My Friend Bill Slater

Bill Slater passed away two days ago at the age of 93 in Lakeport, California. Bill was my good friend for 40 years.

I’m sad to think of his passing, but so happy to have known him. I smile as I think of the laughs and talks and struggles we had together.

Many people in the Teamsters and in the labor movement would say the same thing, because Bill touched so many people.

Bill was a WWII Navy veteran. Until recently, he attended annual ship reunions and kept in touch with other vets of the war in the Pacific. After the war, Bill became a unionist for life.

The first time Bill gave a speech at a Convention of Teamsters for a Democratic Union was around 1980. He spoke about ordinary folks, and what so-called “reasonable” corporate people can so heartlessly do to them. It was about Bill’s mother. I recall it well after nearly 40 years.

Bill joined TDU in 1978 when he heard of our movement from his friend John Torbet. And he jumped right in, recruiting fellow carhaulers in California and beyond to TDU. He was soon elected Vice President of Local 468 in Oakland, but Bill didn’t go after union offices or positions. His goals were higher: not only transforming our union, but making this country into a place where poor and working people are treated fairly and decently.

Bill served on our national steering committee and helped in every way he could.

Bill was never quiet about his views. Once I took Bill on a guided rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. I knew he wanted to do something like that, so I just set it up and said meet me in Flagstaff, Ariz. But I was nervous about how this would go—being with a bunch of strangers for nine days, listening to Bill’s unfiltered opinions. But the thing is, even when Bill expressed himself about injustice or phony politicians, he did it in a way that everyone could relate to. He became the social center of the group.

It was impossible not to like Bill.  He spread love and solidarity far and wide.

Bill was involved in every important victory our movement achieved; he was especially proud of helping elect Ron Carey as Teamster president in 1991. And he was involved in our set-backs, too. He understood better than most of us that the struggle for justice is a marathon.

Bill is survived by his daughter Leslie and her husband Tim, who were Bill’s next door neighbors and best friends and who lovingly looked after him. And he is survived by so many of us across the country who loved him.

I miss Bill and am proud to have called him my friend.

   Ken Paff
   January 2, 2018

Showing 5 reactions

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  • Robert Ream
    commented 2018-01-08 00:17:02 -0500
    Bill was a long time activist who never got tired of fighting for working people. I didn’t meet Bill very often but I always enjoyed listening to him. Even in retirement he didn’t fade away. He kept active, always encouraging people to keep fighting. He is one of those I refer to as a political gardener – planting seeds to raise future activists. He did a good job at it. It was great to read that his family lived next door and took care of him when needed. We should all live his kind of life.
  • Mel Packer
    commented 2018-01-06 16:48:32 -0500
    I was proud to be part of TDU from its creation as was Bill Slater whom I will always remember as a man of principle, a dedicated working class fighter, and one I was always happy to stand with in the struggle for truth and justice.
  • Stephen Early
    commented 2018-01-02 20:42:57 -0500
    Good to see that pix of Bill above, with Ken and Steve, taken in our backyard in Richmond during a TDU fund-raiser several years ago. A trooper as always, Bill came down from Lakeport for the event, with Steve’s help, and joined a well deserved tribute to more than 40 years of collective work on behalf of Teamster reform. We’re having another Bay Area event like that in March. (For details when available, send email to

    Bill, sadly, will not be there. But other TDUers will be, who are carrying on his work and upholding his inspiring legacy of rank-and-file activism.
    Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon
    Richmond, CA.
  • Martha Gruelle
    commented 2018-01-02 15:58:04 -0500
    Bill seemed always to be cheerful and smiling. I fully believe he was thus on occasions when he told the boss what’s what. What a great friend to the movement!
  • Jerry Yarbrough
    commented 2018-01-02 15:55:01 -0500
    I am sorry for your loss Ken. May Bill RIP.
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