January 15, 1964, became a monumental day in Teamsters history when the first National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA) was signed in Chicago. This contract would provide solid, standardized protection and benefits to more than 450,000 over-the-road and local cartage drivers across the country.
The contract, which was described as an impossible task by critics and friends of labor alike, was a milestone for labor unions everywhere. James R. Hoffa, architect, chief negotiator, and overall firestorm of energy behind the agreement, considered this the crowning achievement of his tenure with the Teamsters.
A Dream Becomes Reality
The NMFA of 1964 brought more workers into the middle class than any other single event in labor history. Hoffa was determined to improve the standard of living for workers, and increase respect for “non-craft” laborers such as over-the-road drivers.
The agreement was the first step in a larger dream to nationalize union contracts. And it revolutionized the way in which goods of all types were moved across the country.
Over-the-road and cartage drivers—empowered through economic gains, stability and a strong Teamsters Union—became a force in America’s political landscape. Political leaders began to realize the concerns and interests of this group must be recognized, as they could easily mobilize into a formidable voting bloc as never before imagined.
Path for the Future
Hoffa believed the only way for workers to maintain standards they had achieved, and for unions to survive, would be through master contracts throughout all the trade divisions of the Teamsters.
Just as employers are organized on a national level, so must labor consolidate its power, and this was the breakthrough in the NMFA of 1964. The agreement gave the Teamsters power equal and even beyond that of the big trucking companies.
In the changing world of economics and trade, this blueprint remains the course all unions must take in order to ensure their hard-earned legacy is not diminished in the future.