The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was founded when two separate trade unions, the Team Drivers International Union and the Teamsters National Union of America, joined forces to improve the grueling working conditions of team drivers and warehousemen, whose lives consisted of long hours with little pay.
August 1903: the new organization met for the first time at Niagara Falls, New York; from this, grew the most powerful – and most famous – Labor Union the world has ever known. On October 1, 1903, the Teamsters opened their first national headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana with Cornelius Shea serving as the first General President.
Six years later, the Teamsters officially become the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Stablemen and Helpers, a name that remained until 1940, when “Warehousemen” replaced “Stablemen” in recognition of changing times – thus giving the Union the name it would bear for the next fifty years.
America was changing – and so were the Teamsters. In 1912, a motor vehicle made the first transcontinental delivery of merchandise and made transportation history. This sounded the death knell for team drivers, but rang in a new day of opportunity for Teamster members. America’s demand for new products and merchandise made the role of the transportation worker ever more vital.
Through aggressive organizing, the Teamsters grew as fast as the transportation industry, increasing their membership from 40,000 in 1912 to 60,000 in 1915. Along with their membership grew their reputation. The Teamsters became known as a strong, dynamic, and militant Union that fought for workers’ rights, skillfully negotiated trend-setting contracts and improved working conditions for all.
In 1920, under the leadership of General President, Dan Tobin, the Teamsters reached across the border and affiliated with the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress. That same year, they joined the American Federation of Labor’s National Building Trades Department.
Having survived Prohibition, the Great Depression, and two World Wars, the Teamsters continued to grow as more and more American workers recognized the advantages in being a Union member. And with those numbers came clout. The Teamsters, who now possessed the economic power to stop a nation’s commerce, had become a major force to be reckoned with.
The post-war Teamsters saw a new and dynamic leadership transform the Union on a grand scale; combining tenacity in organizing with an innovative collective bargaining technique, it brought a great change to the world of organized labor. Consequently, Congress became fearful of labor’s vote-wielding power and enacted such anti-union legislation as the Taft-Hartley Act, which outlawed the “closed shop.”
In light of this, and to prepare for many political battles to come, the Teamsters realized they could better serve their members by taking the fight to Capitol Hill. So in 1953, the Teamsters moved their International Headquarters to Washington, DC; and, in that same year, developed its internal structure through the creation of Joint Councils and Area Conferences.
Under the leadership of James R. Hoffa, the Teamsters found a political action voice with the creation of D.R.I.V.E. (Democrat, Republican, Independent, Voter Education). Teamster members could now be heard in the Halls of Congress. Today, D.R.I.V.E. is the second biggest political action committee (PAC) in the country.
In 1964, the National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA) was born. At the time, it was seen as a historic agreement, one that consolidated thousands of freight workers into a single powerful force. During this very active period, the Teamsters began looking beyond the truck terminal to organize a variety of industries and workers such as public sector, healthcare, education, and manufacturing. Today, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters remains America’s more diverse Union. Even Walt Disney employees, including Mickey Mouse, are Teamsters.
Even during the weak economy of the 70’s and 80’s, the Teamsters grew; the 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 Teamster roster; another national master with the United Parcel Service (UPS), currently covers over 200,000 members. Once more, the Teamsters reached northward to Canada, where thousands of Union brothers and sisters became part of the Canada Area Conference. Today, it is Teamsters Canada. www.teamsters-canada.org
In 1987 the Union became known as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Today, a new millennium dawns and the Teamsters begin a second century of fighting for the rights of working families. Many things change, but our commitment to improve the lives of our 1.4 million members never will.