White House political director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. said yesterday he was "misused" and misled by the Teamsters union into setting up a meeting between the union and top Army officials last October, a session that may have violated federal law and helped the Teamsters win a major union election.
Daniels and White House spokesman Larry Speakes also said that Reagan administration officials were unaware of the pending union election among civilian employes at Fort Sill military base in Oklahoma when the White House arranged with the Pentagon to meet privately with the Teamsters last Oct. 10 at the Old Executive Office Building.
The comments were prompted by a report yesterday in The Washington Post that the Federal Labor Relations Authority's general counsel had charged two top Army officials with violating a law requiring the government to remain neutral in union elections. The charge stemmed from the Oct. 10 meeting arranged by the White House at a time the Teamsters were competing with the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) to represent 2,500 civilian Fort Sill workers.
The Teamsters, who had failed to win an earlier vote, won the election seven days after widely publicizing among the workers their two-hour "White House meeting" with the Army as evidence of the union's political clout. The FLRA held a three-day hearing on the charges last month and is considering overturning the election.
"It was bad judgment based on bad information," Daniels said, for the White House to arrange a meeting during the hotly contested election campaign.
Army and Defense Department officials also denied yesterday that they knew of the pending election when they arranged -- at the request of Daniels' office -- to meet the Teamsters. The meeting was to discuss the issue of "contracting out," which Fort Sill workers feared would result in job loss when private contractors took over Army functions.
But NFFE officials said they believe the Army and White House knew of the pending union election and conducted the meeting as a "political payoff" to the Teamsters in return for strong political support the union hierarchy offered the Reagan administration. The Teamsters were the only major union to endorse Ronald Reagan for president in 1980 and 1984.
"I don't see how they could not have had knowledge" of the election, said NFFE spokesman Red Evans. "We very frankly feel the White House not only interfered in the election, but knowingly assisted the Teamsters."
An internal Army memorandum, written before the Teamsters meeting, discussed the union election at length. The session was described as a "show-the-flag meeting to impress Fort Sill's workers that the Teamsters can do more for them than the NFFE," Army Col. James M. Schroeder wrote to his superior, Valcris O. Ewell, deputy assistant secretary of the Army.
Ewell and Michael W. Owen, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army, participated in the meeting with Daniels' assistant, Andrew H. Card Jr., and five Teamster representatives. The Army said the officials had not seen the "show-the-flag" memo before the meeting and were unaware of the representation election.
Former White House political director Edward J. Rollins was aware of the pending election last July, three months before the meeting. But Rollins said in an interview yesterday that he did not discuss it with Daniels when Daniels replaced Rollins last August.
Rollins said he initially offered to meet with Teamster President Jackie Presser last May after Paul Locigno, Teamster government affairs director, requested the meeting. But NFFE President James Pierce wrote a protest letter to Rollins, and Rollins wrote to NFFE last July 1 on White House stationery, saying "I want to state clearly that the White House takes no sides in the election at Fort Sill."
"Speakes said the White House didn't know, but here we have a letter from one of their highest-ranking people last July, indicating he knew," Evans said.
But Rollins and Daniels said they never discussed the Teamsters session. Daniels said Locigno renewed his request for the meeting last fall, without mentioning the union election. Locigno could not be reached for comment and is out of the country, Teamster officials said.
Daniels said, "I feel a bit misused obviously by the Teamsters. It would have been nice to be informed . . . I have not been in contact with them, and I don't see any purpose in establishing any contact now."