Michael Savwoir has fought for democracy, racial justice and a stronger Teamsters Union for well over 30 years, and he’s still going strong. Teamsters—especially TDU members—salute his unwavering commitment, as he steps down from the TDU Steering Committee, on which he has served for nearly 20 years.Read more
By Ken Paff, TDU National Organizer — As we continue to vigorously demand that the Hoffa administration renegotiate, we need to look to the future. We need a new leadership and a new direction. To make that future, we need to understand the past.Read more
On June 5, 1976, a group of Teamsters met in Cleveland to form Teamsters for a Democratic Union. At 42 years old, TDU is the oldest, largest, and most successful union reform movement in U.S. labor history.Read more
On this day in 1976, a small group of courageous Teamsters met in Kent, Ohio, to form Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).Read more
May 15, 2014: We lost a good friend yesterday, when Doug Mims passed away in Atlanta at the age of 75. Doug had been sick for quite some time.
Doug was a tireless activist and a leader of the TDU movement and of the Teamsters Union.
Doug started his union activity when he was a road driver in South Carolina. Later he transferred to Atlanta Local 728, where he joined TDU in 1984 and helped form an Atlanta TDU Chapter.
Doug and his wife Joyce were an organizing team. Joyce brought organizational and leadership skills to complement Doug’s ability to inspire and involve Teamster members.
TDU began to reach out and grow in Georgia.
The TDUers put together a slate to run in Local 728, but the election was stolen. To my surprise, the US Department of Labor did a very thorough investigation and proved that hundreds of ballots had been marked with the same pen on extra ballots that were secretly printed.
Facing defeat in a supervised election, the Mathis family, which ran Local 728 for years, had the IBT divide the local in two to maintain control of half of it. But the Labor Department then forced the phony new Local 928 to reunify back into Local 728. The TDU group swept the election in the spring of 1990, with Doug Mims elected vice president
“I'm now vice president of the Mathis family business," a fired-up Mims told the 1990 TDU Convention.
At that very convention, some of us suggested that Doug be on the Carey Slate. It was an easy sell, and Doug was one of the first running mates selected.
Joyce became the southern coordinator of the Carey campaign, and at various times over the years both Doug and Joyce served on the TDU Steering Committee. Both have been TDU members for 30 years; in fact, just days ago I wrote a short note to Doug on his membership renewal notice.
Joyce was appropriately honored in early 1992 when she was asked by Ron Carey to give his introduction at the big inauguration of Ron, along with Doug and the whole Carey Slate, on the steps of the Marble Palace.
I became friends with them and several times enjoyed warm visits at their home, and hosted them in Detroit. Many Teamsters could say something similar.
Doug served as an International VP until 1999. He ran on the Leedham Slate in 1998 for Southern VP, and then returned to work for Local 728 for a short while after that. Doug then retired from the Teamsters, but remained active in other work and in their community.
Doug Mims was a Teamster with guts and principles, who did his part in making labor history. We miss him and we honor his life’s work as we carry it on.
-- Ken Paff, TDU Organizer
April 8, 2014: Three Teamsters who helped blaze the trail for Teamster reform have passed away. They had vision, courage and determination and put solidarity ahead of self-advancement.
They, and Teamsters like them, built Teamsters for a Democratic Union. It’s up to us to carry on their legacy of organizing Teamster-to-Teamster to build a powerful, democratic union.
Steve Kindred 1944 - 2013
Founding TDU Member and Hell-raiser
Steve was a founder of TDU in 1976 and one of the initial spark plugs and builders of this movement.
In 1975, Teamsters took up a collection, bought a pass on a Greyhound bus, and sent Steve across the country to recruit freight stewards and activists to a national meeting of Teamsters for a Decent Contract.
One year later, TDU was born.
Steve remained active in TDU for the rest of his life as a carhauler, a TDU staff organizer, a business agent and later as a retiree.
Steve passed away in December, 2013 from cancer.
"Steve was an educator, a radical, and a hell-raiser. He believed ordinary people could make history and he helped make that happen. He inspired so many of us to carry on, because he was never discouraged and never defeated.”
Ken Paff, co-founder of TDU and friend of Steve’s ever since.
Les Cadman 1930-2014
Fighting Concessions & Building TDU
A Teamster steel-hauler out of locals in Youngstown, Gary and Detroit, Les was active in an earlier movement, the Fraternal Association of Steel Haulers.
In 1979, Les joined TDU during a month-long wildcat strike of steelhaulers that shut down steel transport across the Midwest and won a better contract than the International Union had signed.
He remained active with TDU for the rest of his life, and in retirement he did volunteer work in the TDU Detroit office with his wife, Lorene. Les was struck down by a hit-and-run driver, and passed away in March 2014 in Detroit.
"The steelhaul strike changed my life. I saw what an inspiration that Teamster power could be, and the commitment of working Teamsters like Les Cadman. They convinced me that this was what I wanted to do with my life. As unionized steel haul collapsed in the 1980s, we were fortunate that Les stayed in the movement and continued to build TDU.”
Sandy Pope was a young volunteer organizer in the 1979 steel haul strike and went on to be a truck driver, organizer, International Rep and Local 805 President.
Pete Camarata 1946 - 2014
Standing Up to the Mob & Winning the Right to Vote
Pete was a young protégé of James R Hoffa in Local 299, but no friend of Hoffa’s successor as Teamster president, Frank Fitzsimmons, also from Detroit Local 299.
When Fitzsimmons called a “blow off steam” strike for two days in the freight industry in 1976, Pete led a brief wildcat strike in Local 299 in defiance of the sell-out deal.
In 1976, Pete Camarata rose as the only delegate at the Las Vegas IBT Convention to vote against Frank Fitzsimmons for Teamster General President. Later that day, he was beaten unconscious by Teamster goons.
Pete was a founding member of TDU and was TDU’s candidate for General President at the 1981 IBT Convention. His protest candidacy at the 1981 IBT Convention helped pave the way to TDU winning one-member, one-vote election for International Union officers
Pete served on the Steering Committee of TDU for many years and remained active in TDU and the labor movement after he retired. He died of cancer in February 2014 in Chicago.
"When Fitz’s goons beat Pete, they figured they wouldn’t see Pete or TDU again. Wrong. Five years later, Pete was again elected a convention delegate and accepted the nomination for Teamster General President. TDU kept building rank and file power, won the Right to Vote in 1989 and we’re still here in 2014 and we ain’t going away. Pete never stopped fighting the good fight, and the planet is a better place because of him. Pete, with your inspiration we’re keeping the faith. Solidarity Forever.”
Dave Robbins, a member of Providence Local 251 and Pete’s friend for over 30 years, spoke at a packed memorial event at the Chicago Local 705 hall.
In 2005, the Journal of Transportation Law, Logistics and Policy published an authoritative essay by law professor Michael J. Goldberg, entitled Teamster Reformers: Their Union, Their Jobs, Their Movement.
September 19, 2013: On this weekend in 1976, a small group of courageous Teamsters met in Kent, Ohio, to form Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). They had little going for them except guts, principles, and a vision of a union driven by rank and file power.
At the time of TDU's founding, the IBT General Executive Board and many local unions were dominated by organized crime. Contracts could be imposed even if the majority voted against them. Members who spoke up could be met with violent intimidation. Teamster General President (and FBI informant) Jackie Presser organized the Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters (BLAST) goon squad to attack TDU meetings and the founding Convention. Presser announced at the 1986 Teamster Convention that "Today you've just witnessed the funeral of TDU." The following year, he was indicted for racketeering while TDU grew.
TDU has since become the longest-lived, most successful rank and file movement in U.S. labor history. Many labor historians have noted TDU’s role in winning rights, cutting mob influence in the Teamsters, and giving rank and file Teamsters a voice.
That struggle continues today, because there is a lot more history to make.
Click here to join TDU and help us to keep making Teamster history.
Read a four-part history of TDU and the Teamsters Union.
Read the contract voting rights TDU members have won for all Teamsters.
We have a legal right to a fair and informed vote on our national contracts. But our rights have not come without Teamsters for a Democratic Union taking on big battles. Here is a summary of some key legal – and membership – victories involving our rights in national Teamster contracts.
We Won the Right to a Fair and Informed Vote
Bauman v Presser. This case set a precedent for a “fair and informed” vote. We obtained an injunction stopping a UPS national contract vote and requiring a do-over on fair terms. As Bill Bauman (who was a steward in St Louis Local 688) stated at the time: “We won a democratic voice in collective bargaining for Teamster members.” Without this victory, Hoffa-Hall could mail out proposed contracts or supplements for a vote without any prior information available or adequate time for debate among members.
We Won the Right to Vote on Supplements and Riders
Davey v Fitzimmons. In this case we claimed that some supplements to the National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA) were so different, they required separate membership votes. We lost; the court gave the IBT leadership wide latitude to interpret the IBT constitution, and said we had to change the constitution if we wanted separate votes on supplements and riders. TDU Organizer Ken Paff was one of six plaintiffs.
We then built a movement to do just that, and succeeded at the 1991 IBT Convention; working closely with a good Teamster leader, then Harrisburg Local 776 president Tom Griffith, and with some fine work by reform delegates to the Convention to overcome the opposition of the IBT officials. That victory gave members more power to win better contracts.
Without this victory, the UPS contract would have been all over back in June.
We Won the Right to Observers at the Contract Vote Count
McCuiston v Hoffa. A consent order coming out of this carhaul contract case gave us the right to have rank and file observers at contract vote counts. Prior to this, the Hoffa administration handpicked a few observers – and not from all supplements and riders – who were not independent and kept secret from members what happened at the count. This is a crucial step for transparency and fair contract votes.
We Won Majority Rule on Contracts
In the Harmon case, we challenged a national contract vote where 64% voted no, but the union imposed the “2/3 to reject a contract” rule. We argued some members had been denied ballots, enough to possibly make it 2/3 No. Pressure built on the issue, and finally the IBT leadership conceded, and granted Teamster members majority rule, which is written into the IBT Constitution. This was a huge victory – UPS knew they only had to get 1/3 of voters to approve a contract. TDU fought to win majority rule for years, and it was finally won.
We Won the Right to Access all Proposed Supplements and Riders
In the Braxton case we won the right to get all tentative agreements for all supplements and riders, at the time of the “two-man” meeting, so that we can make them available to all members before voting. Prior to this victory, members only had access to their own supplement to the national contract and “highlights” or IBT PR. John Braxton was a UPS worker in Philadelphia who also worked for Teamster president Ron Carey. Now you can find the supplements and riders posted on www.TDU.org, and the IBT (in response to TDU) posts them as well.
We Won the Right to Quarterly Central States Fund Financials
When the Central States Pension and Health and Welfare Funds refused to give members access to quarterly financial and special-counsel reports which were filed with the court, we intervened and won in court. (The lead plaintiff, Tommy Burke, is a retired UPS driver in North Carolina.) The quarterly financial and analytical reports are available to members only on www.TDU.org.
Members of TDU are proud of this history. We believe these victories have made our union stronger, and given members a seat at the table. We thank the members who made this possible through their support, and we thank our great legal team.
You can help us make a lot more history with your support of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the national network of Teamster reformers working together for a strong and democratic Teamsters Union.