International Brotherhood of Teamsters History
Washington, D.C. 20001-2198
Telephone: (202) 624-6800
Fax: (202) 624-6918
Members: 1.5 million
NAIC: 81393 Labor Unions and Similar Labor Organizations
Building better lives. Together. That's what the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is all about. To make life better for Teamster members and their families--and for all working families--the Teamsters organize the unorganized, make workers' voices heard in the corridors of power, negotiate contracts that make the American dream a reality for millions, protect workers' health and safety, and fight to keep jobs in North America. Today's Teamsters are a community of workers, fueled by a contagious spirit that is equal part passion, commitment, creativity, solidarity, and strength. Collectively, we are dedicated to the ultimate tenet of the trade union movement--the commitment to enhance the lives of our members all across North America ... and to win justice for working families. Key Dates:
- Team Drivers International Union (TDIU) is chartered by American Federation of Labor.
- Breakaway Teamsters National Union is formed.
- Rivals merge to create International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).
- Daniel J. Tobin is elected president.
- Organizing efforts turn from horse-drawn freight to motor truck.
- Minneapolis Local begins organizing over-the-road, long-distance drivers.
- Dave Beck is elected president.
- James R. Hoffa is elected president; AFL-CIO expels Teamsters on corruption charges.
- Hoffa negotiates National Master Freight Agreement.
- Hoffa disappears.
- Teamsters accept government's consent decree to conduct direct election of officers.
- Ron Carey is elected president in union's first national election.
- James P. Hoffa is elected president.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) is the largest labor union in the United States. In 2000, it had some 1.5 million members in 568 local unions in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Teamsters members included truck drivers, hospital workers, farm workers, airline pilots and flight attendants, police officers, custodians, toll collectors, and school principals. The IBT organized new members and negotiated with individual employers, such as United Parcel Service, and with employer groups to determine members' working conditions, wages, and benefits, including health coverage, paid vacation, and pension plans.
Early Roots: 1898--1902
At the turn of the century, people depended on horse-drawn wagons to move produce and goods locally. Teamsters, who drove the teams of horses, generally worked 12--18 hours a day, every day of the week for an average wage of $2.00 per day. Not only was their pay low, they were held responsible when the merchandise was damaged or lost or when the shipper did not pay.
Individual teamsters began forming local groups to improve their working conditions. In 1899, the Team Drivers International Union (TDIU), composed of several local unions in the Midwest, received a charter from the American Federation of Labor, which was a loose confederation of national unions. The Team Drivers membership numbered 1,700. Under the charter, anyone who drove a team for someone else or who owned up to five teams of horses and had others working for them could be a member.
Soon, the teams owners took control of the union. The two groups--the employees and the owners--often had different concerns, as might be expected. The drivers who owned no teams felt their issues were not being addressed. Many of these members belonged to local unions in Chicago, and in 1902 the Chicago locals pulled out of the Team Drivers and founded their own organization, the Teamsters National Union (TNU).
Membership in this union was limited to non-owner teamsters, teamster helpers, and owners of no more than one team of horses. The TNU pushed for higher wages and shorter hours, issues that attracted non-owners, and in a few months its membership was larger than TDIU. Another difference was that for TNU, a teamster was a skilled craftsman, and the unskilled immigrants and farmworkers coming to the cities were not welcome in the union. Finally, according to Arthur A. Sloane's Hoffa, the Chicago-based TNU colluded with employers and was considered a criminal association.
A Merger: 1903--07
Samuel P. Gompers, the head of the American Federation of Labor, urged the two unions to get back together, and in 1903, at Niagara Falls, New York, they merged to create the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). The issue of owners versus non-owners was settled with the merger: no one owning more than one team of horses could belong to the IBT. Former TDIU head Cornelius Shea, of Boston, was elected president.
Four years later, with the loss of a bloody strike against Montgomery Ward Company and charges of racketeering, Shea lost his reelection bid. The new president, Daniel J. Tobin, was also from Boston, and would lead the union for the next four and one-half decades.
From Horses to Trucks: 1907--30
Tobin's early years focused on organizing the 'skilled' drivers, particularly beer wagon drivers and those delivering bakery and confectionery goods. The union was successful in improving working conditions for its members--reducing hours of work, winning the right to overtime pay, and standardizing contracts--but big changes were occurring within the industry. Motor trucks were replacing horses, and in 1912 the first transcontinental freight delivery by truck occurred. That same year, IBT's membership reached 40,000, and Tobin urged the organization of truck drivers as well as those delivering by wagon.
IBT membership hit 60,000 in 1915, and in 1920 the union expanded by affiliating with the Canadian Trades and Labor Congress, Canada's national confederation of unions. That same year Tobin convinced the members to double the per capita dues paid to the national union by all the locals. The increase, from 15 cents to 30 cents, strengthened the organizing efforts and raised benefits paid to workers striking to win a contract. By 1930, membership had reached 105,000, even though the IBT continued to ignore the drivers making long-distance hauls between cities.
Organizing Over-the-Road Truckers: 1933--37
The Depression left thousands of drivers out of work, and in 1933 Teamster membership had dropped to 75,000. But the militant leaders of the Teamsters local in Minneapolis were about to change the power of the union. These men, who favored Leon Trotsky over Franklin Roosevelt, were Ray Dunne, his brothers Miles and Grant, and Farrell Dobbs. In organizing the city drivers, they ignored the national union's focus on skilled workers and worked to get any group of drivers into the union. They organized the city coal yard workers, following a bitter strike, and then turned to over-the-road drivers.
Farrell Dobbs, in particular, saw the importance of long-distance trucking as it replaced railroads as the means for handling freight. Their strategy was simple: Teamster members at the Minneapolis truck terminals would not unload any trucks unless they were driven by Teamster members. Out-of-town owners had to allow their drivers to join the Teamsters and then negotiate with the union. The new drivers would then go on to organize the next terminal. The leap-frog organizing of truck terminals was not limited to the Midwest. David Beck, in Seattle, used it to organize almost all of the long-haul drivers from Washington to southern California. In Beck's opinion, 'anyone who sleeps in a bed with movable castors' qualified as a Teamster.
Dobbs and the Dunnes were not organizing truck drivers only. They recruited loading dock and other workers by permitting Teamster drivers to deliver to and pick up only from warehouses where the Teamsters represented the workers. Once they had those workers in the union, the local negotiated contracts that allowed them to accommodate union-made goods only, thus bringing in many factory workers. By 1937, the IBT membership had jumped to 277,000.
New Teamster Structures: 1936--38
Structurally, Teamster locals were strong, autonomous, and independent. Traditionally, they organized, provided services to, and negotiated bargaining agreements for people who worked in a specific trade in a specific city, such as the bakery truck drivers in Des Moines or the laundry truck drivers in Portland. The union would bargain with the employer or employers in that city who hired their members. Joint Councils were established where there were three or more locals, to coordinate Teamster activities in the area, especially organizing, and to decide certain jurisdictional matters.
The over-the-road drivers who joined the Teamsters as a result of the work of Dobbs and Beck did not live and work in one place. Both leaders realized how important it was to develop a means to negotiate area-wide contracts to ensure consistency in wages and benefits. If that did not occur, the owners could easily move a terminal to an area where the negotiated wages were low.
Beck negotiated the first area-wide trucking agreement in 1936, covering over-the-road drivers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. In 1938, Beck also introduced a new structure to the union, a multistate 'conference' divided into trade divisions to provide specialized organizing help to joint councils and local unions. This new administrative entity would help expand Teamster membership and also provide regional power bases outside the control of the IBT president.
In the Midwest, Dobbs formed the North Central District Drivers Council in 1937, made of up 70 locals representing most of the several hundred trucking workers in the 12 midwestern states. One of the men working with Dobbs was a young Teamster organizer from Detroit, James Riddle Hoffa.
To negotiate a master regional agreement, Dobbs concentrated on Chicago, since almost all truck routes in the Midwest went through there, and then took the terms of that contract to the rest of the region. Because most trucking employers would have to abide by the terms of the Chicago agreement, they wanted to participate, and they set up the Central States Employers Negotiating Committee. The regional agreement was signed in 1938, granting road drivers 2.75 cents per mile and 75 cents per hour for lost time. It also established a grievance committee and made membership in the Teamsters a condition of employment for all drivers.
Changing Labor Scene: The 1930s
The labor scene changed significantly during the 1930s. New federal laws established minimum wages and maximum hours of work for each industry, provided protection against management interference or intimidation aimed at union activity and established legal sanction for collective bargaining, the framework for the minimum wage, a 40-hour week, and overtime. Workers in the same industry, no matter what their actual jobs were, joined 'industrial' unions. This approach was to counter the 'skilled' trades organizing of the Teamsters, building trades and other 'craft' unions. In 1934, John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers, along with auto workers, garment workers, steel workers, and others founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
Meanwhile, in 1935, Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act, making regulation of the trucking industry a responsibility of the federal government. At the time, there were some 3.7 million registered trucks on the road, and the industry had revenues of about $500 million. In 1938, the Interstate Commerce Commission adopted the Motor Carrier Safety provisions, establishing maximum hours of driving and minimum hours of rest between driving shifts.
Increasing Membership: The 1940s
By the beginning of the 1940s, IBT membership had reached 456,000. The trucking industry was considered essential to the war effort, and after World War II the industry grew tremendously.
By 1947, gross operating revenues of the motor carriers had risen to $2.2 billion. The union's membership grew to 890,000, and the Teamsters expanded their organizing efforts. While continuing to organize truck drivers, especially in the non-union South, the Teamsters also moved into the auto industry, food processing, dairy, and vending industries. During the decade, membership doubled to one million members.
Leadership Changes: The 1950s
In 1952, Dan Tobin retired after 45 years as president and was succeeded by David Beck. The following year, Beck moved IBT's headquarters from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., erecting a huge marble building across the street from the U.S. Capitol. From there, the union, along with the automobile, concrete, and rubber industries supported plans for a national highway construction program. The result was the beginning of the modern interstate highway system, a $41 billion, 16-year project that would cement trucking's supremacy over the railroad for hauling freight.
In 1955, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merged to form the AFL-CIO. Meanwhile, various committees in Congress were holding hearings on labor racketeering, particularly within the Teamsters. Although the early investigations ended with no findings, in 1957, the U.S. Senate created a bipartisan, special Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field. The committee was chaired by Senator John McClellan, a Democrat from Arkansas. Its chief council was Robert F. Kennedy, and its first target was David Beck for misuse of Teamster funds. Beck eventually went to jail for falsifying income tax returns.
James Hoffa succeeded Beck as president in 1957, despite pending federal trials for perjury and wiretapping, 34 new charges from the McClellan committee, and a suit in federal court for improper selection of convention delegates. Three months latter, the AFL-CIO expelled the Teamsters, its largest affiliate with 1.5 million members, for corrupt leadership. It did not charter a rival union, however.
In 1959, the Teamsters created DRIVE (Democrat, Republican, and Independent Voter Education), one of the first political action committees, to educate members, to get them to the polls, and to make political contributions to campaigns.
Changes in the Trucking Industry and Organizing Public Employees: The 1960s
The decade saw the continuing centralization and standardization of bargaining for truckers and increased organizing of public employees. By 1961, the trucking industry directly employed more than seven million people and its carriers available for public hire had gross revenues of $7.4 billion. But the railroads were fighting to take back more of the freight hauling and air freight competition was accelerating.
In 1964, Hoffa negotiated the first national bargaining agreement for the trucking industry, covering 400,000 intracity and over-the-road drivers employed by some 16,000 trucking companies. According to Arthur Sloan, Hoffa was a realist as a negotiator and followed 'an ability-to-pay' approach, protecting the industry as well as his members. As technology and innovations such as sleeper cabs and piggybacking changed the industry, his objective was to minimize displacement and ensure that the workers shared in whatever productivity gains resulted.
That same year Hoffa was found guilty of jury tampering, conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud. After appeals, he went to federal prison in 1967, and general vice-president Frank Fitzsimmons assumed control in his absence. Meanwhile, public employees, especially those working for state and local governments, were becoming more militant. Sanitation workers, teachers, nurses, and other hospital workers joined unions and made the concept of public employee collective bargaining more acceptable. By the end of the 1960s, the Teamsters had several hundred thousand members in the public sector.
Growing Dissent: The 1970s
Frank Fitzsimmons was elected general president of IBT in 1971, and by 1975, the year James Hoffa disappeared, the union numbered 2.2 million members. The new members included local police, airline pilots, office workers, dental mechanics, and farm workers.
But some members, especially the truckers, were not happy with the union leadership and its priorities, and various dissident groups appeared to challenge the leadership--Professional Drivers Council (PROD), Teamsters United Rank and File (TURF), and Teamsters for a Decent Contract (TDC). Grass roots organizations, the groups built bases in local unions, electing reformers to leadership positions with the hope of eventually influencing national issues. In 1976, the various groups came together to establish Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).
Government Oversight: The 1980s
The 1980s were a turbulent time for the Teamsters. Four men served as general president during the decade, the union rejoined the AFL-CIO and membership dropped as a result of deregulation of the trucking industry.
By 1989, membership was down to 1.5 million. In March that year, the Teamsters signed a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. The agreement settled a suit charging the union had allowed organized crime to infiltrate and dominate the organization. It called for a court-appointed panel to oversee the union's internal affairs for the next three years. It also required that top officers be elected by direct, secret vote of the membership, a long-time TDU demand. The suit was the first use of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against a national union and was brought originally by the U.S. Attorney in New York (and later Mayor) Rudolph Giuliani.
New Leadership: The 1990s
Charges against Teamster officials resulting from the government investigations gave a boost to the dissidents and led to victories at the local level, such as that of Ron Carey, president of a New York local and former UPS driver. With promises to clean up the union and backing from TDU, Carey and his slate won the first direct election in 1991 and he was re-elected in 1996, defeating an attorney, James P. Hoffa, son of the former Teamster leader.
In 1997, the government invalidated Carey's win due to election finance illegalities. Hoffa won the new election in 1998. After taking office, Hoffa surprised many observers by building coalitions with environmentalists and other progressive groups on trade and human rights issues. He established the Respect, Integrity, Strength and Ethics (RISE) program to fight internal corruption, a move to encourage the end of government oversight.
In 2000, Hoffa announced that he would run for a full term in 2001. Although he had yet to mobilize and involve the membership as desired by TDU or to deal with the remaining old guard leaders, his future, as that of any labor leader, would depend on his ability to get his members good contracts and to attract more members to the union.
- Brooks, Thomas R., Toil and Trouble: A History of American Labor, 2nd ed., New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1971.
- Butterfield, Bruce, 'Teamsters Avert Trial by Accepting Reforms,' Boston Globe, March 14, 1989, p. 1.
- Cooper, Mark, 'Where's Hoffa Driving the Teamsters?,' Nation, July 24, 2000, p. 11.
- Fitch, Robert, 'Revolution in the Teamsters,' Tikkun, March 1993, p. 19.
- Hartson, Merrill, 'Union Dissidents Asking Labor Department Assistance,' Associated Press, August 9, 1985.
- 'Hoffa Case: Teamsters in Spotlight Again,' U.S. News and World Report, August 18, 1975, p. 13.
- Larkin, Jim, 'Teamsters: The Next Chapter,' Nation, January 4, 1999, p. 17.
- 'Low Gear for Teamster Reform,' Business Week, December 3, 1979, p. 121.
- Nicholson, Tom, et al., 'Taking on the Teamsters,' Newsweek, January 8, 1979, p. 54.
- 'Obituary of Dave Beck,' Daily Telegraph, December 29, 1993, p. 17.
- Slaughter, Jane, 'Teamsters Reform Movement Survives Carey's Debacle,' Monthly Review, April 1998, p. 1.
- Sloan, Arthur A., Hoffa, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1991.
- 'The Teamster Century,' International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO, 1999.
- Yancy, Matt, 'Teamsters Dissidents Seek Changes in Election Rules,' Associated Press, May 19, 1986.
- ------, 'Teamsters Union Seeks to Return to the Fold,' Associated Press, October 23, 1987.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 37. St. James Press, 2001.