We Need a Union Leadership that Looks Like Our Membership

April 8, 2008: The membership of our union is changing more every year, but the top Teamster leadership has not kept pace.

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.

But our union’s top leadership doesn’t look like our membership.

The General Executive Board, our union’s elected leadership body, includes only one African American who is entitled to vote, out of 26. Two other African Americans and one Latino are non-voting Trustees.

The position of women among our top leaders is just as bad. Only one woman Teamsters has a vote on the Executive Board. Another woman is a non-voting trustee.

Hard-Won Progress

There has been progress, because of the efforts and struggles of Teamster members.

At the 1971 Teamster Convention, African American members and officers raised concerns about the fact that there were no Black IBT representatives or GEB members. Members launched the Teamsters National Black Caucus at that convention.

At the next convention in 1976, the Teamster leadership appointed John Cleveland from Washington D.C. Local 730 as an International Vice President.

Cleveland had fought hard to win greater representation and power for Black Teamsters in our union. Rather than move aside any of the white GEB members, the officials created a new position on the Board for Brother Cleveland.

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. That same year, the first Latino member was elected with Ron Carey, John Riojas of San Antonio. Kilmury later chaired the first Teamster Human Rights Commission.

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 African Americans, 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.

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.

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

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