The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), formerly known by the name International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, is one of the largest labor unions in the United States. The name and logo of the union reflect the origin of the union as a craft union when founded in 1903. A teamster was originally a person who drove a team of oxen, a horse or mule-drawn wagon, or a mule train; but the word currently refers to professional truck drivers.
While the San Francisco strike was largely successful, the union's strike against Montgomery Ward in 1905, on the other hand, was not. The national union was unable to offer much effective assistance to local unions and was weakened by internal factions during its early years. Daniel J. Tobin was president of the Teamsters from 1907 to 1952, having been president of Joint Council No. 10, based in Boston, Massachusetts.
Tobin undertook a long jurisdictional battle with the United Brewery Workers over the right to represent beer wagon drivers. While the Teamsters lost this battle in 1913, when the AFL awarded jurisdiction to the Brewers, they won when the issue came before the AFL Executive Board again in 1933, when the Brewers were still recovering from their near-elimination during Prohibition.
Those strikes, which featured pitched battles in which hundreds of picketers fought police and members of the Citizens Alliance, followed by the declaration of martial law by Governor Floyd B. Olson, changed the history of the union. While Tobin distrusted the Trotskyist leadership of Local 574, he was in no position to displace them. Tobin attempted to expel them from the union in 1935 and to establish a new local under friendlier leadership to replace them, but gave up the attempt in the face of opposition from the rank and file and other Teamster leaders in the area.
Under the leadership of Farrell Dobbs of the Communist League of America, the Minneapolis Teamsters then began to organize regionally. Using the prestige that their victory in Minneapolis had brought them, they worked with Teamsters in other cities on a plan to organize the over-the-road drivers, whom Tobin had written off as trash and unorganizable. Beginning in Chicago, they used a combination of what were known as "quickie strikes" (short-term stoppages and disruptions) and secondary boycotts to tie up goods of non-union carriers, using each newly organized carrier as a tool to organize others. The union extended this campaign to other major distribution centers in the Midwest: Detroit, Kansas City and other smaller cities. The newly organized unions formed what later became the Central Conference of Teamsters; one of their most tireless and effective organizers was former loading dock worker from Detroit, Jimmy Hoffa.
At the same time, Dave Beck was organizing in a similar fashion on the West Coast, using Seattle, Portland and San Francisco as bases to organize the drivers in those states. Beck used different tactics, on the other hand, to organize the independent owner-operators who hauled much of the agricultural produce from California farms; the union simply pulled the drivers out of their cabs and signed them up. Beck's politics also differed: he opposed radicalism of any sort, from the Industrial Workers of the World, who were active in Seattle when he began as a labor organizer, to communists who played a major role in labor in the 1930s and 1940s. He also took a dismissive attitude toward the rank and file of the union; as he once famously said, "I'm paid $25,000 a year to run this outfit. . . . Why should truck drivers and bottle washers be allowed to make decisions affecting policy? No corporation would allow it."
Tobin initially objected to these regional conferences, which represented a challenge to his authority, but supported Dobbs' organizing strategy and apparently developed a grudging respect for him. Tobin held no brief, however, for Dobbs' allies and, after Dobbs left the Teamsters to work for the Socialist Workers Party, Tobin attacked the local leadership of the Minneapolis local in 1941, sending in Hoffa and Beck to impose an International trusteeship on the local and to fight off attempts by the Congress of Industrial Organizations to absorb the rebellious local's membership. The final blow was delivered by the Roosevelt administration, which arrested and convicted Dobbs, much of the national leadership of the SWP and the former leaders of the Minneapolis local for violation of the Smith Act.
In Los Angeles, Hollywood was booming as it offered Americans an escape from the depression and many workers lined up outside the movie studios looking for the only job in town. Terrible conditions awaited those workers as the studios exploited the eager workforce with meager pay and the ever present threat of the hundreds of others waiting just outside the gates to take their place if they voiced any complaints. With no one else to turn to but themselves, 180 studio transportation drivers organized themselves under the banner of Teamsters Local 399 under the leadership of Ralph Clare, Nate Saper and Joe Tuohy on April 12, 1930. These 180 men paved the way for the over 4,000 members of Motion Picture & Theatrical Trade Division which serves several crafts from the Animal Wranglers who represent some of the last horse-drawn wagon drivers in the union to the Location Managers and the recently organized Casting Directors.
The CIO also attempted to gain a foothold among Teamsters in Detroit, starting with the carhaul drivers on the theory that their employers could be leveraged into dealing with the CIO more readily. The campaign never got off the ground, however, as Hoffa, who had used violent methods to organize carhaulers and other employers in the 1930s, sent organizers to do battle with CIO organizers. At the same time, the CIO's arm, the United Construction Workers Organizing Committee run by John L. Lewis' brother Denny, received little support from other CIO unions in the area, who were willing to reach informal understandings with Hoffa instead. John L. Lewis' resignation as President of the CIO that year effectively ended any chance that the campaign could succeed. While the union continued to fight jurisdictional battles with other unions, such as the Brewery Workers and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, these were on the fringes of the IBT's traditional jurisdiction and localized.
Hoffa used his base within the Central States to negotiate a single collective bargaining agreement covering all freight drivers in the region in the years after the war, then pushed to achieve similar results in other regions. Hoffa first expanded the agreement to cover Ohio, overcoming the resistance of Teamster locals in the process.
He then moved South, where a number of unionized carriers had moved their operations in the hope of escaping unionization or obtaining lower wages, then expanded the agreement to cover city drivers who delivered the freight that over-the-road drivers hauled. The collective bargaining agreement provided nearly the same wages and benefits in the South that Teamsters were getting in the Midwest; it also made no distinction between black and white Teamsters, although employers often shunted African-American drivers into lower-paying city driving jobs.
In many cases organized crime played an even more direct role. Hoffa depended on the support of a number of "paper locals" from New York established by Johnny Dioguardi, an associate of the Lucchese crime family, in running for the presidency of the Teamsters in 1957. Other locals, such as local 507 in Cleveland, were likewise controlled by racketeers, which exploited them by skimming dues, creating "no-show jobs" for associates, and extorting employers and selling sweetheart contracts. In some industries, such as garbage hauling in New York, the line between union and employer became blurred, as both sides might be controlled by the same crime family.
The reports of corruption, given nationwide publicity by the McClellan Committee, led the AFL-CIO to expel the Teamsters in 1957. Ironically, the McClellan Committee only served to strengthen the role of organized crime in the IBT by bringing about the conviction of Dave Beck, Tobin's successor as General President, for tax evasion and misuse of union funds. At the 1957 IBT convention held in Miami Beach, Florida, Jimmy Hoffa was elected president of the union, which then had 1.5 million members. Another response by the union to its expulsion from the AFL-CIO was to raid other unions' jurisdictions, and expand by organizing manufacturing, service and public sector workers. At the same time, the AFL-CIO fought back by organizing some of its own unions as alternatives to the Teamsters' unions, e.g., the Laundry and Dry Cleaning International Union.
In addition, Hoffa was instrumental in using the assets of the Teamsters' pension plans, particularly the Central States plan, to support Mafia projects, such as the development of Las Vegas in the 1950s and 1960s. Hoffa was, moreover, defiantly unwilling to reform the union or limit his own power in response to the attacks from Robert F. Kennedy, formerly chief counsel to the McClellan Committee, then Attorney General. Kennedy's Department of Justice tried to convict Hoffa for a variety of offenses over the 1960s, finally succeeding on a witness tampering charge in 1964. After exhausting his appeals, Hoffa entered prison in 1967.
Hoffa installed Frank Fitzsimmons, an associate from his days in Local 299 in Detroit, to hold his place for him while he served time. Fitzsimmons, however, began to enjoy the exercise of power in Hoffa's absence; in addition, the organized crime figures around him found that he was more pliant than Hoffa had been. While President Nixon's pardon barred Hoffa from resuming any role in the Teamsters until 1980, Hoffa challenged the legality of that condition and planned to run again for presidency of the union, but disappeared in 1975 under mysterious circumstances. Often presumed dead, his body has never been found.
That led to warfare in the fields, as thousands of UFW members struck these employers, while other farmworkers crossed the picket lines. The strike and attendant violence led to the deaths of three UFW members, the passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in California in 1975, and lengthy anti-trust litigation that ultimately led the Teamsters to abandon their claim to represent most of these agricultural workers.
Deregulation had catastrophic effects on the Teamsters, opening up the industry to competition from non-union companies who sought to cut costs by avoiding unionization and curbing wages. Nearly 200 unionized carriers went out of business in the first few years of deregulation, leaving thirty percent of Teamsters in the freight division unemployed. The remaining unionized carriers demanded concessions in wages, work rules, and hours.
Williams' successor, Jackie Presser, was prepared to grant most of these concessions in the form of a special freight “relief rider” that would cut wages by up to 35 percent and establish two-tier wages. Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which had grown out of efforts to reject the 1976 freight agreement, launched a successful national campaign to defeat the relief rider, which was defeated by a vote of 94,086 to 13,082.
The pressure on the freight industry and the national freight agreement continued, however. By the end of the 1990s the National Master Freight Agreement, which had covered 500,000 drivers in the late 1970s, dropped to less than 200,000, with numerous local riders weakening it further in some areas.
TDU was able to win some local offices within the union, although the International Union often attempted to make those victories meaningless by marginalizing the officer or the union. TDU acquired greater prominence, however, with the election reforms forced on the union by the consent decree it had entered into in 1989 on the eve of trial on a suit brought by the federal government under the RICO act.
The decree required the direct election of International officers by the membership, as TDU had been demanding for years leading up to the decree, to replace the indirect election by delegates at the union's convention. While the delegates at the union's 1991 convention balked at amending the Constitution, they ultimately capitulated under pressure from the government.
That consent decree might not have been possible, however, if it had not been for the testimony of Roy Williams, who described, in an affidavit he gave the government in return for a delay of his imprisonment, his own dealings with organized crime as the Secretary-Treasurer of a local union in Kansas City and as an officer of the International Union. The decree also gave the government the power to install an Independent Review Board with the power to expel any member of the union for "conduct unbecoming to the union", which the IRB proceeded to exercise far more aggressively than the Teamsters officials who had agreed to the decree had expected.
While the government was pursuing a civil case against the union as an entity it was also indicting Presser, who had succeeded Williams as General President, for embezzling from two different local unions in Cleveland prior to his election as President. Presser resigned in 1988, but died before his trial was scheduled to begin. He was succeeded by William J. McCarthy, who came from the same local that Dan Tobin had led eighty years earlier.
Ron Carey won a surprising victory in the first direct election for General President in the union's history, defeating two "old guard" candidates, R.V. Durham and Walter Shea. Carey's slate, supported by TDU, also won nearly all of the seats on the International Executive Board.
Carey acquired a fair amount of influence within the AFL-CIO, which had readmitted the Teamsters in 1985. Carey was close with the new leadership elected in 1995, particularly Richard Trumka of the United Mine Workers of America, who became Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO under John Sweeney. Carey had also swung the Teamsters support behind the Democratic Party, a change from past administrations that had supported the Republican Party. The new administration set out to break from the past in other ways, making energetic efforts to head off a vote to oust the union as representative of Northwest Airlines' flight attendants, negotiating a breakthrough agreement covering carhaulers, and supporting local strikes, such as the one against Diamond Walnuts, to restore the union's strength.
The Carey administration did not, on the other hand, have much power in the lower reaches of the Teamster hierarchy: all of the large regional conferences were run by "old guard" officers, as were most of the locals. Disagreements between those two camps led the old guard to campaign against the Carey administration's proposed dues increase; the Carey administration retaliated by dissolving the regional conferences, calling them expensive redundancies and fiefdoms for old guard union officers. and rearranging the boundaries of some joint councils that had fought against the dues increase.
The opposition responded by uniting around a single candidate, James P. Hoffa, son of James R. Hoffa, to run against Carey in 1996. Hoffa ran a strong campaign, trading on the mystique still attached to his late father's name and promising to restore those days of glory. Carey appeared, however, to have won a close election.
Shortly afterward in 1997, the union initiated a large and successful strike against UPS. The parcel services department by that time had become the largest division in the union.
Carey was removed from the union's leadership by the IRB shortly thereafter, when evidence that individuals in his office had arranged for transfer of several thousand dollars to an outside contractor, which then arranged for another entity to make an equivalent contribution to the Carey campaign. Carey was indicted for lying to investigators about his campaign funding but was acquitted of all charges in a 2001 trial.
In the 1998 election to succeed Carey, James P. Hoffa was elected handily. He became president of the Teamsters on March 19, 1999, and took the union in a more moderate direction, tempering the union's support for Democrats and attempting to come to terms with powerful Republicans in Congress.
The union has merged in recent years with a number of unions from other industries, including the Graphic Communications International Union, a printing industry union, and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, both from the railway industry.
On July 25, 2005 General President James P. Hoffa announced that the Teamsters, along with the Service Employees International Union, have disaffiliated themselves from the AFL-CIO, opting to form the independent Change to Win Federation.
The Teamsters Union endorsed Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic Nomination on Feb. 20, 2008.
The term "teamster" originally referred to a person who drove a team of draft animals, usually a wagon drawn by oxen, horses or mules. This term was commonly used during the US/Mexican and Indian wars throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries on the American frontier.
A teamster might also drive pack animals such as a muletrain, in which case he was also known as a muleteer or muleskinner. Another name is a bullwhacker. In Australian English a teamster was also known as a bullocker or bullocky. Today this person may be an outfitter or packer.
President Clinton, Sidney Poitier And Steve Harvey Take Top Honors At 32nd NAACP Image Awards Show Airs March 9 On Fox
Mar 13, 2001; Columbus Times 03-13-2001 PRESIDENT CLINTON, SIDNEY POITIER AND STEVE HARVEY TAKE TOP HONORS AT 32NDNAACP IMAGE AWARDS SHOW AIRS...