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Who are the Teamsters?

Zookeepers may be part of the Teamsters union.
Some airline employees are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2014
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Teamsters are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest labor organizations in the world. In the United States alone, the Teamsters boasts 1.4 million members in a wide range of trades which includes trucking, publishing, and the theatrical trade. The union has acquired considerable clout in the United States, where it negotiates for its members with a range of entities. The Teamsters union also contributes to political campaigns, and it is one of the largest political contributors in the United States; an endorsement from the Teamsters is a coveted political accomplishment.

The Union was founded in 1903 as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America. “Teamster,” incidentally, was a common term for someone who drove a cart pulled by a team of animals such as horses, mules, or oxen; two working animals appear on the logo for the union today. The union established itself as a craft union, meaning that members were separated into divisions which focused on specific trades. This division continues to this day; a Teamster must be a member of a specific division, such as Parcel and Small Package Division for teamsters who work for the United Parcel Service.

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The Teamsters have a central office in Washington, DC which assists numerous local offices all over the North America. When someone joins the Teamsters, he or she interacts with the local union office. Locals have the power to set their own policies and they retain skilled staffs of their own. When locals require assistance, they can turn to the central office for help.

While some people think of the Teamsters as a trucker's union, Teamsters are found in a number of trades. Airline personnel, dairy employees, people who work in public service, food processors, port workers, rail workers, zookeepers, and warehouse staff can all be Teamsters. The Teamsters also work extensively in the motion picture and theater industry. Individual divisions of the Teamsters often support each other during labor negotiations and strikes. They also meet at annual conferences and other events which foster cooperation among all members of the Teamsters.

Members of the Teamsters are well known for supporting strike actions by other unions. Many Teamsters decline to cross picket lines and they will picket with members of other unions while they hold strikes. Given the size and clout of the Teamsters, their support can be very valuable for smaller trade unions.

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Discuss this Article

Misscoco
Post 4

The article says that the Teamster's Union is one of the largest unions. It contribute huge amounts of money to political parties and individual candidates. This gives them a lot of power. I'm not so sure I agree that any union or group should have this much power to influence choices made by politicians.

I don't know how much the Teamsters Union contributes, but I personally think that there ought to be limits to how much a group can contribute to a campaign or to politicians.

I just don't like to see things done that benefit one group of people to the detriment of others.

sweetPeas
Post 3

I was under the impression that the Teamsters Union was a labor organization only for truck drivers. I didn't know of the many other divisions of this union. They are a tough and powerful bunch. But since they organized over 100 years ago, they have done a lot to help their various divisions to maintain fair wages, pension funds, and safe and beneficial working conditions.

Despite some corruption, they have served their workers well. Sometimes it's hard to find a good balance between management and unions, but I hate to think what working conditions would be like for many workers if there were no unions.

sunshine31
Post 2

@Jholcomb - I know that strikes like that hurt just about everyone involved. I also think that we are living in different economic times than we did around World War 2. I know that back then the United States had little competition when it came to the goods it produced and many times these companies and unions used pension plans to attract employees over the long haul.

It is sad to say that many companies are having problems maintaining these Teamsters pensions because a lot of companies are struggling to survive much less pay out lifelong annuity payments to people that are no longer employed with them.

Many of these companies are criticized for taking jobs to overseas markets or opening up a plant that is nonunion. However, General Motors had to pay out about $5 billion dollars in just UAW pension benefits.

You also see that companies like Toyota and Honda don’t have that burden to carry, and can sell a lot more cars because they can charge less and don’t have these additional costs. I think that the Teamsters pension fund and really all pension plans are going to be the subject of a lot of debate for years to come.

jholcomb
Post 1

They really do have a lot of clout. Some years ago I was living in St. Louis when there was a grocery workers strike. Naturally, the teamsters would not cross the picket line. (I'm not sure how the stores got deliveries; maybe the delivery drivers were not unionized?)

The stores had food, but the problem was that the Teamsters wouldn't cross the picket lines to *pick up* food, either - as in, the stores' regular donation to the local food bank. Which, of course, was facing greater demand than ever with all those low-paid grocery workers not getting their paychecks.

They did eventually work something out. I think maybe store managers brought the food outside the picket line, where the Teamsters would pick it up.

(The grocery workers got a five-cent raise from a strike that lasted weeks. I read that it would take several *years* before that little raise would pay for the extraordinary cost to the workers of the strike. The whole situation was so sad.)

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