Will a 12-foot, cigar-shaped helium blimp be flying over the Las Vegas Convention Center Monday morning when Teamsters President Jackie Presser arrives for the union's convention?
Or will the Teamster hierarchy succeed in grounding the blimp, which is being paid for by dissident Teamsters who want to show a message that the hierarchy does not want publicized?
The blimp, subject of potential lawsuits and veiled threats, is anti-Presser. It is intended to highlight the fact that those in the 1.6 million-member union have no voting rights and little say in whether Presser, newly indicted, is reelected this week to head the nation's largest and richest union.
"The only way we will ever get rid of the thugs and the mob and the Pressers is getting the right to vote," said Doug Allan, 58, a truck driver and local Teamster officer from Los Angeles.
Union members elect officers at 700 Teamster locals, and those officers then pick most of the 2,000 convention delegates. Labor Department election specialists say they believe that the system is illegal, but they have never challenged it.
Allan, one of about 50 to 100 openly anti-Presser delegates, paid $500 to AAAA Balloon Novelty Co. here to fly the blimp, bearing the message "WE NEED THE RIGHT TO VOTE."
The AAAA's owners said they have been told by Teamster higher-ups, in no uncertain terms: no blimp. The anti-Presser Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) said it is prepared to hire guards to protect the blimp.
"We couldn't believe it. We've never run into anything like this before," said AAAA co-owner Dolly Reeder. "Here we are with our stupid blimp, and we could get in the middle of a gang war. We'll have to have a guard on duty now."
Her partner, Jay Frick, said the Las Vegas Convention Authority told him that the union must approve the blimp. Frick said that, when he contacted Teamster headquarters, he was told by "a very rude gentleman" that "there is no way you are going to fly the blimp. There is nothing going up over this convention center."
A Teamster official here, who declined to identify himself, said the union would have no comment.
The TDU, longtime antagonist of Teamster chiefs, is seeking other convention reforms given little chance of passage. These include reducing officers' salaries, spending more to support strikers and recruiting new members to a shrinking union that has lost 300,000 members since the last convention in 1981.
The TDU wants to impose a $125,000 ceiling on the president's salary and a $100,000 limit for other offices, which would mean pay cuts for at least 76 union officials. Presser is paid more than $700,000 in salary and expenses.
"People have been asking me whether I fear for my life," said Presser's election challenger, C. Sam Theodus, 55, president of a Cleveland local. He is the first union officer in 15 years to campaign against an incumbent.
"You would have to be a complete fool not to think a little about the danger," said Theodus, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound former dockworker and truck driver, referring to murders, beatings and disappearances of Teamster officials. "But if they are going to do me in, they can try it anytime."
Presser, indicted for allegedly making $700,000 worth of payoffs by creating "no-show" union jobs at Local 507 in Cleveland, flew here yesterday after appearing in Cleveland to post bond.
Presser, 59, has recently married his former Local 507 secretary, Cynthia Jarabek, at a private ceremony here, according to a source close to the union.