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Reformers Given Chance at Teamster Slots

FOR the next two years, Diana Kilmury plans to drive around Canada in a 30-foot motor home decorated with huge glow-in-the-dark union decals. Her aim: to convince as many Teamsters as possible to support reform within their union. Ron Carey is doing something novel. Long regarded as an honest local union official from New York, he is running for the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1991. And, for the first time in decades, he has at least a long shot at winning.

These are heady times for would-be reformers of the nation's largest union. Many of them met here in Pittsburgh over the weekend for the convention of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a 10,000-member reform group.

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The pace of change during the past year has been so fast that even the reformers are catching their breath. For the first time in decades, they feel they will get fair and honest elections for the top Teamster positions, thanks to the supervision of a special federal court-appointed officer.

``We are on the verge of monumental change,'' says Ms. Kilmury, a member of Canada TDU in Vancouver, British Columbia.

``I think within our local there's a renewed excitement about the changes that are taking place,'' adds Don Stone, the president-elect of Local 283 just outside of Detroit.

Mr. Stone gained instant fame within union circles last month when he ran as a reform candidate and defeated powerful international Teamster vice president George Vitale on his own turf. Stone narrowly beat Mr. Vitale for the presidency of Local 283 with a meager eight votes out of nearly 1,200 cast. When the union took a recount, Stone had won by 16 votes.

``There aren't too many people who take on an international vice president in his own local and win,'' says Frank DePirro, a TDU organizer. ``We sensed higher participation in this fall's elections'' for local union leaders.

The real plums for the reformers are the delegate slots for the international Teamster convention in 1991. It is that convention, held once every five years, at which the top leaders of the international union are elected and changes in the constitution can be made. Up to now, delegates were not elected by the members. The slots automatically went to local union officials who, according to federal investigators, were sufficiently cowed to keep the current leaders in office.

Faced with a possible government trusteeship of the entire union, the Teamster leadership agreed in March to allow direct, secret-ballot elections for international officers and to have a court-appointed officer supervise those elections. On Oct. 16, a New York District Court judge ruled that the election supervisor had the power to oversee the entire delegate-election process leading up to the convention.

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These reforms give Mr. Carey, president of Local 804 in New York, a credible but perhaps slim opportunity to win the top leadership spot of the international union. His biggest obstacle, he says, is apathy among the rank and file. His Saturday speech at the TDU convention was marked by five standing ovations and, at press time, he was expected to win the reform-group's endorsement.

But TDU represents less than 1 percent of the 1.6 million-member Teamsters who are spread all over the United States and Canada. His likely opponents are the current Teamster president, William J. McCarthy and international secretary treasurer Weldon Mathis. Mr. Carey claims to have heard, however, that Mr. Mathis reached an agreement with President McCarthy and will not run for the top spot.

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