labor Department because it had exhausted all internal procedures.
A recall election would be "the first democratic vote on a Teamster general president in the union's history," PROD contended. The union's top officers are chosen by convention every five years, and Fitzsimmons is not up for relection until 1981.
In a statement accompanying the petition, Prod alleged "widespread use of union officer for personal profit and Mafia-tied financial schemes" and argued that it is "virtually impossible to reform the IBT at the local level while the international firmly provides a protective shield for the local and regional mob-tied officials."
A spokesman for Fitzsimmons said the charges were dismissed by the union panel because they were "baseless" and "untrue" and accused PROD of "now making a desperate attempt to embroil the Labor Department in the same rejected allegations."
Walter Comer, chief of the elections advisory unit in the department's Labor-Management Services Administration, said the Landrum-Griffin Act was written specifically to preclude the department from ordering recall elections for national or international, union officers. It rarely, if ever, has even been invoked to oust local union officials, he said.
PROD argued that the law itself was prompted by top-level union abuses and was designed to curb them. Drawing a military analogy, the group said that restricting the law's remedies to local union abuses would be like claiming that "if a company captain went stark raving mad, an enlisted soldier could only apply for the removal ... of his staff sergeant."