Pete Camarata, 1946–2014: A Courageous Teamster

Chicago Memorial & Celebration

Sunday, March 23, 2014
12:00 PM - 04:00 PM

Teamster City Auditorium
300 South Ashland Avenue
Chicago IL 60607

Detroit Memorial & Celebration

Friday, March 14, 2014
12:00 PM - 04:00 PM

Gazebo Banquet Center
31104 Mound Road
Warren MI 48092

Teamsters mourn the passing of brother Pete Camarata, one of the founders of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, who died at his home in Chicago on February 9th.

Pete was the real deal—a Teamster who stood for principle at a time when few others would dare to.

Camarata attended a meeting of Teamsters for a Decent Contract in 1975, and quickly became a leader and inspiration to many Teamsters. He went home from that meeting to his own Detroit Local 299, where the young man was a steward who had been mentored by Jimmy Hoffa Sr., to spread the movement.

Members of Local 299 liked what Pete stood for. When Teamster President Frank Fitzsimmons called a national freight strike the next spring to let members blow off steam for 2 days, Camarata led Detroit freight Teamsters on a wildcat afterward, a demonstration of defiance against Fitzsimmons’ sellout leadership.

The IBT leadership struck back by expelling Camarata from the union, but it was one of many times they underestimated TDU and Camarata. TDU attorneys quickly obtained a federal injunction to immediately reinstate Pete.

That same spring of 1976, Pete was elected a delegate to the Teamster Convention in Las Vegas, where he would rise to the mic to announce that Frank Fitzsimmons had not been elected unanimously, as he dramatically stated.

“I have to say right now, for an old friend of mine that you know I haven’t seen for almost a year now [Hoffa Sr.] that he wouldn't like it if there wasn't at least one dissenting vote at this Convention, and I would like to go on record now to say that you have it.” (Delegate Pete Camarata, from the 1976 IBT Convention)

His reference to Hoffa Sr. stung. That evening, IBT goons beat him on the sidewalk while Fitzsimmons was nearby—another mistake on their part. Lester Velie’s book Desperate Bargain: Why Jimmy Hoffa Had to Die documented their cowardice and Pete’s courage. That chapter of the book was reprinted by the readers Digest as well.

Pete became a leader of TDU, often traveling on his own time to encourage rank and file Teamsters to get involved and become leaders.

Over the years, TDU would grow and win many new rights for Teamsters: the right to vote for International officers, majority rule on contract votes, the right to vote on contract supplements and riders, and more. The TDU movement rocked the labor movement in 1991 with the election of Ron Carey which ushered in a new opening in our union and changes in the AFL-CIO.

Pete Camarata was a pioneer who helped pave the way to make those kinds of wins possible.

After Pete’s retirement, he moved to Chicago, where he was married to labor attorney Robin Potter. Pete remained active until the end, always willing to lend a hand to a strike, a struggle or to mentor a young new leader. The 2012 TDU Convention presented Pete with an award for his lifetime of service to Teamsters and to the movement for justice.

Our union is better because of Pete Camarata’s work and example. Pete, we miss you and will work hard to carry forward your ideals.

Ken Paff
TDU Organizer