Bob McNattin 1938-2022: A Hero in the Fight to Save Teamster Pensions

Bob McNattin, a longtime Teamster activist and TDU member from Minnesota, who played a leadership role in the successful effort to save the Central States pension, died Sept. 18 in Falcon Heights, MN, a Twin Cities suburb. He was 84.

Bob was a tireless union activist and an invaluable leader of the Teamster pension protection movement.

McNattin addressing a Minneapolis mass meeting of Teamster retirees, February 2016.

“Bob could be counted on for any task, whether it was working the sign-in table at a meeting, making a speech, or counting ballots for a TDU election at a convention,” said Pete Landon, who was an organizer at TDU’s national office. “He was a true working-class hero.”

Steve Baribeau, who co-chaired Save Our Pensions Minnesota, along with Bob, said, “He was always a leader. He was an inspiration to all of us and he kept us going, even when we faced setbacks and could not get a bill on the floor of the U.S. Senate for a vote. He always had good ideas on how to pursue our cause.”

Added Jeff Brooks, the other co-chair of the Minnesota pension group, “Bob McNattin’s heart was always open and he was always pursuing fairness and thinking of ways to make the world a more humane place.”

Born in Chicago in 1938, Bob grew up in suburban Chicago, the son of a doctor and a nurse. He obtained a degree from Shimer College in Mt. Carroll, IL, taught English composition at Wisconsin State University in Superior, Wis. and worked in longshore in Duluth. For five years, starting in 1971, he was program director for the American Lung Association in Hennepin County in Minneapolis.

In 1976, Bob got a commercial license. “It turned out to be a 40-year career as a truck driver,” he said a year ago in an interview about his life.

Bob worked at Murphy Warehouse in Minneapolis for 23 years and was a member of Teamsters Local 120. After he got fired for involvement in union activity, he got another Teamster job at Cemstone, a major concrete contractor, where he worked for 12 years. When new residential construction crashed in 2008, he was laid off, and went to work in the oil fields in North Dakota.

Bob joined TDU in 1997. "I joined out of desperation," he recalled. “The union leadership wasn’t doing anything. A freight driver dropped off a Teamsters for a Democratic Union newsletter and urged me to join TDU." Bob went to the TDU Convention that year, and attended many more.

The Pension Movement

Bob campaigned for TDU-supported international candidates in three IBT elections, and became a leader of the Minnesota chapter of TDU. In 2013, Bob heard from the TDU office of coming dangers that the Central States pensions would be cut.

Bob pulled together a meeting of Teamster activists to discuss the situation at a Twin Cities coffee shop. What began as a meeting with a handful of activists mushroomed into a movement.

“Out of the meeting, over eight and a half years, grew a grassroots organization called Save Our Pensions Minnesota,” he said. “We had mailings and rallies. Up to 500 workers and their families came to our rallies. We did lobbying in both Minnesota and Washington, D.C. We were one of 60 similar groups that arose in the 24-state area covered by the Central States Pension plan. In Minnesota, we had a steering committee with 20 to 40 members.”

The fight to preserve the Central States Pension was successful. “It was a victory beyond our wildest expectations,” Bob said. “A bill passed Congress, fully funding our pension until at least the year 2050.”

In the interview done last year, Bob reflected on his TDU experience. “I met kindred spirits. I was not alone. With the support of TDU we prevailed in the pension fight. TDU put me in touch with like-minded labor activists that were able to mentor me, provide role models and stiffen my spine. I didn’t rock the boat when I was growing up, but I sure do now.”

“My dad spent his life, time, and talents dedicated to the people, causes, and things he loved the best,” his daughter, Katie Malchow, said. “He left no doubts in the minds of those who loved him that he loved them unconditionally and found joy in almost everything and everyone. “Dad loved his family above all else. He was immeasurably proud of us and never missed an opportunity to tell us so.”

Bob is survived by his five children and five grandchildren, his former wife, Ann McNattin, a close friend, Mary Ann Mattox, and dear friend Monika Kiley Blaine.

The McNattin family is working out details for a celebration of life.

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