The Millenium Approaches: New Beginnings
What's the real story of the 20th century?
The rise of North America’s working families into the middle class. The empowerment of workers through collective bargaining. The protections of health, safety and retirement security. And the establishment of dignity in the workplace.
How did these remarkable gains take place in the short historical space of 100 years? All answers point in one unmistakable direction: the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Here you will read how this great union made the 20th century the Teamster Century. And how the hard-working men and women who are proud to call themselves Teamsters helped build the world’s greatest economic engines in the United States and Canada.

the first Teamsters: Early Struggles
From colonial times to the turn of the last century, the men who drove horse-drawn wagons formed the backbone of North America’s wealth and prosperity. Despite their essential role as guardians of trade—the lifeblood of the economy—they remained unorganized and exploited.
In a teamster’s life, work was scarce and jobs insecure. Poverty was commonplace. In 1900, the typical teamster 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 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.
In response to these appalling conditions, groups of teamsters started forming in the late 19th century. By 1898, Midwest team drivers had organized into 18 local unions. The activity caught the interest of American Federation of Labor (AFL) leader Samuel Gompers, who called on the locals to create a national teamsters union under the umbrella of the AFL. The next year the Team Drivers International Union (TDIU) was chartered, with an initial membership of 1,700.
At the same time, a rival group, the Teamsters National Union, was formed. Gompers convinced the competing unions to meet. Agreeing that they were stronger in Solidarity than separately, they joined forces to create the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) in Niagara Falls, N.Y. in 1903. Cornelius Shea was elected its first General President.
The early IBT struggled. Labor laws were nonexistent and companies 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 early setback, the union made a change.
At the 1907 Convention, Local 25’s Dan Tobin was elected General President. His leadership brought needed new momentum to the fledgling union.

1907 to 1915: From Horses to Horsepower
But technology was radically changing the freight-moving industry. In 1912, with the first transcontinental delivery of goods by motor truck, the wave of the future was obvious. Horses were being put out to pasture. Tobin recognized the trend and set out to organize the fast growing motorized truck delivery industry.

For several 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, safeguarding their animals’ well being.
Tobin began his term with an aggressive plan to organize. The Teamsters set its sights on bringing the beer wagon drivers, travel haulers and the people who made deliveries 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 work weeks, and the right to overtime pay.
World War I and the 20s: Winning a War, Fueling the Economy
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 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. Speeding through France and Germany, American trucks were critical to the allied effort after the U.S. entered the war in 1917.
Following the war, Tobin emerged as a preeminent U.S. labor leader and the IBT’s position in the vanguard of 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, IBT looked across the border and expanded by affiliating with the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress.
By 1925, the union’s treasury had reached $1 million. 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.

the Depression: Hard times followed by New Hope
The catastrophic stock market crash of 1929 triggered a chain of misery and despair in North America. As banks collapsed, the jobless rate jumped from three percent to 25 percent. The depression hit Teamsters locals hard. By 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 nearly doubled to 146,000.
U.S. Teamsters embraced President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR fought for working families and won passage of a series of legislative initiatives 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.
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. FDR also won passage of the landmark National Labor Relations Act. It codified in law workers’ right to collective bargaining and protected them from management interference or intimidation aimed at union activity.

World War II: Sacrificing for Freedom
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’ 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 locals, councils, and conferences followed suit.
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.

Thr Post-War Years: Growth and Power
Following the war, the IBT made sure all Teamsters 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: the automotive trades, food processing, dairy, and workers servicing vending machines.
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 efforts to reduce labor’s influence. 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.
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.
In 1956, Congress approved the Federal-Aid Highway Act which created the Interstate Highway System. 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.
At the 1957 IBT convention held in Miami Beach, Fla., Jimmy Hoffa was elected President and the membership stood at 1.5 million.
1957 to the 70s: Union Power
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 Teamsters 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, a National Master Freight Agreement was a watershed event for the Teamsters. It covered 400,000 members employed by some 16,000 trucking companies and spawned similar bargaining in other Teamsters trades and crafts.
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. Wherever working men and women marched for jobs, civil rights or justice, the Teamsters were there.

the 1970s: Growth Slows
By 1973, the economy began to slow, but the Teamsters bucked the trends and continued to better the wages, security, and working conditions of the membership.
General President Frank Fitzsimmons engineered an alliance with the Nixon White House that put him in a position 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, 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.

1980s to 1996: Against the tide
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, Reagan waged a wholesale assault on labor unions.
The Reagan-era bureaucrats also implemented trucking deregulation, causing steady decline in the Teamsters membership rolls for the first time since the depression. With each year, big business lobbyists eroded labor law and took the teeth out of its enforcement. The Teamsters joined the rest of the labor movement on a slide that led many to start writing unions’ premature obituaries.

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.
In 1989, in response to a government-filed lawsuit, the General Executive Board signed a consent decree under which the union would conduct its first ever direct election of union officers.
In 1991, Ron Carey, a New York local president, won the first-ever Teamsters membership election. Over the next five years, the Teamsters continued to lose membership and the treasury plummeted to near bankruptcy.
The Carey slate won its 1996 re-election bid by a slight margin, but the vote was overturned when federal officials ruled that Carey participated in a scheme to funnel dues money into his reelection campaign.

In 1997, the Teamsters’ successful strike at UPS sparked a resurgence in the labor movement. 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.
This last accomplishment may well be the era’s most important. After a decade of supervision by the Justice Department, the IBT is ready to police its own affairs. The new program features a strong code of ethics, written and enforced by Teamsters.
The Teamsters future is bright. With new industries to organize and old ones to reclaim, there is much to be done. In solidarity lies Teamster might.
As the “Teamster Century” closed, the union had achieved undeniable and unparalleled success in elevating generations of workers and their families to higher standards of living and bringing the American dream within reach for the first time in history.
“History will judge us by our ability to uphold the Teamsters tradition of making people’s lives better. I am confident that through our growing solidarity we can build a foundation that will make the lives of our children and their children better through our actions today.”

— James P. Hoffa, Teamsters General President