The Teamsters and the American Dream
For over 100 years, the Teamsters Union has helped millions of workers achieve the American Dream.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters began as a craft union, representing the men who drove the horse-drawn wagons essential to American commerce. These team drivers contributed greatly to the American economy. They worked under poor conditions, toiling 12 to 18 hours per day, seven days a week, for an average wage of $2.00 per day. From these conditions arose the desire for a better life, and the vehicle for achieving this American Dream was to form a powerful union.
Today the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is one of the largest unions in the world – and most diverse – representing more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States and Canada.
An Impressive History
The history of the Teamsters is a record of accomplishment and a model of success for the American labor movement. Under the leadership of its second President, Daniel Tobin (1907-1952), pictured right, the Teamsters set on a path toward organizing workers and a goal of raising living standards.
The Teamsters enjoyed years of union-friendly administrations, most notably during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. FDR helped workers through initiatives that pulled the nation out of the Great Depression and that put Americans back to work. Despite setbacks -- such as the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which served to restrict and limit labor's influence -- the Teamsters have achieved, and continue to achieve, major victories for labor.
Under President James R. Hoffa's leadership, membership reached 1.5 million strong in 1957. And in 1964 he was successful in negotiating the first National Master Freight Agreement (left), a watershed event for the labor movement. The National Master Freight Agreement moved more workers into the middle class than any other event in labor history. The agreement covered 400,000 Teamsters employed by some 16,000 trucking companies and spawned similar bargaining agreements in other Teamster trades and crafts.
Despite trying times during the Reagan era of anti-union policies, the union developed a stronger, more democratic vision in the late 1990s under the leadership of General President James P. Hoffa. At the 2001 Teamsters convention, a historic amendment enshrined the concept of "one member, one vote" as a permanent component of the union's constitution. "One member, one vote" protected the members' voice in the union and created a truly democratic system for the direct election of International officers.
In 2005, the Teamsters made a historic break from the AFL-CIO to join six affiliated unions with six million members in the Change to Win federation.
Employing more than 200,000 Teamster members, United Parcel Service is the union's largest single employer. The best-known Teamsters work in the freight industry; more than 120,000 Teamsters work for multiple employers under the National Master Freight Agreement. Hundreds of thousands more work in occupations from airlines to zoo-keeping, in one of five Teamster divisions: Freight, Industrial Trades, Parcel, Public Employees and Warehouse. The Public Employees sector is the union's fastest-growing division. The largest concentration of Teamsters members are in the Eastern and Central states.
A Bright Future
Membership is growing. The Teamsters Union has refocused its energy on organizing more workers. By enlisting every Teamster member into its Army of Organizers, the union is spreading the word on the rewards of union membership - better pay, better benefits and respect in the work place. Our members know that they are the power behind the union. They stand together on the job, at the ballot box and in their communities to make a better tomorrow.
For further information, contact the Union office at 410-284-5081.
|Labor Day FAQs
Q: When was Labor Day first celebrated in the United States?
A: After the first Labor Day in New York City, celebrations began to spread to other states as workers fought to win workplace rights and better working conditions and wages at a time when they had little power. ??In 1893, New York City workers took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of a national Labor Day. The following year, 12,000 federal troops were called into Pullman, Ill., to break up a huge strike against the Pullman railway company and two workers were shot and killed by U.S. deputy marshals.??In what most historians call an election-year attempt to appease workers after the federal crackdown on the Pullman strike, shortly after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making the first Monday in September Labor Day and a federal holiday. Cleveland lost the election.
Q: When did Labor Day become a national holiday?
A: After the first Labor Day in New York City, celebrations began to spread to other states as workers fought to win workplace rights and better working conditions and wages at a time when they had little power. In 1893, New York City workers took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of a national Labor Day. The following year, 12,000 federal troops were called into Pullman, Ill., to break up a huge strike against the Pullman railway company and two workers were shot and killed by U.S. deputy marshals. In what most historians call an election year attempt to appease workers after the federal crackdown on the Pullman strike, shortly after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making the first Monday in September Labor Day and a federal holiday.
Q: Who founded Labor Day?
A: That’s a matter of dispute among historians. Some say Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, first suggested a day to honor workers. Others credit Matthew Maguire, a machinist who served as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
Q: Is Labor Day just about unions?
A: No. The U.S. Department of Labor describes Labor Day this way: “It is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
Q: What international holiday is Labor Day’s closet relative? A: May Day. In 1889, a workers’ congress in Paris voted to support the U.S. labor movement’s demand for an eight-hour workday. It chose May 1, 1890, as a day of demonstrations in favor of the eight-hour day. Afterward, May 1 became a holiday called Labor Day in many nations. It resembles the September holiday in the United States.
|Labor Day 2010
A common view is that Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Patterson, N.J. local of the International Association of Machinists proposed the holiday for workers while serving as secretary to the Central Labor Union in New York.
Debate continues to this day as to who actually originated the idea of a workers' holiday, but organized support came from the Knights of Labor, an workers' organization with nearly a million members by the 1880s. The celebration came at a time when organized labor wanted to demonstrate the strength of their burgeoning movement and inspire improvements in their working conditions.
The Knights held another NYC parade on the first day of September in 1884, designating it as the date to recognize workers every year. Workers of other organizations across America began to lobby their state and national politicians for legislation declaring the first Monday in September a national holiday. In 1887, Oregon was the first state to designate the date as a legal holiday commemorating labor, followed by Colorado, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. By 1894, 31 states had passed legislation honoring workers.
But in 1894, railway workers went on strike to protest wage cuts and the Pullman Strike crippled the nation's railroad traffic. And in Chicago, two striking workers died at the hands of US military and US marshals dispatched to end the strike. The labor uprisings against abusive employers was a political nightmare for then President Grover Cleveland and in an effort to appease American workers, legislation sanctioning labor's holiday was rushed through Congress, and on June 28, 1894, Labor Day became a national holiday.
Still, it wasn't until 1909 that the first Monday in September became a legal holiday in all states except North Dakota and Arizona. In Louisiana, only New Orleans celebrated Labor Day. In Maryland, New Mexico and Wyoming Labor Day was celebrated at the governor's discretion.
“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.” www.dol.gov
|The 1934 Minneapolis Strike
In May 1934, Teamsters Local 574 in Minneapolis, Minnesota set out on a campaign to organize all the transportation workers in the city. When employers refused to recognize the union, Local 574 struck the city’s trucking operations.
Some 35,000 building trades workers showed their solidarity by also striking. Although the strike was settled on May 25, employers delayed honoring their commitments, prompting a resumption of the strike on July 16.
On July 20 – or “Bloody Friday” as it came to be known – police opened fire on the strikers, killing two and wounding 55. The governor declared martial law, and the National Guard occupied the Minneapolis local, arresting some 100 officers and members.
Because of the ties that had developed between the citizens and the Teamsters, a mass march of 40,000 forced the release of the Teamsters and the strike was won.
"The impact of it was that the employers were not going to be the masters of the workplace," said Teamster Jack Maloney, a veteran of the strike. "That was really what it was all about."
What happened in Minneapolis during the spring and summer of 1934 transformed the city and played a decisive role in the history of organized labor in the U.S.
The struggle was a turning point for working people: It helped to establish the right to form a union. Congress passed the NLRA in 1935 which marked the start of a new era of fairness and prosperity in American workplaces.
The strike was also a successful turning point for the Teamsters: from a craft union to a national union as over-the-road drivers continued to organize across the Midwest and the nation.
The following video tells the story of the violent strike that led to the enactment of legislation acknowledging the rights of workers to organize and bargain: the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Page Last Updated: Sep 05, 2011 (08:17:00)