July 15, 2011: In 1976 our Teamsters Union was in big trouble. For years, top leaders allowed organized crime to infiltrate the highest levels of the union. The mob was raiding the Central States Pension Fund to build Las Vegas casinos. The members were shut out.
In these hard times a group of freight Teamsters formed a network called Teamsters for a Decent Contract (TDC) to put the members into the equation for the 1976 master freight agreement.
TDC started to break through the intimidation, openly distributing thousands of leaflets. The New York Times reported that TDC was creating “tremendous pressure on [IBT president] Frank Fitzsimmons to bring home a contract that he can sell to the membership.”
Under that pressure, Fitzsimmons called the first national strike in Teamster history. TDC pushed hard for an unlimited Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) and it was won. (That unlimited COLA was given away in 1982).
On September 18, 1976, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) was born in Kent, Ohio. UPS Teamsters were now joining. Later, the word spread, and Teamsters joined from other crafts.
TDU was building Teamster unity from the bottom up. The new organization drew up a “Rank and File Bill of Rights” and has never wavered from the goal of a union that is of, by and for the members.
Meanwhile, another reform group was growing. PROD was initiated around truck safety with help from Ralph Nader. TDU was more active in the shop and on contracts, while PROD had expertise in legal matters.
In late 1979, PROD and TDU merged together. Egos were put aside, and unity was put up front.
Over the years, TDU won victories which include majority rule on contracts (instead of having them approved by just 1/3 of voters), the right to elect delegates to IBT conventions, and the right to elect the Teamster president and International officers.
The top officials of the union all opposed these reforms, and supported the mob-influenced leadership. Many of these same officials are in power today.
But the structure of our union has changed for the better, and so have the culture and legal protections we enjoy, thanks to the courageous pioneering work of those original members of Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
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