March 19, 2019 marked an important milestone in Teamster history. On that date, General President James P. Hoffa became only the second General President to log 20 years as head of the Teamsters Union. Over the course of those two decades, the Teamsters have regained their mantle as the strongest union in North America through rebuilding its finances, organizing the unorganized and negotiating the strongest contracts in labor. In corporate boardrooms, on Capitol Hill and throughout the labor movement, the Teamsters again command respect.
“When our administration took office 20 years ago, the union was on the verge of bankruptcy and was hopelessly divided,” Hoffa said. “We faced employers bent on destroying our union and others willing to spend large sums of money to keep workers from joining the Teamsters. We found good union employers fighting for their survival in the face of government policies that rewarded companies sending jobs overseas. We also faced employers who wanted to take advantage of our weakness to cut wages and health care benefits, and eliminate pension and retirement plans. We engaged these challenges from day one.”
Under Hoffa’s leadership, the Teamsters Union has strengthened its foundation by putting its financial house in order, and by establishing a real Strike and Defense Fund. Another important change came to the union in 2002 when the Hoffa administration convened the first-ever Special Convention to ensure that the Teamsters Union had the financial resources to grow and organize new members. The Strike and Defense Fund currently stands at approximately $206 million.
“By establishing a dedicated Strike and Defense Fund and designating funds for organizing activities, we made a commitment to grow the Teamsters Union, increase Teamster power and provide the support Teamsters deserve on the picket lines,” Hoffa said.
The union’s strike fund had been bankrupted by the prior administration and employers knew workers couldn’t afford to strike. By developing a real, strong Strike and Defense Fund, employers got the message. Instead of offering little or no support to our brothers and sisters on strike, the International Union now offers real protection for workers.
And instead of having to ask for assistance from other unions because of an empty treasury, the Teamsters have rebuilt their general fund as well. When the Hoffa team assumed office, the Teamsters Union had less than $9 million in net assets. In the last 20 years, it has increased to $329 million as of April 2019.
Organized labor has long been opposed by anti-union corporations and the politicians they control, but the last 20 years have seen a nonstop attack on working families. In that time, the country has experienced the worst economy since the Great Depression and a constant outsourcing of work. Many unions have seen a significant decline in their membership.
Not the Teamsters.
“Our union has continued to do what no other union has done during this difficult time—organize,” Hoffa said. “When we were elected, the union was divided. Today, locals, Joint Councils and the International Union work together to ensure that workers who want Teamster representation get it.”
The Teamsters Union currently has approximately 1.42 million members and continues to grow. Under Hoffa’s leadership, the Teamsters Union is the most active organizing union in the country.
Hoffa knows that growing union density strengthens the union’s collective power to negotiate stronger contracts for members.
Organizing is the essence of who the Teamsters are, and the Hoffa administration knows we all must work hard to defeat well-funded, vicious anti-worker forces.
Employers have been doing everything they can to oppose unions’ ability to organize, from worker misclassification schemes to multi-layered contracting. The Teamsters are confronting these challenges head on.
In the core Teamster industry of freight, membership losses due to deregulation were offset by the union’s aggressive organizing at UPS Freight (formerly Overnite Transportation), which kicked off in 2006. Now the Teamsters represent nearly 13,000 drivers and dockworkers at the company.
The Teamsters represent more than 200,000 public sector members, unsung everyday heroes who provide a wide range of public services. On the Las Vegas Strip and across the nation, the Teamsters have organized thousands of workers at casinos, raising standards in the valet parking industry and other traditional Teamster crafts.
At the ports, the Teamsters are fighting to organize port drivers and win them the justice, respect and dignity they deserve at the gateways of the U.S. supply chain. Port drivers and the Teamsters have coordinated 16 strikes over the past five years to build worker power and expose an industry built on exploitation, wage theft and discrimination.
In solid waste and recycling, thousands of workers have been organized across the country.
Organizing in the airline industry has brought more than 80,000 new Teamsters into the union over the past 20 years. In passenger transportation and the private school bus industry, the Teamsters have organized more than 50,000 drivers, monitors, aides, attendants, mechanics, dispatchers and more all across North America.
Organizing is the first step, but the work doesn’t stop there. Hoffa and his team have fought hard to negotiate the best contracts in many industries, raising wages and benefits and improving conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.
In the Passenger Transport Division, the Teamsters achieved an unprecedented victory in 2011 by successfully negotiating and ratifying a National Master Agreement (NMA) with the largest company in the industry, First Student, Inc. The agreement is the only one of its kind in the industry and includes many benefits that set the bar on protections and workplace rights. In addition to the First Student NMA, the Teamsters have secured representation and contracts with other leading companies in the passenger transportation industry. As of 2019, the Teamsters have agreements with the four largest private school bus operators in North America.
Some other examples include the recently ratified contract covering more than 4,400 workers at Anheuser-Busch, which raised wages $2.50, improved retirement security, maintained the excellent benefits and job security and included a signing bonus.
The contract for more than 16,000 Costco workers in California and in the East provides workers with the best wages and benefits in the retail industry.
At ABF Freight, a national contract covering about 8,000 drivers, dockworkers, mechanics and office workers provides annual wage increases, protections against subcontracting and increases to health and welfare funds, plus other improvements.
In the rail industry, higher pay, job stability and strong benefits are the key ingredients in the freight rail contract covering about 70,000 members of the Teamsters Rail Conference, made up of members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWED).
And the recently approved UPS contract, the largest private collective bargaining agreement in the United States covering 250,000 workers, provides all UPS Teamsters—full-time and part-time workers—with tremendous gains in wages, benefits and working conditions and excellent opportunities for part-time workers to gain full-time employment. This agreement protects the livelihoods of UPS Teamsters and their families well into the next decade.
Since the Hoffa administration began negotiating the UPS contract in 2001, the total amount of new money paid to UPS Teamsters in wages and benefits increased to more than $14.5 billion and continues to provide UPS Teamsters with the most lucrative compensation and benefits in the industry.
When it comes to shaping politics and policy for this union, Hoffa’s tenure as head of the Teamsters started off strong and hasn’t looked back since.
From the get-go, his administration was on the ground fighting alongside thousands of Teamster brothers and sisters in as part of the “Battle of Seattle” against the failed policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Hoffa led 40,000 pro-labor demonstrators calling for real reform.
From there, the fight moved into other areas of trade, like against granting permanent normalized trade relations (PNTR) with China, the ongoing implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and opposing the enactment of myriad other unfair trade deals.
Hoffa sounded the clarion call against these broken trade agreements and helped raised public attention to the issue.
One of the best examples of his administration’s political strength has been demonstrated over two decades in the fight to keep unsafe Mexican trucks off the nation’s highways. The Teamsters Union is single-handedly responsible for this effort.
A provision in NAFTA would have allowed freight haulers from Mexico, who are not kept to the same safety standards as American trucks, on our nation’s highways. Through constant lobbying efforts, rallies and countless other grassroots efforts, these dangerous trucks are still not threatening the safety of America’s drivers.
And that is likely to continue, given the ongoing negotiations involving the revamping of NAFTA. The Teamsters have made curbing cross-border trucking a priority in the union’s effort to create a fairer North American trade policy.
But trade issues are hardly the only fight Hoffa has led for this union. For years, the Teamsters have been front-and-center in defending the pension security of its members and millions of others. In 2015, after months of lobbying, the union fought off proposed cuts to the Central States Pension Fund. Now the focus is finding a solution that will secure pensions for some 1.5 million Americans whose retirements are jeopardized.
Hoffa spoke at a major rally last July in Columbus, Ohio calling for a congressional fix, and did the same thing a couple of weeks later in Detroit during a town hall event that featured now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers. He is calling for the passage of the bipartisan Rehabilitation of Multiemployer Pensions Act, introduced in January by Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.).
Sticking up for unions and their ability to collectively bargain has always been paramount for the Teamsters. Hoffa has led that charge in state after state where legislatures have sought to reduce the power of unions by approving right-to-work legislation.
One of the most spirited efforts came in Wisconsin in 2011, where then-Gov. Scott Walker demanded that collective bargaining rights be stripped from most government workers.
Teamsters were among the first protesters at the Capitol in Madison, bringing their families and the now-iconic “Stop the War on Workers” signs.
These fights haven’t always been easy. In 2015, for example, the Teamsters and other unions beat back efforts to implement right to work in West Virginia, only to have the Legislature there approve it the next year.
But the public is beginning to catch on to the right-to-work ruse. The Teamsters joined in to help defeat a Sussex County, Del. effort to approve right to work in early 2018, and Missouri voters rejected implementing the policy last August as part of a ballot measure in the “Show Me State” by a two-to-one margin.
One thing that has helped the Teamsters through all these political battles has been the continued growth of the DRIVE (Democratic, Republican, Independent Voter Education) political action program. Created over 60 years ago by former Teamsters General President James R. Hoffa, DRIVE funds the union’s efforts to defeat antiworker legislation at all levels of government. DRIVE is funded directly by contributions from Teamster members and is one of the most powerful PACs in the country.
The Teamsters under General President Hoffa have also championed bipartisan initiatives such as their 2015 “Let’s Get America Working” campaign, which called on lawmakers of different political parties to come together to improve infrastructure, focus on training the next generation for 21st century jobs and allow workers to earn a middle-class wage.
Another important period in Hoffa’s time in office was February 2015, when Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York approved an agreement that ended more than 25 years of government oversight of the Teamsters Union. The agreement dismissed the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which led to a consent decree that the union has operated under since 1989. By agreeing to end the lawsuit, the government acknowledged that there had been significant success in eliminating corruption from within the union.
The consent decree was replaced with a final order, in which the government’s continued involvement in the internal affairs of the Teamsters Union will be phased out over a five-year transition period.
“This historic event for the Teamsters was the direct result of decades of hard work and our success in driving corrupt elements from the union,” Hoffa said.
Brothers and Sisters
“A good union is one that’s there for its members, whether or not they’re at work,” Hoffa said. Over the last 20 years, Hoffa has made the union about more than just organizing and contracts. Through various programs, the union is making lives better for working families everywhere.
In November 1999, the General Executive Board created the James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Fund. Since then, thousands of children and grandchildren of Teamster members have eased their financial burden in college with the scholarship.
The scholarship fund has assisted over 4,000 students with scholarships, awarding more than $10,000,000 in funds.
Through the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund, thousands of members affected by disasters have been helped through difficult times. The fund receives donations from members, local unions and their affiliates.
Whether helping out in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, flooding, tornadoes, wildfires and even the tainted water in Flint, the Disaster Relief Fund has benefited thousands of members and their communities.
The Teamsters have also encouraged women in the union to assume more leadership roles through the Teamsters Women’s Conference. Since it started in 2002, attendance at the annual Women’s Conference has increased every year it has been held and is one of many ways the union has become more all-inclusive in the last 20 years.
Hoffa also established an innovative program that helps active military personnel transition to a career in transportation. The Teamsters Military Assistance Program (TMAP) provides commercial driver’s license (CDL) instruction. Once the CDL is earned by a participant, the union and employers provide job placement assistance.
“We have accomplished a lot in the last 20 years but there is always more to do,” said Hoffa. “Workers’ rights and the gains we have made never stand still—we are either on the rise or someone is trying to take what we have—we only win by constantly fighting for more.”
Reflecting on serving the Teamster membership for 20 years, Hoffa added, “It has been my greatest honor to serve the great men and women of this union. I look back with pride knowing that because of the strength of the Teamsters, thousands of workers have been able to retire with dignity, thousands of children had illnesses treated because of excellent union-negotiated health care, and that thousands of Teamster families could be a part of the American middle class because they belonged to the Teamsters.”