How Rank & File Power Dramatically Changed Teamster Finances

CEO salaries have exploded over the last forty years. But salaries and perks for top Teamster officials have been reduced over the same period. Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and rank-and-file Teamsters made it happen. Here’s how.

Members demand the right to vote for IBT officers outside the 1981 IBT Convention.Members demand the right to vote for IBT officers outside the 1981 IBT Convention.
Photo: Teamsters for a Democratic Union

In 1983, Teamster General President Jackie Presser’s salary was $550,000, which is $1.74 million in today’s dollars! Presser was not alone. 

Other officials were close behind and some had relatives on the payroll. Corrupt Teamster officials made salaries comparable to CEOs and many bragged about it.  

Today, CEO salaries have exploded to many millions, including the CEOs of Teamster employers like Kroger, Waste Management, UPS or Coca Cola. But Teamster officers’ salaries have come down, with more dues money going to build Teamster power. 

In 2023, Teamster President Sean O’Brien salary was $250,352 which is just one-seventh of what Presser’s would be today.  

And it is not just the Teamster General President: our union’s financial priorities have shifted from officer perks to building union power. There is more that can be done, but we have moved in the right direction. 

How Members Changed Our Union’s Priorities

What made top Teamster officials stop paying themselves like CEOs?

  1. Informed Members. TDU ended the information blackout by publishing the salaries of the highest paid officers. Many members were appalled by inflated salaries, and perks like the two private jets owned by the IBT until 1992. 

  2. The Right to Vote. In March 1989, TDU helped win the Right to Vote for all International officers, and we still have that right. When the election season opened in 1989, TDU issued leaflets revealing that International Vice president Arnie Weinmeister made $398,863 ($1.022 million in today’s dollars) and General Secretary Treasurer Weldon Mathis made $284,195 ($728,266 in today’s dollars). Both of them then withdrew from running in the 1991 first-ever membership vote for IBT officers.

  3. Constitutional Changes. The IBT Constitution (Article V, Section 1) was amended at the 1991 IBT Convention. Under pressure by members and Ron Carey’s campaign, even the incumbents had to support an amendment to limit the General President to $225,000, and that other IBT officers could not have higher total salaries. A cost-of-living clause raises it for each year an officer is in office, similar to the way social security retirement benefits are increased to keep up with inflation.

Stay Vigilant

Teamster members need to stay vigilant against attempts to take our union backwards. At the 2021 IBT Convention, a move was made to double IBT salaries.

This proposal was made by former International Vice President Rome Aloise, who was later expelled from the Teamsters for corruption in January 2022.

As a member of the 2021 IBT Convention Constitution Committee, Aloise proposed doubling the salaries for IBT officers. When the motion came up during the Convention, an emergency meeting of the Constitution Committee was held. 

The amendment never came to the floor of the Convention. Candidates for top union office who were backed by Aloise did not want to propose doubling salaries, and then face a membership election a few months later in November 2021.

Information is Power 

TDU and rank-and-file Teamsters have won financial reforms that have cut dues waste and put our money to work for the members. 

The result is more power for workers.

At the 2021 Teamster Convention, our union constitution was changed to pay strike benefits starting the first day of a strike. The IBT has boosted strike benefits, in some cases, to help members hold the line.

That reform is paying off. Strikes have won strong contracts and organized new members at Sysco, US Foods, DHL’s air hub, and more. 

Organizing wins are also up, including in core industries like UPS specialists and techs, food distribution, school bus, and DHL.

That’s the fruit of members organizing for financial reform, new IBT leadership, and a new direction in our union.

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