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TEAMSTERS RETURN TO WORK PENDING RANK-AND-FILE VOTE

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Teamsters union Friday suspended its 24-day-old nationwide strike by 70,000 trucking industry workers for at least a month while its members vote on whether to accept a tentative settlement.

Teamster picket lines against 20 major long-haul trucking firms were to be taken down at 11 p.m. Friday, and striking drivers, mechanics and loading dock workers would stay on the job during the contract ratification process, union President Ron Carey said.

But some 400 local leaders of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters declined to give the tentative accord their stamp of approval, voting instead to send the deal to the members without a recommendation.

"If the members want to reject this agreement and try to win more by resuming the strike, that is their democratic decision to make," Carey said.

The new four-year National Master Freight Agreement reached late Thursday does not become final until it has been ratified by the 120,000 union members it covers in a mail-in ballot that could take until the end of May to complete.

The local leaders' refusal to endorse the settlement underscores the growing hostility between Carey and his political opponents within the union.

"It appears that Carey caved in on the gut issues that the members struck to protect," said R.V. Durham, leader of a North Carolina local and of a joint council of locals in North and South Carolina who ran against Carey for president in 1991.

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