Decked out in the latest in ventilated sports shoes, straw hats with foulard bands, tailored silk suits and open-weave summer shirts, a band of 13 men mushed across the thick carpet in the lobby of Los Angeles' flossy Sheraton-Town House Hotel last week for a three-day meeting.
They planned one day to meet on a palm-shaded lanai in sight of the swimming pool and then, to avoid nosy newsmen, switched with their retinue (five lawyers), like French-farce husbands, from the Atwater Kent Suite to the Mary Martin Suite to the parquet-floored Terrace Room. They looked and acted like directors of General Motors come to dream about new models, but they were the General Executive Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters trying to work their way out of trouble.
Facing these powerful barons of transportation were charges by the Ethical Practices Committee of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. that might get their whole brotherhood thrown out of the big union. The heart of their problem was best illustrated by the fouled sparkplugs brought along by the four biggest of them: bellowing Dave Beck, newly harassed (he cried) by some absurd vendetta of the income tax people; Minneapolis Teamster Vice President Sidney L. Brennan, convicted of accepting a bribe; Western Conference Chair man Frank Brewster, convicted of contempt of Congress; and, with topmost billing in the news, James Riddle Hoffa, chairman of the Central States Conference of Teamsters, struggling to keep his tail gate from the teeth of the law.
For the first three, there was little to look forward to; for big things in union labor, they were through. But tough, ruthless Jimmy Hoffa was getting ready to take the big step to ultimate power among the Teamsters. His mouth hardened into a grim line; his accustomed arrogance softened to a lighter hauteur; he stiffened his muscle-packed (5 ft. 5½ in., 170 lb.) frame and snapped: "I have been as clean as anybody else in the labor movement. What I have done was in keeping with the membership's authority vested in me."
Only a prefix away from the international union's presidency, Vice President Hoffa, 44, controls a mighty voting force which he has assembled through the years by tirelessly reaching out from his Detroit headquarters into every accessible Teamster domain, tirelessly wooing business agents and local leaders, establishing a machine which owes allegiance only to Hoffa. He maintained it by virtue of his famed reputation as a tough negotiator of union contracts and a self-styled protector of the ranks. While conspiring with hoods, he has won the confidence of businessmen and has even assumed a stance of labor statesmanship.
"I do not like irresponsible labor leaders," he cried before the St. Louis Advertising Club last year. "Within the Teamsters international union . . . we have no room for dishonest people." As a guest lecturer at Harvard's Graduate School of Public Administration last year, he lectured Economist Sumner Slichter's class on the economics of collective bargaining.
Bites of Coal. For Jimmy Hoffa the Terrace Room of the Town House, the leadership of 1,400,000 Teamsters and the classroom at Harvard represent a long, hard climb. He fought every step of the way.