Dave Beck

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Dave Beck
David Daniel Beck

(1894-06-16)June 16, 1894
DiedDecember 26, 1993(1993-12-26) (aged 99)
OccupationUnion leader
Dorothy Leschander
(m. 1918; died 1961)
Parent(s)Lemuel Beck
Mary Tierney

David Daniel Beck (June 16, 1894 – December 26, 1993) was an American labor leader, and president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1952 to 1957. He helped found the "Conference" system of organization in the Teamsters union, and shot to national prominence in 1957 by repeatedly invoking his right against self-incrimination before a United States Senate committee investigating labor racketeering.

Early life[edit]

David Daniel Beck was born in Stockton, California, to Lemuel and Mary (Tierney) Beck. His father was a carpet cleaner. The Becks moved to Seattle, Washington when Dave was 4 years old. He had one sibling, a younger sister named Reba and his family was poor. He attended Broadway High School but was forced to quit at the age of 16 in order to go to work.[2][3][4]

In 1910, Beck took a job as a laundry worker and joined his first labor union, the Laundry Workers International Union despite being just 16 years of age, securing a more lucrative position driving a laundry truck shortly thereafter. Following a shortlived strike in 1917, Beck helped to organize and establish Local 566 of the Teamsters Union.[3][4]

He was drafted in World War I and served as a machinists' mate and gunner in England with the United States Navy.[2]

West Coast Teamster career[edit]

After the war ended, Beck returned to Seattle and his job as a laundry truck driver. He became an organizer with the Teamsters. He successfully convinced hotels to contract only with unionized laundry services, which led laundry companies to unionize to win business. His subsequent rise in the Teamsters was quick: He was elected to the executive board of Local 566 in 1920, president of Joint Council 28 (which covered Seattle) in 1923, secretary-treasurer of Local 566 in 1925, and president of Local 566 in 1927. The same year he was elected president of his local, he was hired by the international union as a full-time organizer.[3]

In 1937, Beck formed the Western Conference of Teamsters as a means of counteracting the conservative leadership of Joint Councils in San Francisco. Beck persuaded Teamsters president Daniel J. Tobin that the Western Conference of Teamsters was no threat to the power and authority of the international union. Harry Bridges, leader of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), had led a successful four-day strike in 1934. Bridges was now leading "the march inland"—an attempt to organize warehouse workers away from shipping ports. Beck was alarmed by Bridges' radical politics and worried that the ILA would encroach on Teamster jurisdictions. But Teamster joint councils in Los Angeles and other California ports seemed unconcerned. As an end run around the complacent joint councils, Beck formed a large regional organization. Beck engaged in fierce organizing battles and membership raids against the ILA, effectively stifling the "march inland." The Western Conference of Teamsters, and Beck, emerged significantly stronger from these battles.[5][6]

Presidential ambitions[edit]

As Beck's influence rose, Tobin attempted to check his growing power but failed.[5] Beck was elected a vice-president of the Teamsters in 1940, and he began to challenge Tobin for control of the union. In 1947, Beck marshaled his forces and defeated a proposed dues increase to fund new organizing.[7] In 1942, Beck began a six-year campaign to seize control of the International Teamster newsmagazine. He ousted its editor and won the executive board's approval to install his own man in the job in 1948.[8] In 1946, Beck successfully campaigned to amend the union's constitution to create the post of executive vice-president. He subsequently won the 1947 election to fill the position.[3]

In 1948, Beck essentially supplanted Tobin as the real power in the Teamsters union. On April 22, 1948, the Machinists (which was not a member of the American Federation of Labor, or AFL) struck Boeing in Seattle. On May 28, Beck announced that Teamsters would seek to organize the workers at Boeing, and formed Aeronautical Workers and Warehousemen Helpers Union Local 451 to raid the Machinists. Beck and Boeing officials made a secret agreement in which Boeing would hire members of Local 451—essentially hiring Teamsters as scabs and strikebreakers. After as many as a third of the Machinists had joined the Teamsters, the Machinists agreed to return to work without a contract. Beck's actions were nearly universally condemned by members of the AFL Executive Council. The AFL Executive Council met in August 1948 to take action against Beck. The day before the meeting, Tobin privately told associates that he would repudiate Beck. But at a secret meeting that afternoon, Beck and his followers on the West Coast confronted Tobin with a fait accompli: Beck had allied with his long-time enemy Jimmy Hoffa. He now had more than enough votes on the Teamsters executive board to overrule Tobin if he tried to fire Beck. At the AFL meeting the next day, Tobin was forced to defend Beck's actions. Unwilling to embarrass an AFL vice president and create a confrontation with the Teamsters, the AFL Executive Council condoned the Teamster raid on the Machinists.[9]

Five months later, Beck won approval of a significant reform of the union's internal structure. Instead of the four divisions which existed under Tobin, Beck proposed 16 divisions organized around each of the major job categories in the union's membership. Although nearly 1,000 Teamster leaders attended the conference in which the restructuring was debated and approved, Tobin did not.[10]

In 1951, Tobin's tenuous hold on the Teamsters was further exposed when Tom Hickey, reformist leader of the Teamsters in New York City, won election to the executive board. Tobin had needed Beck's support to prevent Hickey's election, and Beck refused to give it.[11]


On September 4, 1952, Tobin announced he would step down as president of the Teamsters at the end of his term. But as the mid-October Teamster convention neared, Tobin and his supporters formed a draft movement designed to subvert Beck's control of the delegates. Beck retaliated by publicly supporting the draft movement, but privately threatening to strip Tobin of his pension and benefits should he lose an election.[12]

At the convention which opened on October 14, the 77-year-old Tobin was paid well to vacate the presidency. His pay was increased from $30,000 to $50,000 and the executive board was authorized to pay him this salary for life. Beck submitted a resolution asking Tobin to stay on as president, but forced Tobin to refuse. As further humiliation, Tobin nominated Beck for president. He was elected by acclamation. Beck pushed through a number of changes intended to make it harder for a challenger to build the necessary majority to unseat a president or reject his policies.[13]

Beck was elected to the Executive Council of the AFL in 1953.[3]

Senate investigation and retirement[edit]

In 1957, Beck was called to testify before the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management. Harshly interrogated by committee counsel Robert F. Kennedy about $322,000 missing from the union treasury, Beck invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 117 times.[14] Beck declined to seek reelection in 1957, and was succeeded by Jimmy Hoffa.[2][4][15]

Beck was prosecuted for embezzlement and labor racketeering in 1959 in Washington state. He was convicted for pocketing $1,900 from the sale of a union-owned Cadillac. Beck was convicted later that year on federal charges of income-tax evasion. He appealed his convictions, and his sentence was reduced to three years. He entered prison in 1962. His wife, Dorothy, died while he was serving his sentence. Beck, a former member of the Washington State Board of Prison Terms and Paroles, was himself paroled in 1965 after serving 30 months at McNeil Island Penitentiary. He was pardoned by Washington Governor Albert Rosellini in 1965, and by President Gerald Ford in 1975.[2][4][16]

After his release from prison, Beck lived in a basement in a house he himself had built for his mother and sister in the 1940s. He retained his $50,000-a-year Teamster president's pension and became a multimillionaire investing in parking lots.[2][4]

Beck died at the age of 99 in Northwest Hospital in Seattle on December 26, 1993.[2]


  • "AFL Teamsters Begin Drastic Revamping." New York Times. January 18, 1949.
  • "Battle for Control of Union Is Revealed." New York Times. October 7, 1952.
  • "Beck Said to Top Tobin in Teamsters." New York Times. September 19, 1948.
  • Brill, Steven. Teamsters. Paperback ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979. ISBN 978-0-671-82905-6
  • "Curbs On Officers Rejected By Teamsters." New York Times. October 17, 1952.
  • "D.J. Tobin Set to Retire." New York Times. September 5, 1952.
  • "Dave & the Green Stuff." Time. April 8, 1957.
  • Davies, Lawrence E. "Teamsters Defeat Tobin On Tax Rise." New York Times. August 15, 1947.
  • Fink, Gary M., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Labor. Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0-313-22865-0
  • Friedman, Allen and Schwarz, Ted. Power and Greed: Inside the Teamsters Empire of Corruption. New York: Scholastic Library Publishing, 1989. ISBN 978-0-531-15105-1
  • Galenson, Walter. The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960. ISBN 978-0-674-13150-7
  • Garnel, Donald. The Rise of Teamster Power in the West. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1972. ISBN 978-0-520-01733-7
  • "Hickey In New Union Post." Associated Press. August 28, 1951.
  • Loftus, Joseph A. "Beck Uses 5th Amendment to Balk Senate Questions About Teamsters' $322,000." New York Times. March 27, 1957.
  • McCann, John. Blood in the Water: A History of District Lodge 751, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Olympia, Wash.: Evergreen State College Bookstore, June 1989. LCCN 88071822
  • Nelson, Bruce. Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen and Unionism in the 1930s. Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1988. ISBN 978-0-252-01487-1
  • Raley, Dan. "The Rise and Fall of Labor Giant Dave Beck." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. December 3, 1999.
  • Raskin, A.H. "Union Leader-And Big Business Man." New York Times. November 15, 1953.
  • Rodden, Robert G. The Fighting Machinists: A Century of Struggle. Washington, D.C.: Kelly Press, Inc. 1984.
  • Schaefer, David and Duncan, Don. "Dave Beck Dies-Seattle Man Rose To Become Labor Legend." Seattle Times. December 27, 1993.
  • Sullivan, Ronald. "Dave Beck, 99, Teamsters Chief, Convicted of Corruption, Is Dead." New York Times. December 28, 1993.
  • "Teamster Chiefs Defeat Opposition." New York Times. October 16, 1952.
  • "Teamsters Elect Beck As President." Associated Press. October 18, 1952.
  • "Teamsters Raise Tobin's Pay $20,000." New York Times. October 15, 1952.
  • "Union Editor Is Ousted." Associated Press. September 3, 1948.
  • Witwer, David. Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union. Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-252-02825-0


  1. ^ "Dave & the Green Stuff," Time, April 8, 1957.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sullivan, Ronald (December 28, 1993). "Dave Beck, 99, Teamsters Chief, Convicted of Corruption, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Fink, Biographical Dictionary of American Labor, 1984.
  4. ^ a b c d e Raley, "The Rise and Fall of Labor Giant Dave Beck," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 3, 1999.
  5. ^ a b Galenson, The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1960.
  6. ^ Nelson, Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen and Unionism in the 1930s, 1988; Garnel, The Rise of Teamster Power in the West, 1972.
  7. ^ Davies, "Teamsters Defeat Tobin On Tax Rise," New York Times, August 15, 1947.
  8. ^ "Union Editor Is Ousted," Associated Press, September 3, 1948.
  9. ^ The NLRB subsequently held an election to determine who should represent the workers at Boeing. The Machinists won the 1949 election by a 2-to-1 margin. See "Beck Said to Top Tobin in Teamsters," New York Times, September 19, 1948; McCann, Blood in the Water: A History of District Lodge 751, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, 1989; Rodden, The Fighting Machinists: A Century of Struggle, 1984; Raskin, "Union Leader-And Big Business Man," New York Times, November 15, 1953.
  10. ^ "AFL Teamsters Begin Drastic Revamping," New York Times, January 18, 1949.
  11. ^ "Hickey In New Union Post," Associated Press, August 28, 1951.
  12. ^ "D.J. Tobin Set to Retire," New York Times, September 5, 1952; "Battle for Control of Union Is Revealed," New York Times, October 7, 1952.
  13. ^ Changes to the union constitution included expanding the number of vice-presidents, expanding the number of seats on the executive board, expanding the number of delegates, and enhancing the powers and authority of the president. "Teamsters Raise Tobin's Pay $20,000," New York Times, October 15, 1952; "Teamster Chiefs Defeat Opposition," New York Times, October 16, 1952; "Curbs On Officers Rejected By Teamsters," New York Times, October 17, 1952; "Teamsters Elect Beck As President," Associated Press, October 18, 1952.
  14. ^ Loftus, "Beck Uses 5th Amendment to Balk Senate Questions About Teamsters' $322,000," New York Times, March 27, 1957.
  15. ^ Friedman and Schwarz, Power and Greed: Inside the Teamsters Empire of Corruption, 1989; Brill, Teamsters, 1979.
  16. ^ Schaefer and Duncan, "Dave Beck Dies-Seattle Man Rose To Become Labor Legend," Seattle Times, December 27, 1993.

External links[edit]


Preceded by
Daniel J. Tobin
President of Teamsters Union (IBT)
Succeeded by
James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa