Teamsters Union

Teamsters Union, U.S. labor union formed in 1903 by the amalgamation of the Team Drivers International Union and the Teamsters National Union. Its full name is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America (IBT). In 2005 the union had 1.4 million members; the majority of its members are truck drivers. The Teamsters has been one of the few unions to support Republican candidates, backing Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The strongest Teamster centers at the beginning of the 20th cent. were Chicago, New York City, Boston, and St. Louis. Chicago, with about half the membership, was the scene of an unsuccessful 1905 strike against Montgomery Ward & Co., which resulted in a decline in union membership. In 1907, Daniel J. Tobin, a Boston Teamster unconnected with that strike, became president. He held the position until 1952, and his policy of avoiding sympathetic action on behalf of other unions and zealously guarding the expenditure of union funds helped the Teamsters to grow. In 1933, the union undertook the organization of the rapidly growing long-distance trucking industry. By threatening to stop deliveries to and from employers who refused to come to terms, the Teamsters were able to gain contracts not only in trucking but in related enterprises.

In the early 1940s Tobin successfully withstood a threat to his leadership from a Minneapolis local. But Tobin's successors ran into problems with corruption. The revelations of a Senate investigating committee led the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to expel the IBT in 1957. Dave Beck, Tobin's successor, was sent to prison in 1958 for larceny and income tax violations. The evasiveness of Beck and his successor, Jimmy Hoffa, before Senate committees was an important factor in the passage (1959) of the Landrum-Griffin Act.

Opposition to Hoffa within the union forced him to accept a monitorship over his presidency until 1961, but did not seriously impair his power. Hoffa himself was sent to prison in 1967, but retained the presidency until 1971, when he resigned and was succeeded by Frank E. Fitzsimmons. Massive IBT contributions to President Richard Nixon's reelection committee led to Hoffa's release in 1971. Hoffa attempted a comeback but disappeared in 1975; he is believed to have been killed by organized-crime figures.

In the 1970s and 80s, a number of Teamster leaders were convicted of irregularities in handling pension funds and of accepting bribes from employers to stop strikes or reduce labor costs. In 1977 allegations of control by organized crime forced the Teamsters to yield oversight of the Central States Pension fund to outsiders. Fitzsimmons died in 1981. His successor, Roy Williams, was convicted the same year of bribing a U.S. Senator. Jackie Presser, who became president in 1982, was indicted in 1985 for embezzling union funds and giving crime figures no-show jobs. The IBT reentered the AFL-CIO in 1988.

In 1989, with William McCarthy as union president, the Teamsters settled a federal racketeering suit that accused officials of allowing known crime figures to control and exploit the union. A court-appointed trustee supervised elections that resulted (1991) in the election of a reform candidate, Ronald R. Carey, a former New York parcel service driver and local president. (This was the first time the IBT membership was able to vote for union president; previously the national presidents were chosen by the IBT leadership.) In the 1990s the union faced tougher times. Deregulation in the trucking industry after 1980 created many low-cost nonunion firms and led to generally lower wages and benefits. Carey narrowly won reelection over James P. Hoffa, the son of Jimmy Hoffa, in 1996, but then lost office in 1997 over allegations of failing to stop illegal campaign fund-raising; he was later acquitted of lying to investigators about the scheme. Hoffa won a 1998 election to replace Carey and was reelected in 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016. In a split with AFL-CIO executives over union priorities, the Teamsters and two other large unions left the organization in 2005.


See S. Romer, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1962); D. Garnel, The Rise of Teamster Power in the West (1972); S. Brill, The Teamsters (1978); D. Moldea, The Hoffa Wars (1978); A. Friedman, Power and Greed (1989); and J. Neff, Mobbed Up (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Labor