Women on Front Lines of Early Teamster Reform

Before TDU won the right for direct elections of delegates, women and minorities hardly ever made it to the floor of the Teamster Convention. The Right to Vote helped that situation. As we look forward to building a movement that includes the voices of all Teamsters, TDU would like to take advantage of Women’s History Month to acknowledge some exceptional women who have fought for their sisters and brothers against the corruption of previous Teamster leaders.

Diana Kilmury, Vancouver Local 213, enraged the old guard in 1981 when she spoke for ridding the union of its bad apples. “I didn’t say you were a bunch of crooks ... [but] if you’re too damn scared to have an Ethical Practices Commission that you yourselves, the General Executive Board will control, then my God, you must be up to something.” Later, Kilmury would go on to become our union’s first female International Vice President in 1991. Those events inspired the film “Mother Trucker: the Diana Kilmury Story.”

Linda Gregg, Denver Local 435, was one of the first women to become a local principal officer. She spoke in favor of increasing strike benefits at the 1986 convention. The majority of delegates, led by then-President Jackie Presser, voted down the proposal on the grounds that it would be too expensive and make the members too eager to strike. The previous night the Teamsters had footed the bill for giant parties with lobster and free-flowing booze.

Ten years later, Laurie Craig from Minnesota Local 1145, spoke against multiple salaries. “Mr. Chairman, why would a union leader want to be paid two, three, or more salaries? It’s against the principles this union is built upon. We are not a corporation where greed is king. We are a union of brothers and sisters. Let’s unite and do what’s right. Put that money, millions of dollars, to work in organizing and bargaining and strike benefits.”

The proposal to eliminate multiple salaries will again be made at the 2006 Teamster Convention.

The questions these women have raised still resonate with the average Teamster. Local 805 President Sandy Pope, a candidate for International Vice President, is the former director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). She is one of the three women on the still-growing Tom Leedham Strong Contracts, Good Pensions Slate.Hoffa’s slate contains 21 men and no women yet.

Pope says she believes the Teamsters can realize the dreams of the women and men who faced down the old guard in decades past, and that the common-sense, members-first approach advocated by women such as Kilmury, Gregg, and others have given our reform movement a strong base for the work to be done in the twenty-first century.

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