The Teamsters Union goes back over a century as the largest private labor union in the US. Formally known as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, the union represents truck drivers and many workers in related industries as well. The reach of the Teamsters Union has been considerable over the years as it has helped to shape the history of the United States in terms of labor relations.
Before the turn of the 20th century there were a number of small unions in the US that were formed in regional locations. With the advent of modern industrialization, the emphasis quickly shifted to bringing together many of these unions in order to have more bargaining power.
In 1903, the newly formed Teamsters National Union merged with the Team Drivers International Union to form the first iteration of what would be known as the Teamsters Union. Interestingly enough, the center of the union would remain deliverymen who were using horse-drawn vehicles until the mid-1930s when truck drivers took over the union interests.
The first major leader of note for this union was Daniel J. Tobin who lead the Teamsters from 1907 until 1952 and increased their membership from roughly 40,000 when he took command to over 1 million by the time his left office. This remarkable growth made the union the largest in the country. Dave Beck took over the union until 1957 until James Hoffa took command and led it until 1971.
Under Beck and Hoffa, the Teamsters grew into a centralized union that negotiated freight-haul agreements that brought with it national power as well. It is the sheer size of the union that gave them considerable bargaining power. However, over the ensuing years the union has shifted its focus towards family concerns and job security for its members.
However, it was the size of the Teamsters Union that also gave it a considerable amount of trouble as well. From manipulation of pension funds to pressuring small employers to working with organized crime, the Teamsters have had a turbulent history which has brought it under investigation over the years. It was the ejection of the Teamsters from the AFL-CIO in 1957 brought about a thirty year period where Beck, Hoffa and Roy L. Williams were all convicted of different crimes. The disappearance of Hoffa in 1975 was suspected of being by organized crime as well.
The Teamsters Union was re-admitted to the AFL-CIO in 1987 and the union gained new membership through technology, clerical and service organizations as their numbers in terms of truck drivers dropped considerably. By 1997, the Teamsters had managed to gain world attention again by striking against the United Parcel Service in 1997. However, declining membership and not being satisfied with the status quo, the Teamsters Union left the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form the Change to Win coalition with several other unions in order to retain their power.
There is little doubt that the Teamsters remain a powerful force when it comes to union representation. It remains to see what the future holds as economic forces and developing technology change the employment landscape.