A federal judge has tentatively sentenced Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams to 55 years in prison for having tried to bribe a U.S. senator with assets from his union's huge pension fund. That doesn't mean that the Teamsters will soon be operating under more savory management. Mr. Williams' lawyers naturally plan extensive appeals during which time, under current law, Mr. Williams will be entitled to retain his control over the Teamsters' far-flung empire.

This undesirable state of affairs would have been avoided if a House Labor subcommittee had not dragged its feet on a union racketeering control measure that the Senate actually passed twice last year--with strong bipartisan support--in an effort to push the House to action. The Labor-Management Racketeering Act would stiffen existing laws by requiring that labor officials convicted of certain crimes step down from office at the time of conviction rather than after exhausting all appeals.

The measure--which grew out of Senate investigations of longshoremen's corruption two years ago--has received strong support not only from the Labor and Justice Departments but also from AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland. Mr. Kirkland noted in testimony that, while the possiblity of reversal upon appeal means that some individuals might be unfairly barred from office temporarily, the fact of conviction by a jury is sufficiently reliable evidence to require a prudent person to protect positions involving large fiduciary responsibilities. He concluded--reasonably--that "on balance, the bill furthers both the public interest and the best interests of the trade union movement."

Both the Teamsters and the building trade unions have continued to oppose the measure, claiming that it discriminates unfairly against labor leaders. In fact, the bill would, for the first time, require corporation officials or consultants convicted of the enumerated crimes to step down from any position involving labor-management relations or handling of worker benefits. The measure also requires that the salary of a disbarred official be accumulated and held in escrow during appeals.

The history of corruption and mob infiltration of the Teamsters and several other labor unions is a long and sordid one. Mr. Williams, after all, has the distinction of being the third out of the last four presidents of his union to be convicted of a federal crime. Union pension and benefit funds have been a major source of working capital for these seamy transactions. If Congress acts promptly to pass the Labor-Management Racketeering Act, it will ensure that neither Mr. Williams nor the several other union officials now appealing their convictions can continue to betray their membership and to damage the reputation of the labor movement.