Teamsters for a Democratic Union
Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) is a rank-and-file union democracy movement organized to reform the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), or Teamsters. TDU was created out of the merger of the Professional Drivers Council (PROD) and Teamsters for a Decent Contract (TDC) in 1979. TDU is a grassroots organization with chapters from coast to coast in the United States and Canada.
- 1 The Beginnings of TDU
- 2 TDU in the 1980s
- 3 Rebuilding Teamster Power
- 4 The Fight to Sustain Progress
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Beginnings of TDU
In 1975, the Teamsters were in trouble. Union officials had allowed organized crime to infiltrate the highest levels of the Union. The mob was raiding members’ pension funds to build casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada. Teamster officials were taking payoffs from employers and selling out the members. “There is no jurisdiction of safety within our ranks,” a Los Angeles Teamster said at the time, “and anyone who speaks with conviction shall be haunted by a specter of fear.”
Teamsters for a Decent Contract
It was in these difficult circumstances that a small group of freight Teamsters met in Chicago, Illinois in late 1975 to talk about the national freight contract being negotiated the following year. They drew up a list of contract demands and made plans to print and distribute a brochure to freight workers and organize meetings around the country. The group called itself Teamsters for a Decent Contract (TDC).
TDC distributed thousands of flyers to freight Teamsters, organized meetings in dozens of cities, and held a demonstration in front of IBT headquarters in Washington, D.C. They demanded that Teamster President Frank Fitzsimmons hold the line for a strong contract. The small group grew in numbers as freight workers responded to their message.
The New York Times wrote that TDC was “creating tremendous pressure on Mr. Fitzsimmons to bring home a contract that he can sell to the membership.” Under this pressure, Fitzsimmons called the first national strike in the Teamsters’ history. TDC pushed hard for an unlimited cost of living allowance clause and it was won. (The union leadership later gave away the unlimited COLA in 1982.)
TDU is Formed
At about the same time that TDC began, United Parcel Service (UPS) workers concerned about the attack on their working conditions started their own organization, UPSurge. On June 5, 1976, 35 TDC and UPSurge members from various cities met in Cleveland, Ohio, to form a new group that would unite freight and UPS Teamsters. They called themselves Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). TDU’s goal would be to build a rank-and-file movement to reform the union and fight for strong contracts.
TDU took its message to the 1976 Teamster Convention in Las Vegas. TDU’s only Delegate, Pete Camarata, proposed convention resolutions calling for direct election of officers, a limit on officers’ salaries and the right to a separate vote on contract supplements. The proposals were ignored. Later, Camarata was beaten by thugs outside the convention.
Teamster President Fitzsimmons told the convention that reformers could “go to hell.” TDU leader Doug Allan responded that they would “go to hell and back to reform the union.”
First TDU Convention
On September 18, 1976, nearly two hundred Teamsters met at Kent State University in Ohio for TDU’s founding convention. In some Locals, members took up collections to be able to send a representative. “It was exciting, it was new, it was dynamic,” said Pennsylvania Roadway Services dockworker Keith Gallagher of that first convention. “People were actually trying to say something that I had felt for several years, that the Union belonged to the members, not to the officials.”
Members voted to form a national organization with local chapters. The group drafted a constitution stating that, “The object of this organization is to build a national, unified movement of rank-and-file Teamsters that is organized to fight for rank-and-file rights on the job and in the union.” They also decided to reach out beyond TDU’s base with truck drivers and dock workers, and include Teamsters from all industries.
The new organization drew up a ten-point “Rank-and-File Bill of Rights” to be their program. Some of the items in the TDU Bill of Rights included: - Direct election of officers - Majority rule on contract votes - Fair grievance procedure with innocent until proven guilty provisions - No multiple salaries for union officials - An end to race and sex discrimination - 25-and-out pensions
In the coming years, TDU would win many of these goals and make substantial progress on others.
Organizing, Strikes, Contracts
TDU members returned from the convention to organize on the shop floor and at the Union hall. Some introduced motions to democratize their Local Union bylaws. Some ran for Local Union office.
TDU organized members at UPS, freight, steelhaul and carhaul to push for stronger contracts during negotiations in 1979. That year, some carhaulers and steelhaulers went out on wildcat strikes demanding contract improvements. After a four-week strike, steelhaulers won higher pay, sick days and a fuel allowance. In carhaul, the union imposed a poor agreement even though the majority of members voted it down.
A United Movement
In addition to TDU another reform group existed, the Professional Drivers’ Council (PROD). PROD initially focused on truck driver health and safety, and later took on issues of corruption and union democracy. While TDU generally had more experience with contracts and union elections, PROD had more experience in litigation and lobbying. Both groups had a base among Teamster members throughout the country.
In late 1979, PROD and TDU members approved a merger of the two groups. At the convention where the TDU-PROD merger was ratified, Oakland carhauler Bill Slater told members, “Our time will come, and when it does, we must be prepared.”
TDU in the 1980s
The 1980s were a difficult time for working Teamsters. They were years of economic recession, freight industry deregulation, and concessionary bargaining. Teamsters under attack by employers felt like they were fighting with their hands tied behind their back, because top union officials were looking out for the employers and their mob friends instead of the members.
In these tough times, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) helped organize a fightback against the employer attacks and kept the pressure on to clean up the union and expand members’ democratic rights. By the end of the decade, TDU was winning the fight for democracy. The groundwork was laid to rebuild the strength of the Teamsters union.
Fighting Deregulation and Concessions
The 1980s were devastating to the trucking industry and freight Teamsters. Legislation to deregulate the industry was proposed in 1980. The IBT hired paid lobbyists to work against the bill, but did little else. TDU members proposed Local Union resolutions calling for national demonstrations against deregulation, and even possible work stoppages. “You just can’t ignore a large convoy of trucks and a crowd of rank-and-file Teamsters so easily,” said TDU activist Herman Myers, Sr. The IBT’s lobbying didn’t work. Deregulation passed.
Deregulation led to cutthroat competition and the growth of new non-union carriers. By 1982, 183 unionized carriers had gone out of business and 30 percent of freight Teamsters were unemployed. The remaining unionized carriers responded by demanding big concessions in areas like wages, productivity, and the flexible workweek.
The IBT supported the employers’ demands. In July 1983, Teamster President Jackie Presser proposed a special freight “relief rider” that would cut wages by up to 35 percent and establish two-tier wages. TDU launched a national campaign to defeat the relief rider and save the National Master Freight Agreement. It worked. The membership rejected the concessionary rider by a vote of 94,086 to 13,082. Business Week called it “A real slap in the face for Jackie Presser.”
Winning Contract Rights
The IBT feared a similar embarrassment on the 1985 UPS contract. A new agreement was secretly negotiated months before the contract expired. Ballots were secretly printed up and mailed to members along with slick promotional material calling it the “Best Contract Ever.” Members had not even known negotiations were underway!
TDU sued the IBT over this quickie vote. The court voided the vote and ruled that members had to be given a meaningful opportunity to debate contract proposals before they were voted on. It was the last quickie vote the IBT would pull.
Soon after, TDU beat the hated “two-thirds rule.” In 1987 and 1988, a majority of UPS and freight Teamsters rejected their contracts. But since a two-thirds super-majority was required to reject an agreement, the union declared the contracts approved. TDU and New York Local 804 President Ron Carey challenged the two-thirds rule in court. Under pressure, the IBT General Executive Board eliminated the two-thirds rule. The rank-and-file had won majority rule on contract votes.
Throughout the 1980s, TDU worked to protect working Teamsters’ pension and heath and welfare benefits. TDUers settled a class-action lawsuit against the Central States Pension Fund when the trustees agreed to pay back nearly $3 million that was lost in a corrupt deal. Another TDU-backed lawsuit forced Central States to rescind a policy of terminating health and welfare benefits for members whose employers were delinquent in making contributions.
In 1983, 150 long-time Kroger workers in Detroit, Michigan, who had been cheated out of their pensions won the benefits they were owed with the help of TDU and attorney Ann Curry Thompson. Their local union had told them nothing could be done. “The TDU is who helped us,” said 26-year Kroger Teamster Mary Runski. “They were always there.”
Towards the end of the decade, TDU launched a nationwide campaign for pension improvements in the major Teamster funds, including 30-and-out at any age with $3,000.
Corruption at the Top
At the 1981 IBT Convention, TDU delegate Diana Kilmury stood before the hostile audience and proposed the creation of an Ethical Practices Committee within the union. “What are you afraid of?” she asked. The corrupt IBT leadership had a lot to be afraid of.
Much of the corruption involved the Central States Pension Fund. In 1982, Teamster President Roy Williams, Central States Pension Fund administrator Allen Dorfman, and pension fund trustees were convicted of attempting to bribe a U.S. senator.
Dorfman had used the pension fund as a piggy bank for the mob. He had split kickbacks with James Hoffa, Sr. and been a business partner of James Hoffa, Jr.
In 1983, Williams was charged with extortion and links to organized crime. Williams and Dorfman were plotting with the mob to take back control of the Central States Pension Fund. Williams later admitted in court that the Teamster leadership was controlled by organized crime.
The next Teamster President, Jackie Presser, was no better. At the time of the 1986 IBT Convention, he was under a multi-count indictment including charges of racketeering and embezzlement.
No Mob Control, No Government Control
As the extent of the corruption became clearer, pressure grew for government intervention. In 1988, the United States Department of Justice prosecuted the union under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The suit stated that “the IBT has made a devil’s pact with La Cosa Nostra.” They proposed a federal trusteeship of the whole union.
TDU strongly opposed a government takeover. TDU’s position was that the best anti-corruption program would be to give members the Right to Vote.
The Right to Vote
In 1985, TDU launched a national right to vote petition to put pressure on the Teamster leadership to hold elections for national officers. Volunteers gathered signatures at worksites across the country. The petition, with tens of thousands of signatures, was presented to the 1986 Teamster convention. At the convention, TDU delegates supported a resolution for direct election of IBT officials, which was voted down.
When the RICO suit was announced, TDU National Organizer Ken Paff wrote the United States Attorney General saying “there is only one ‘reorganization’ under RICO that the government can effectively take: namely, to direct the IBT to hold rank-and-file elections”.
On March 13, 1989, the Justice Department reached an agreement with the IBT to settle the RICO suit. It established a court supervised Independent Review Board to clean out corruption. Most important, it provided for the direct election of Teamster officers. TDU’s position against government trusteeship and for the right to vote had prevailed. The Wall Street Journal reported that “the terms of the settlement were greatly influenced by the concerns and platform of Teamsters for a Democratic Union.”
Rank-and-file Teamsters had won the right to vote. Now they were going to use it
Rebuilding Teamster Power
Rank-and-file Teamsters won the right to vote for top Teamster officers after a decade-long fight led by TDU. In the 1990s members used that right to elect new leaders and change the union’s direction.
This period saw new successes for the reform movement, including: electing a new leadership, financial reforms that cut dues waste at the IBT, reversing decades of membership losses, and the UPS strike victory — labor’s most important victory in decades.
But the 1990s also confronted our movement with serious challenges as employers tried to undercut the union’s power and old guard officials launched a civil war to try to block Teamster reform.
TDU wasn’t satisfied with just changing our union’s top leadership. We saw that change as an opening for rank-and-file Teamsters to make our union stronger by getting involved at all levels. TDU members kept the pressure on resistant local officials and provided many of the troops to carry out the IBT’s programs.
While supporting the new leadership’s good work, TDU also pushed for deeper reforms in areas such as the grievance procedure and pension benefits. TDU remained the watchdog group for Teamsters, publishing the $100,000 Club and other nonpartisan information and demanding accountability at all levels.
1991 IBT Election
At the November 1989 TDU Convention, members debated and voted to endorse Local 804 President Ron Carey, who was putting a slate together and planning to run for Teamster President. Carey was not a TDU member, but a militant and independent local leader who was not afraid to challenge officials. Carey put together a coalition that included rank-and-file activists, TDU leaders, and local officers who opposed corruption.
Two other slates were running, headed by IBT Vice Presidents R. V. Durham and Walter Shea. Some 95 percent of Teamster officials lined up behind either Durham or Shea. But Carey had a powerful weapon the other candidates did not—a committed network of TDU activists and an energized rank and file.
When the ballots were counted on December 13, 1991, the Carey slate had won a huge upset victory. The Carey slate won 48 percent, the Durham slate 33 percent, and the Shea slate 18. All 16 members of the Carey slate were elected.
Changes at the IBT
The new IBT leadership immediately began implementing reforms that old guard officials had opposed for decades.
Carey sold the IBT’s luxury jets and stretch limousine. He cut his salary by $75,000 and many members of his executive board cut their own salaries or turned down multiple salaries. In 1994, the four wasteful Area Conferences were eliminated, saving $11 million a year and eliminating 62 multiple salaries.
The Affiliates Plan, an extra pension for Teamster officials, was frozen, saving $16 million a year.
These financial reforms freed up money for organizing and other membership programs.
When Carey took office, the union’s membership had dropped by 500,000 members in the previous 15 years. The IBT created a real organizing department and a volunteer organizer program. By 1995, the union was growing again. At Overnite Transportation Company, the IBT launched the first organizing drive against a national freight carrier since deregulation and successfully organized some 20 terminals. That organizing drive was stopped when James P. Hoffa took office in 1998. The Hoffa administration called an ill-prepared strike of Overnite, which ended in defeat. The Carey administration launched an organizing drive of FedEx, though thwarted by the NLRB's ruling that FedEx was an 'airline' thus falling under Railway Labor Act guidelines. This halted the drive, as RLA rules state airlines must hold company-wide union elections, not hub-by-hub organizing as needed for FedEx.
Taking on employers
The Union also slowed the employers’ drive for concessions. The IBT began to involve members in contract campaigns. In the 1992 and 1995 carhaul contracts, the Teamsters stopped companies from shifting more work to nonunion subsidiaries. The union also won “innocent until proven guilty” provisions in national contracts—a right that the Hoffa administration later negotiated out of the freight agreement in most areas.
The 1997 UPS strike proved what reform leadership and a mobilized rank and file could achieve. A year before the contract expired, the Union began to mobilize members for negotiations. Solidarity was built through surveys, rallies and workplace actions. TDU activists coordinated nationally to help implement our union’s plan. Members were temporarily pulled off the job to serve as campaign coordinators.
When UPS refused to create more full-time jobs and tried to raid Teamster pension funds, 185,000 UPS Teamsters went on strike in the largest work stoppage in decades. The Union’s message that “a part-time America won’t work” won overwhelming popular support.
After two weeks, UPS gave in. The Union had won a contract with 10,000 new full-time jobs, a ban on subcontracting, and pay and benefit increases. The press called it labor’s greatest victory of the decade. Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein told the New York Times, “It ends the PATCO syndrome. A 16-year period in which a strike was synonymous with defeat and demoralization is over.”
The Teamsters Union stood at the forefront of the labor movement.
Old Guard Opposition Continues
Not everyone was happy with the IBT’s new direction. Many powerful Teamster officials had lost multiple salaries, been removed from office for corruption, or saw their cozy relationship with employers threatened. This old guard within the union fought Carey and did everything they could to undercut union programs. In 1994, most of them ordered their members to scab on the one-day safety strike at UPS.
In the 1996 IBT election, the old guard united around James Hoffa, son of former leader Jimmy Hoffa and a lawyer who had represented old-guard officials and some employers. Hoffa lacked experience as a working Teamster or union leader, but he had a very famous Teamster name.
Hoffa made big promises to “Restore the Power” and improve pension benefits. His slate’s name was “No Dues Increase—No Corruption—25 and Out.” Quite ironic that Hoffa later oversaw the largest dues increase in Union history, has associated with many since barred leaders and members, and oversaw deep pension cuts that eliminated '25 and out.' He received many illegal campaign contributions from employers; he was later forced to return over $200,000 in illegal contributions.
TDU launched a rank-and-file mobilization to counter this threat. Members around the country visited worksites and encouraged members to reelect the Carey slate.
TDU members and other active Teamsters helped Carey beat Hoffa despite a vicious campaign by old-guard officials.
The UPS strike victory marked how far the union had come in six years. But employers and the Teamster old guard continued to resist our union’s new direction. And two consultants hired by the Ron Carey campaign were under investigation for illegally diverting over $200,000 to the campaign.
Teamster reformers would soon face new fronts in the battle to protect Teamster democracy and strengthen our union.
The Fight to Sustain Progress
UPS Strike Put Teamsters at Forefront of Labor Movement
After the UPS strike victory in 1997, the Teamsters stood at the forefront of the American labor movement. But there were tough times ahead. The coming years would see Ron Carey’s reform efforts as IBT President ended and the restoration of old-guard leadership at the IBT. Some people predicted TDU would not last.
But TDU stayed the course through difficult times and built the Teamster reform movement. TDU continued to help members organize for change in their local unions through shop floor mobilizing, bylaws campaigns, and officer elections.
TDU acted as the watchdog organization that members could trust to tell the truth, when all they got from the Hoffa administration was PR.
Today, TDU stands as the backbone of a growing movement that sees the urgent need to take action to save the Teamsters union.
Just weeks after the 1997 UPS strike victory, the IBT Election Officer ordered a rerun of the prior year’s Teamster election. The Election Officer found that outside consultants to the Ron Carey campaign had funneled $220,000 in union funds to the campaign and then pocketed some of the money themselves. Carey denied knowledge of the scheme, and he was later found not guilty of any wrongdoing by a federal court.
On November 17, 1997, a federal official overseeing the Teamsters disqualified Carey from seeking elective office in the union, concluding that Carey knew of and approved the donation kickback scheme. The Independent Review Board expelled Carey for life from the Teamsters Union on July 27, 1998.
At this time, TDU's reform movement united around the candidacy of Tom Leedham, principal officer of Oregon Local 206.
The media predicted a landslide victory for Hoffa, who had name recognition and strong financial backing. Hoffa won with 54% of the vote. Leedham won the majority of the vote in 19 states and 135 local unions.
Hoffa Takes Office
Hoffa made big promises to members when he ran for office. His slate was called the “Jim Hoffa No Corruption, No Dues Increase, 25-and-Out Slate.” Would he keep his promises? It was up to TDU to hold the Hoffa administration accountable to members.
Within a year of taking office, Hoffa added 137 multiple salaries to the IBT payroll. He pulled the plug on big Teamster organizing drives and launched a poorly planned strike at Overnite Transportation that killed the successful freight organizing drive there.
One area in which he was successful was uniting Teamster officials around him by using a carrot-and-stick approach. He gave fat multiple salaries and perks to his supporters. He punished local officials who opposed him by sending “personal representatives” to their locals to undermine them or by removing elected leaders.
Leedham again challenged Hoffa in 2001, losing by a 2-to-1 margin.
The reform movement lost the election, but succeeded in assuring there was a two-party ballot.
After the election, Hoffa called a special convention to raise members’ dues. TDU collected thousands of signatures demanding the right to vote on the big dues hike. At the special convention, one hundred reform delegates stood up to support members’ right to vote, while pro-Hoffa delegates sat squirming.
Back on the shop floor, Teamsters still faced tough employers. TDU was there to help them. Local 556 in Eastern Washington state is a good example.
In June 1999, 1,200 Teamsters walked off the job at the IBP (now Tyson) meatpacking plant in Pasco, Washington after management fired shop floor leaders who protested unsafe conditions. The IBT turned down the strikers’ requests for support. So with TDU’s help, they organized their own strike and community outreach. “Members who learned their rights and how to organize through TDU were the backbone of our strike,” said steward Ramon Moreno. Without support from the IBT to beat this corporate giant, members returned to work after five weeks on strike.
Hoffa then put the local in trusteeship to delay an election. When the local came out of trusteeship, members voted for a reform slate headed by TDU leader Maria Martinez. The new leadership worked to unite members who come from different countries and speak many different languages, and win strong contracts.
The employers are trying to put a lid on this worker activism. The local recently beat back a decertification attempt by Tyson Foods. The story of Local 556 shows that members have the power to build strong, democratic locals that can take on the employers. By working with progressive Teamster officers and helping more rank-and-file Teamsters win office, TDU aims to spread this kind of good unionism.
TDU continues to fight to protect members’ hard-earned pensions and benefits. When new UPS, freight and carhaul contracts were negotiated in 2002 and 2003, members were promised that their benefits were secure. But after the agreements were approved, members in the Central States and Western States funds were hit with big benefit cuts.
TDU and the Central States Pension Improvement Committee channeled members’ anger into positive action. Thousands of Teamsters turned out at local union meetings to demand accountability from the Hoffa administration and pension fund officials. That movement continues today in the fight save prevent UPS from pulling out of the Central States fund, thus triggering similar demands from employers.
Both before and during Hoffa’s time in office, TDU has exposed corruption that weakens the Teamsters and advocated for an independent Teamster anti-corruption program.
With the goal of ending federal supervision of our union, Hoffa established an anti-corruption program, called RISE, that would report directly to him. TDU argued that our union needs an anti-corruption program that is not controlled by the IBT President.
Many Hoffa allies were removed from office for corruption – not by RISE, but by the Independent Review Board. For example, in 2001, Bill Hogan, Jr. and Dane Passo, two top Hoffa allies, were caught engineering a sweetheart deal with a non-union temp agency to undercut Teamster convention workers in Las Vegas. The Hogan-Passo scheme would have slashed wages to $8 and eliminated all benefits.
In April 2004, Ed Stier, the former federal prosecutor Hoffa had appointed to head RISE, resigned along with his entire staff. He accused Hoffa of interfering with RISE’s investigation of corrupt officials in Chicago and Houston. The $15 million spent on RISE was gone, with nothing to show for it.
Today the Teamsters union is at a turning point. The IBT has lost nearly 100,000 members since Hoffa took office. The loss in membership would be even greater if not for the merger of smaller unions into the Teamsters. The shutdown of union companies like CF and USF Red Star and the failure to organize non-union competition is eroding union strength. Hundreds of thousands of Teamsters are having their pensions and health benefits cut.
- FreshDirect, scene of Teamsters Local 805's major organizing campaign
- Greenhouse, Steven. "An Overseer Bars Teamster Leader from Re-Election". New York Times. Retrieved 18 November 1997.
- Greenhouse, Steven. "Board Expels Ron Carey from Teamsters for Life". New York Times. Retrieved 28 July 1998.
- "2001 IBT International Officer Election Results". IBT Office of the Election Supervisor. Retrieved 21 November 2001.