A History of Our Rights: Changes in the IBT Constitution 1940-2006

Every five years, our Teamsters Union holds an International Convention. The convention nominates candidates for International officers. Delegates also have the power to amend any provision of the constitution.

At many Conventions, members have been stripped of our rights. For the last 30 years, TDU has mobilized at Conventions to reverse that trend and win new rights with some successes.

Here’s a quick review of how our rights have been strengthened and weakened in the Teamster Constitution from 1940 to the present.

1940 – Majority rule on strikes and contracts ended. Two-thirds rule inserted. - Locals must now notify the joint council and get the consent of the General President to go on strike. - General President salary of $30,000 (no multiple salaries). President Dan Tobin declares at convention that it is too high.

1947 - Business agents, all previously elected, are now either elected or appointed.

1952 - Local union executive boards given authority to use mail ballots to approve contracts. - Dave Beck chosen as General President. - Article 12 amended to mandate joint council approval of strike votes. - Article 3 changed to give locals the power to appoint (rather than elect) delegates to conventions. - Minimum term for local officers raised from one to two years.

1957 - James R. Hoffa chosen General President. - General President can appoint area directors. - Special extra pension plan (Retirement and Family Protection Plan) established for International officers. - AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Committee Report read. Weldon Mathis moves it be struck from the record, which it was. Delegate Jeffrey Cohelan of Local 302 dissents: “The charges contained in this report are serious charges, and they deserve very special consideration. ... If this convention is foolish enough to simply sweep this from the record or to ignore the very serious charges that have been made here, we will stand before this country, and the labor movement particularly, indicted.”

1961 - Article 5 changed to legitimize multiple salaries for International officers from subordinate bodies. - Article 22 changed to allow one person to hold office in more than one local with approval of the General President. - Article 3 changed to end local elections for convention delegates. - Article 9, Section 9(a) changed to give International authority to pay legal expenses for officers. - Article 22 changed to allow local executive boards to designate times, places, and methods of voting without membership approval. - Article 2 on election eligility changed to extend the two-years continuous good standing to include payment of dues on time each month. - Article 15, Section 7 changed so area conferences are subject to the unqualified supervision, direction and control of the General President. - Special extra pension plan (Affiliates Plan) established to cover all business agents and local and other officials.

1966 - General President now appoints negotiating committees. - General President can intervene in local contracts and order votes by mail.

1976 - Dues rate set at two-hours pay formula, so dues hikes become automatic rather than voted on. - Hoffa’s hand-picked successor, Frank Fitzsimmons, chosen as General President. Fitzsimmons states on the record that those who want to reform this union can “go to hell”.

1981 - Locals with elected BAs could keep them, but new article adopted to prevent any more locals from switching to elected BAs. - New provision adopted to allow for appointment of a new General President to fill a vacancy. Provision comes in handy less than two years later when Roy Williams goes to prison. General Executive Board appoints Jackie Presser president. - Automatic 100 percent cost-of-living raises for all International officers. - Proposal by delegate Diana Kilmury for Ethical Practices Committee shouted down on convention floor.

1986 - 100,000 members petition convention for Right to Vote. - Reform delegates submit proposals for majority rule on contracts, right to vote for IBT officers, increased strike benefits, and resolutions on two-tier contracts and organizing. All are denounced and voted down. - Members dues finance two fancy parties costing $900,000. Presser carried into Eastern Conference party on sedan chair; Billy Hogan goes on the record to say Central Conference party was just as fancy. - Presser retains Teamster presidency with 99 percent of the vote, and then conducts the “funeral of TDU”.

1991 - Due to Right to Vote provisions in consent order, all delegates elected in supervised elections. Delegates nominate candidates for International office, who are then elected by the members. - Right to vote for IBT officers written into constitution. - Right to elect convention delegates voted down by old-guard majority. Consent order, at least temporarily, protects this hard-won right. - IBT jet planes sold. - Majority rule on contracts written into constitution. - Strike benefits raised to $200 a week, but without funding mechanism. - Members win right to a separate vote on all master contract supplements. - Elections for joint council officers changed to secret ballot votes. - Name of union changed (shortened).

1996 - Hoffa forces disrupt the convention. As reported in Newsday on July 16, 1996, “From the opening moments yesterday, Hoffa supporters ... screamed, pounded on tables and chanted, almost drowning out Carey and most other officials and speakers.” - This behavior continued throughout the convention, and little was accomplished. - Article 5 changed to add the elected president of Teamsters Canada to the General Executive Board, strengthening unity between U.S. and Canadian Teamsters, with Hoffa delegates voting against. - Code of ethics for pension trustees adopted. Employers not allowed to attend the convention as guests.

2001 – Hoffa forces have 90% of delegates. Teamster Constitution amended to provide for Canadian Teamster Sovereignty, as proposed by TDU delegates in 1981, and again by Carey in 1996. Constitution amended to provide for membership vote for IBT officers, but with the rules and election supervisor appointed by the incumbents [this part was not implemented due to racketeering consent order]. Hoffa delegates reject reform proposals to cut and cap International Union salaries at $150,000, ban multiple salaries for International Union officials, and establish a Membership Bill of Rights. Delegate Tom Leedham, nominated for General President, asserts on the floor that Hoffa had a “secret plan” to call a special convention after the 2001 International election to raise dues.

2002 – General Executive Board calls Special Convention to raise dues by 25%, with most of the new money going to the International. Reform delegates call for a membership vote, Hoffa forces reject it. For the first time, cameras banned from Convention auditorium, so no pictures can be taken on how delegates vote.

2006 – International leadership goes all out to block the nomination of any opposition candidates for International Office. However, Leedham and the Strong Contracts, Good Pensions Slate nominated. Three independent candidates ran for vice president positions also. Reform proposals to protect Local Unions from International takeover were rejected, as were constitutional amendments on pension fund trustee accountability and a Membership Bill of Rights. Convention adopted only housekeeping changes to the Constitution.


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