Lane Kirkland, long the self-effacing No. 2 man in organized labor, was elected president of the AFL-CIO by acclamation yesterday, and promptly urged nonaffiliated unions to join the 13.6 million-member federation.
Through he mentioned no names, Kirkland's invitation was plainly directed chiefly at the three largest groups of workers in the country -- the Teamsters with 2.3 million members, the United Auto Workers with 1.5 million, and the National Education Association with 1.8 million -- all of which for different reasons are independent of the AFL-CIO.
Initial reaction to Kirkland's offer was notably muted, and some officials of the nonaffiliated unions said they were offended by Kirkland's remarks.
Moments after the voice vote elevating him to his new $110,000-a-year post, as successor to first AFL-CIO president George Meany, Kirkland told delegates to the AFL-CIO's 13th biennial convention: "All true unions belong in the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
"I say now to those who stand outside that I have too have too high a regard for the caliber of their leadership to believe that they can really be governed by pretty personal or pecuniary considerations, or ancient and tedious grudges."
In further remarks on the nonaffiliated groups, Kirkland, who is known for his extensive vocabulary and writing ability, said: "Their pride and pelf do not equal what they are missing because -- to borrow from the New Yorker's alleged view of the world -- everything outside the AFL-CIO really is Hoboken.
"Pelf," according to Webster's New World Dictinary, means, "Ill-gotten gains, booty; money or weath regarded with contempt."
Hobken has long been regarded as one of New Jersey's less desirable locales.
The remarks drew cheers from many of the 1,000 AFL-CIO convention delegates. But Don Stillman, spokesman for the United Auto Workers, said later in an interview that he was displeased.
"I think Mr. Kirkland's remarks are a setback for those who advocate reaffiliation," said Stillman, whose union broke away from the AFL-CIO in 1968 in a dispute over social and labor policy.
"His was an unfortunate choice of words," Stillman said of Kirkland.
Teamsters President Frank E. Fitzsimmons, whose union was kicked out of the AFL-CIO in 1957 on charges of being dominated by corrupt leaders, chose not to respond directly to the text of Kirkalnd's speech. Instead, Fitzsimmons limited his remarks to the convention resolution urging Kirkland to push for reaffiliation.
"The larger question of our reaffiliation is not immediately answerable. I can only say that we do not look upon the . . . question lightly," Fitzsimmons said.
Rozanne Weissman, spokesman for the education association, commented: "If he [Kirkland] is trying to bring us into the fold, he has chosen a strident, heavey handed, counterproductive way of going about it . . . . We who are not affiliated with the AFL-CIO do not feel we're in Hoboken."
An NEA rival, the American Federation of Teachers, is already a member of the ALF-CIO, and the larger NEA has always pointedly described itself as a "professional association" instead of a union.
Kirkland would like to have the nonaffilated organizations in the federation for the obvious reasons -- to bolster labor unity and power.
Despite the initial reaction to his offer, many knowledgeable labor observers believe Kirkland has a good chance of winning the nonaffiliated groups.
For example, UAW Predisent Douglas Fraser favors reaffiliation. But in 1977, his union rejected a move to rejoin the AFL-CIO, largely because of opposition mustered by UAW Vice President Irving Bluestone and Secretary-Treasurer Emil Mazey.
Both Bluestone and Mazey are expected to retire next year. In their absence, Fraser may have a better chance of leading the UAW back into the federation camp, UAW sources say.
For the moment, however, "We're not discussing the possibility of reafiliation because we're in the middle of collective barganing," one UAW official said.
The federation yesterday also unamimously elected Thomas Donahue Meany's former executive assistant, to succeed Kirkalnd as secretary-treasurer.