Black Teamsters: Building a Stronger Union for All

February 20, 2012: For decades Black Teamsters have been working to win more representation for African Americans in leadership at all levels of our union. Their work has built our union’s power for everyone.

More progress needs to be made if we’re going to build a union that taps the leadership skills of all of our members.

Teamsters National Black Caucus

At the 1971 Teamster Convention in Miami, Black officers and union representatives decided to do something about the lack of representation in the union’s top spots. Back then, there were no African Americans on the General Executive Board.

Black Teamsters were also angry that organizer jobs at the International were off-limits to African-Americans.

This group of local officers and representatives gave birth to the Teamster National Black Caucus.

In 1976, Black Teamsters won a victory at the next convention, when John Cleveland, the head of Washington, D.C. Local 730, became the first African American added to the union’s executive board.

Rather than move aside any of the white GEB members, the officials created a new position on the Board for Brother Cleveland.

Cleveland had fought hard to win greater representation and power for Black Teamsters in our union.

More Progress Needed

African Americans and Latinos make up a bigger portion of Teamster membership than ever before. And women Teamsters now account for a quarter of our total membership.

The membership of our union is changing more every year, but looking at the top Teamster leadership you wouldn’t know it.

The current General Executive Board, the leadership body elected by our union in November 2011, includes only two African Americans and one Latino who are entitled to vote, out of 25. Also, one Latino is a non-voting Trustee.

The position of women among our top leaders is just as bad. The first woman wasn’t elected to our union’s top leadership until 1991, when Diana Kilmury—a long-time TDU leader from British Columbia Local 155—was elected with the Ron Carey Slate. Later she chaired the first Teamster Human Rights Commission. Today, there is only one woman on the Teamster GEB.

We Need More Leaders

In some locals, members have made significant progress in building a leadership that looks like our membership. In other locals, less progress has been made.

But the problem is not that our union has too many bad leaders. Our union needs more leaders, especially women, people of color, and more young people, at all levels.

Every Teamster can be a leader, whether you want to be more active in your local, become a steward, or run for office. Being a leader means taking responsibility for your fellow Teamsters and helping them get organized.

That’s what TDU is all about.

“TDU has been training Teamster members for 35 years on how to get more involved in our union,” says Willie Hardy. “We give members the tools they need to deal with grievances, win strong contracts, or run for local union office.”

TDU Black Caucus

The TDU Black Caucus is a space for Black Teamsters to learn from each other and get support in our fight to build a union that works for all of our members.

We offer training and workshops for working Teamsters who want to learn more about handling grievances, winning strong contracts, and building the movement for reform in our union.

Black Teamsters will have a special meeting at the 2012 Teamsters for a Democratic Union Convention, Oct. 24-26 in Chicago.

Want to learn more? Click here to contact the TDU Black Caucus and a member will contact you.