In a surprise move, Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams said yesterday that he will meet soon with AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland to discuss reaffiliation with the labor federation.
"Lane and I are going to sit down and talk about it" in two or three weeks, Williams told reporters after an impromptu speech before the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department's annual legislative conference here.
Williams' comments marked the first time since he assumed office last June that he has publicly expressed interest in rejoining the AFL-CIO.
The Teamsters union, the nation's largest with nearly 2 million members, was expelled from the federation in 1957 because it refused to cooperate with an AFL-CIO probe of corruption charges.
"This comes as a surprise," Murray Seeger, Kirkland's chief spokesman, said yesterday in response to Williams' comments.
Seeger said Williams "had not contacted us before on the question of reaffiliation. This is the first indication that Roy Williams is interested."
Seeger said Kirkland's basic belief "is in broadening the unity of the trade union movement" by bringing all unions under one roof.
Kirkland and Frank E. Fitzsimmons, the late Teamsters president, discussed possible reaffiliation before Fitzsimmons' death of lung cancer last May, Seeger said.
A Teamsters executive board selected Williams to serve as interim president, but last June nearly 2,000 delegates to the Teamsters convention overwhelmingly elected Williams to a full five-year term, despite his indictment a month earlier on federal bribery and conspiracy charges.
Williams' trial on those charges, stemming from his alleged attempt to influence votes on a trucking deregulation bill, is scheduled to begin in about three weeks.
"There has always been a body in the AFL-CIO that has favored reaffiliation with the Teamsters, and there has always been a body opposed to reaffiliation" on the ground that "nothing has changed" in the Teamsters' operation since the union was expelled, Seeger said.
He refused to identify either side. But it is known that Douglas A. Fraser, president of the 1.3-million-member United Auto Workers, opposes bringing back the Teamsters until Williams has resolved his legal problems. Fraser has suggested on several occasions that Williams remove himself from office until the case has been decided.
The UAW rejoined the federation last summer, at Kirkland's invitation. The auto workers dropped out of the federation in 1968 in a dispute over political and social policies.
Seeger said that "nothing will happen on reaffiliation until Williams' trial has been cleared up."
In his speech yesterday to the Building and Construction Trades delegates, Williams said: "Regardless of what we do at the top of the labor movement , at the ground level, we all need each other because nobody can live by themselves."