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October 30, 2014
Who We Are: Past, Present, And Future

The History of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Local Union No. 81

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The Teamsters are America’s largest, most diverse union. In 1903, the Teamsters started as a merger of the two leading team driver associations. These hard-working men were the backbone of America’s robust economic growth, but they needed to organize to wrest their fair share from greedy and uncaring corporations. Today, our goals and tasks remain unchanged.

The Teamsters are known as the champion of freight drivers and warehouse workers, but have organized workers in virtually every occupation imaginable, both professional and non-professional, private sector and public sector.

Our 1.4 million members are public defenders in Minnesota; vegetable workers in California; sanitation workers in New York; brewers in St. Louis; newspaper workers in Seattle; construction workers in Las Vegas; zoo keepers in Pennsylvania; healthcare workers in Rhode Island; bakery workers in Maine; airline pilots, secretaries, police officers, warehousemen and freight drivers. Name the occupation and chances are we represent those workers somewhere.

There are
500 Teamster locals throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Teamsters stand ready to organize workers who want to bargain collectively. Once a contract is negotiated and signed, the Union works to enforce it—holding management’s feet to the fire and invoking contract grievance procedures if management chooses not to. Wages and benefits under Teamster contracts are markedly better than those of non-union employees in similar jobs. Teamster contracts are the guarantors of decent wages, fair promotion, health coverage, job security, paid time-off and retirement income.

The Teamsters Union also performs vital tasks in such areas as pension management, safety & health, community outreach, governmental affairs and communications. For more than a century, the Teamsters have been a public voice for the rights and aspirations of working men and women and a key player in securing them. So read on a little about the history of this union, how we came to be, and where we are going in the future.
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In The Beginning

From early colonial times to the end of the Nineteenth century, the men who drove horse-drawn wagons formed a key part of a fledgling America’s gains in wealth and prosperity. Despite their essential role in trade and growth in the young country—the lifeblood of the economy—they remained unorganized and exploited.

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A team driver's life was not easy. Work was scarce, jobs were insecure, and poverty was commonplace. Working conditions were dangerous and grueling. In 1900, the typical teamster often worked 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week for an average wage of $2.00 per day. A teamster was expected not only to haul his load, but to also assume liability for bad accounts and for lost or damaged merchandise. The work left teamsters assuming all of the risks with little chance for reward.        

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In 1901, frustrated and angry drivers banded together to form the Team Drivers International Union (TDIU), with an initial membership of 1,700. The following year, some members broke away, forming a rival group, the Teamsters National Union.

 

Samuel Gompers, leader of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was concerned by what he saw as a waste of resources and energy, and convinced the competing unions to meet and work out their differences. Agreeing that they were stronger in solidarity than separately, they re-joined forces to create the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Stablemen and Helpers (IBT) at a joint convention in Niagara Falls, N.Y. in August 1903. This name remained until 1940, when Warehousemen replaced Stablemen in recognition of the changing times. Cornelius Shea was elected its first General President.hist_04b.jpg

 

The early years of the IBT were not easy ones. Labor laws were nonexistent or very weak, and companies commonly used anti-trust laws against unions. In 1905, the IBT backed a bloody strike at the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward Company. The strike lasted more than 100 days, tragically took 21 lives, and cost about $1 million. In the end, Montgomery Ward’s cutthroat tactics broke the strike. In the face of this setback and other issues, the union realized changes were needed.

 

Laying The Groundwork

At the 1907 Convention, Dan Tobin, a strong young leader from Local 25 in Boston was elected General President. His leadership, which would guide the Teamsters for the next 45 years, brought new momentum and vision to the fledgling union.

Tobin saw that technology was radically changing the freight-moving industry. Recognizing the trend and to motorization as more than a passing fad, he set out to organize the fast growing motorized truck delivery industry. He began by organizing motor truck drivers and prevailed on horse and wagon companies to train their drivers in automotive skills. In 1912, Teamsters were part of the first transcontinental delivery of goods by motor truck. While this sounded the death knell for team drivers, the wave of the future was obvious to even the most die-hard traditionalists, and Teamsters had secured themselves a place as leaders of the transition because of Tobin's foresight.

For several more years, trucks and horses worked some of the same jobs: Teamsters at the reins and at the wheel. Desperate to compete with the new motor carriers, horse-drawn freight firms tried to save money by eliminating feedings for Teamsters horses. Teamsters responded by striking, winning important safeguards for their animals’ well being. As further proof of their devotion to their loyal partners, even amid the many changes, Teamsters declared by proclamation at the 1916 Convention that the horse would always be the heart of the union and always remain a part of any badge, button, logo or flag.

Building Strength

Tobin began his first term with an aggressive plan to organize. The union set its sights on bringing the beer wagon drivers, travel haulers and delivery drivers for bakers and confectioners into the union.

Despite the gunfire and bloodshed that often confronted early organizing efforts, Teamsters Union representation led directly to better working conditions. The union won standardized contracts, shorter workweeks, and the right to overtime pay for many workers, including women and minorities.

Prior to World War I, Teamsters were instrumental in securing strong contracts for female laundry workers, which included a non-negotiable clause called for equal pay for black and white women on the job. By the time the United States entered the war, Teamsters were calling for equal pay for equal work for all workers, decades before any other labor organization.

The start of World War I in 1914 eventually led to an industrial boom in the U.S. that helped to drive the relentless organizing efforts of the union under General President Tobin. Teamsters played a crucial role in the war effort. Union members helped secure military success by swiftly moving troops and supplies from ports to battle lines and providing expert knowledge in the maintenance and repair of vehicles. American trucks were critical to the allied effort after the U.S. entered the war in 1917, both on the front lines and on the home front. Women joined the ranks of the “motorized” with increasing numbers and kept trucks and supplies moving smoothly in the U.S. while male counterparts were overseas. Teamsters also played a crucial role in delivering supplies and medicine during the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 that killed somewhere between 20 and 40 million people worldwide.

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Following the war, Tobin emerged as one of the preeminent U.S. labor leaders, and the IBT’s position as a leader in the U.S. labor movement was cemented. In 1920, Tobin persuaded the membership to double the per capita assessment charged to all locals, making it possible to raise IBT strike benefits. In addition, the IBT looked across the border and expanded by affiliating with the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress. That same year, the Teamsters joined the American Federation of Labor's National Building Trades Department.

By 1925, the union’s treasury had reached over a million dollars. The IBT was prosperous enough in 1926 to make a donation of $5,000 to striking coal miners. But in October 1929, North America’s course changed, with drastic and far-reaching consequences.

The Great Depression

The catastrophic stock market crash of 1929 triggered a chain of misery and despair in North America. As banks collapsed, the jobless rate in America jumped from three percent to a staggering twenty-five percent. The depression hit Teamsters locals hard. In 1933, membership rolls hit a Depression-era low of 75,000.

In response, the union redoubled its efforts to organize the over-the-road trucking industry. The keystone of this organizing approach was the control of truck terminals, from which over-the-road truckers could be organized. In just two years, Teamsters membership re-doubled to 146,000.

The Teamsters Union embraced Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 when he ran for President in the dark days of the Depression. FDR fought for working families and won passage of a series of legislative initiatives called the "New Deal" designed to pull the country out of the Depression. He relied heavily on U.S. labor leaders, especially IBT President Dan Tobin, to make his case to the American public.

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The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was the crux of Roosevelt’s plan. It established minimum wages and maximum hours of labor for each industry. Hours were reduced to spread employment over more workers. After the historic Teamsters strike in Minneapolis in 1934, where members stood firm in their belief in workers rights, despite ongoing brutality by police and thugs hired by a citizens committee, FDR was able to win passage of the landmark National Labor Relations Act. It codified in law workers’ rights to collective bargaining and protected them from management interference or intimidation aimed at union activity.

WWII: Sacrifice For A Greater Good

The Teamsters were an integral part of the Allies’ victory in World War II, contributing on the battlefield and on the home front. In 1942, President Roosevelt asked Teamsters General President Dan Tobin to travel to Great Britain and report back on how British unions were helping to win the war. On his return, Tobin urged the U.S. labor movement to emulate the British approach suspending all labor discord in the face of the Axis powers threat to world freedom.

The National Conference of Teamsters was formed help meet the economic and military crises facing the U.S. It actively promoted war bonds and organized drives to collect scrap metal and rubber to be used in military supplies. Nationwide, other Teamsters local unions, joint councils, and regional conferences followed suit, raising more than $2 million in war bonds during the first 18 months of the war.

Teamsters served on the front, too. By 1942, 125,000 Teamsters were in military operations for the Allied forces. The Allied victory would not have been possible without the Teamsters who drove troops to the front. Teamster members did not hesitate to volunteer for service after the attack on Pearl Harbor, often going down in groups with other members from their locals to sign up together. They served in every branch of the armed forces, engaging in everything from building the Burma Road to landing on the beaches of Normandy. Teamsters were awarded scores of medals for bravery and dedication to duty in all times of crisis, including members who received the highest honor, The Congressional Medal of Honor.

As in WWI, Teamster women did their part for the war effort too. Women took on many jobs previously held only by men and proved they could hold their own in any work setting. Many employers were sorry to lose the women workers when they gave up their jobs to the returning veterans in 1945.

The Post-War Years

Following the war, the IBT ensured all Teamster veterans kept their seniority when they returned from the war and went back to work. By 1949, membership topped one million, thanks to organizing in booming post-war industries such as the automotive trades, food processing, dairy, and workers servicing vending machines. A decade-long national campaign “Have It Delivered” promoted Teamster freight and delivery services, creating more jobs for members.

Congressional passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in the summer of 1947 was aimed at the heart of the trade union movement as part of management’s attempts to block labor’s influence. Some elements of the Taft-Hartley Act were amended by passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959. The IBT continued to perfect its strategy of creating multi-state bargaining units, area-wide negotiations and control of the trucking terminals to become nearly unbeatable in a sustained job action.

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At the 1952 convention, after 45 years at the helm, Tobin announced his retirement. Dave Beck was elected his successor. Over the next five years, the Teamsters grew in members and stronger at the bargaining table. In 1955, a 25-state contract covering all over-the-road and local freight hauling and establishing uniform rates was negotiated, a precursor to the National Master Freight Agreement.

In 1956, Congress approved the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which created the Interstate Highway System. Beck and other Teamster leaders were instrumental in helping pass this legislation. More than any other single act by the U.S. government, the creation of the Interstate Highway System changed the face of America. Its impact on the American economy—the new jobs it would produce in manufacturing, construction and transportation—was, in a word, phenomenal. And it also coincided with a period of dramatic growth for the Teamsters.

The Boom Years

At the IBT convention held in Miami Beach, Fla. in 1957, Jimmy Hoffa was elected President and the membership stood at 1.5 million. He brought a new energy and outlook to the union that fit the changing attitudes in the post-war years and reflective of a changing nation.

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Despite some legislative assaults, such as the enactment of the Landrum-Griffin Act, the Teamsters grew in size and power from the late ’50s to the late ’70s. Unions grew and workers prospered as the middle-class reaped the benefits of the New Deal, the post-war surge and collective bargaining. Labor leaders like Teamsters General President Jimmy Hoffa commanded the public spotlight and shaped the debate.

The union used its position to better the lives of hardworking Teamster members. Seeking to expand their political clout, the Teamsters established DRIVE (Democrat, Republican, and Independent Voter Education) in 1959. DRIVE soon became America’s largest Political Action Committee (PAC).

In 1964, the National Master Freight Agreement was a historical and ground-breaking event for the Teamsters. It covered 400,000 members employed by some 16,000 trucking companies, and spawned similar bargaining in other Teamster trades and crafts. The Master Freight Agreement moved more workers into the middle class than any other event in labor history.

Civil Rights Justice

Teamsters were also at forefront in the battle for social justice. In 1965, the IBT contributed $25,000 to Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the union’s largest monetary contribution to a social cause of the time.

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The Teamsters proudly supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other advocates for civil rights reform at a time when such actions were considered risky, if not down right dangerous for any organization. Wherever working men and women marched for jobs, civil rights or justice, the Teamsters were there, including the unforgettable March On Washington in 1963.

The 70's: The Economy Slows

By 1973, the economy began to slow, but the Teamsters bucked national trends and continued to improve wages, job security, and working conditions of the membership. And the union continues to grow. A merger with the Brewery Workers Union—and it's subsequent creation of the Anheuser-Busch National Master Agreement—added thousands of new names to the union's membership roster. Another National Master Agreement with United Parcel Service (UPS) currently covers over 200,000 members. And once more, the Teamsters Union reached north across the border to Canada where thousands of union brothers and sisters became part of the Canada Area Conference. Today it is known as Teamsters Canada.

Teamster leaders were able to engineer a working alliance with the Nixon White House to safeguard the interests of working men and women during the wage and price controls of the early ‘70s.

Other advances included a 1975 Master Agricultural Agreement won by the Western Conference of Teamsters, which dramatically improved wages and conditions for more than 30,000 farm workers employed by 175 separate growers. In 1976, Teamsters membership topped the two million mark.

Fortunes Turn

With the landslide election of Ronald Reagan, the labor movement’s fortunes changed. Starting with his busting of the PATCO air traffic controllers union in 1981 after a strike, Reagan waged a wholesale assault on labor unions.

The Reagan-era bureaucrats also further implemented trucking deregulation started in the late 1970s, causing steady decline in the Teamsters’ membership rolls for the first time since the depression due to the shutdown of many large older trucking firms in the wake of the newly deregulated environment. With each year, big business lobbyists eroded labor laws and took the teeth out of its enforcement by such government entities as the National Labor Relations Board. The Teamsters joined the rest of the labor movement on a slide that led many to start prematurely predicting the demise of the labor union.

In response to the legislative assault on unions, the Teamsters renewed the focus on DRIVE, and America’s largest and most powerful political action committee set to work defeating those in the pockets of big business and electing friends of working families.

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However, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, all of labor continued to be hit hard with anti-labor legislation, economic turmoil and a decline in morale. The Teamster were not immune as a lack of unity, direction and strong leadership brought trouble to the once unstoppable union.

A New Day

In 1997, the Teamsters’ successful strike at UPS sparked resurgence in spirit of the Teamster's Union. Then in 1998, a new era in Teamsters history opened. Under the banner of restoring Teamsters pride and strength, James P. Hoffa won a landslide victory. At the joint council and local level, the Hoffa message turned into quick action. It was time to pull together, restore unity and organize.

Within a year, the Teamsters could be proud of many accomplishments. Bankruptcy was no longer a danger, a landmark national carhaul agreement won the support of 80 percent of the members, and the beginnings of an in-house anti-corruption effort had been established.

The 2001 Convention showed a new Teamsters Union to the world. It showed a union that was unified; energized and ready to make the 21st century the workers century. Nearly 1,800 delegates were called upon to tackle complex and daunting challenges facing the union.

The most important of these changes was the historic amendment enshrining the concept of “one member, one vote” as a permanent component of the Union’s guiding doctrine, the International Constitution.

The Special Convention, held in April 2002, was a direct response to the resolutions and concerns raised at the 2001 Convention. This unprecedented gathering proved to be a major step toward restoring the strength of the union through the creation of a funding structure that will provide financial stability for decades to come.

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Charged with renewed energy, the Teamsters Union once again actively engaged in its long tradition of community service and supporting social causes, including civil rights. At any given time, Teamsters can be found taking the lead in community improvement projects, helping those in need from all walks of life, educational programs and political activities defending the rights of workers.

Today, union members are organizing at a historical pace and negotiating stronger contracts than ever before. Leaders and rank-and-file members recognize that these are the life-blood of the union.

Change To Win

In light of the growing discord within the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor- Committee for Industrial Organizing) over what course organized labor ought to take going into the new century, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced July 25, 2005 that it was withdrawing its membership in the AFL-CIO to chart a course of growth and strength in an energized effort to rebuild the American labor movement. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) joined with the Teamsters on this historic day also to announce its disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO.

The Teamsters have partnered with SEIU and six other strong and progressive unions in the Change To Win Coalition to organize the unorganized and to create real power for the working families of America. Already set in motion are plans to build large-scale strategic organizing campaigns.

Today’s members, using the same spirit and determination to change the lives of workers everywhere as the early founders, are creating a strong Teamster legacy for the next 100 years.

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The History of IBT Local Union 81

Local 81 was chartered on July 10, 1955 in Portland, OR, formed from the ranks of Local 162 as the result of petitions of members who desired their own local to represent their segment of the industry. The newly-chartered union local represented freight pickup-and-delivery, over-the-road, produce, petroleum, and dry-freight sleeper-cab drivers.

The first group of officers and staff of Local 81 included Clyde C. Crosby, International Representative; William McDermott, Secretary-Treasurer; Edward Adams, President and business representative; Joe Graber, Vice-President; Pat Kelley, Recording Secretary; James Dawes, Dan Holgate and and "Swede" Anderson, Trustees; and Charlie Rice, business representative. 

While the youngest Local in Joint Council 37, it's history really dates back to the founding of the union, with our heritage in freight cartage that the union was originally founded upon. Local 81's history is closely linked to that of the National Master Freight Agreement, which was negotiated in 1964 by then-General President James Riddle Hoffa. It was a landmark contract; the first ever national freight agreement ever negotiated in the freight industry.

Many of the trucking companies that employed members of Teamsters Local 81 are sadly no longer with us; names that ring with history and go back to the early days of motor freight in this country. Names like System 99, Silver Wheel, Garrett Freight, Pacific-Intermountain Express (P-I-E), Consolidated Freightways, NationsWay and Silver Eagle. Victims of deregulation and/or poor management, these carriers survive in the memories of our members and retirees.

 

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Today, Local 81 is still a vocal and important voice in the transportation industry of Portland, OR and beyond. We continue to organize and grow, and we play a key role in negotiating good, solid contracts for our members, and enforcing those contracts to protect their livelihoods. We look forward to a bright and financially-sound future for Local 81, and our many members!

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