The Teamsters union executive board will choose a successor to convicted President Roy Lee Williams here Thursday morning, 17 hours after Williams' resignation becomes effective under a court agreement.
The decision to move that quickly, announced today by union Secretary-Treasurer Ray Schoessling, was claimed as a victory by the faction supporting Jackie Presser, colorful head of the Ohio Teamsters, to succeed Williams.
A rival faction fought to delay the selection, union sources said, but Presser's forces prevailed.
The setting for the battle to take over the nation's largest union is a sun-washed mission-style resort hotel complex, sprinkled with fountains, pool, gardens and golf courses. It is a nonunion hotel.
Emerging from the closed-door meeting after the initial skirmish, Presser said he has confidence that he has the votes he needs on the 17-member board.
Schoessling, who will be 78 next week and is viewed by some as Presser's chief rival, declined to comment on the power struggle, but acknowledged that he "has been" a candidate. He is known as a survivor and something of a straight arrow inside the union.
Presser, 56, has been the subject of press reports in Cleveland that he may soon be indicted in connection with a continuing federal probe into a phony payroll scheme. But "that's strictly rhetoric," he said. "I honestly don't have any problems."
Asked about the conviction of Williams last December on conspiracy and attempted bribery charges, he echoed the sentiments expressed here by other Teamster officials, saying, "I think Roy got a very raw deal . . . . Roy was a victim."
Presser was a labor adviser on the Reagan administration's transition team in 1981. Although his name has been linked with organized crime activities, Presser defends his record, pointing out that he has "never been in front of a grand jury."
In answer to a question, Presser agreed that the change at the top offers a chance to repair the union's image "that's long overdue."
But he blames the media for that image: "We've got to get the media to understand we are the greatest labor organization in America."
Internal jockeying for the powerful and lucrative top post heated up last week when Williams, 68, in a deal with a U.S. District Court judge in Chicago, agreed to give up all ties with the union in order to stay out of prison during his appeals.
Others considered for the Teamsters' throne include Joseph Morgan, 54, the union's top southern official and a former professional football player; M.E. (Andy) Anderson, 59, head of the union's 13-state western region, and Donald Peters, 64, a Chicago union leader who filled the vice presidential post vacated by Williams when he became president.