The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America, is one of the largest trade unions in the world. It was first chartered as the Team Drivers International Union in 1899. The name was changed to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1903. The Teamsters came about like other unions because workers were not protected from economic exploitation or from the consequences of illness, disability, or unemployment. The Teamsters enabled employees to participate in many types of political activities and to protect themselves by political and economic means. The membership consists of about 1.7 million people in such different fields as transportation, warehousing, health care, office management, and construction, as well as many workers in the bakery, dairy, brewery, and food-processing industries.
The Teamsters is the only union that represents every craft of workers in the airline industry. The union also represents a growing number of public employees, especially ones working in prisons. One out of every ten union members is a teamster. The union is organized into five area conferences that help some 700 locals in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico with regional contracts and negotiations. Their Headquarters is in Washington, D.C. Unlike other labor unions, the Teamsters union is structured to promote strong local unions, and strong local leaders. Since the locals negotiate most Teamster contracts and provide most of the services to the members.
At the union's headquarters in Washington, D.C., the International Brotherhood of Teamsters supports local unions with coordination of national contract negotiations, political action, and organizing; Training and educational programs for local leaders, stewards, and members; Advice and assistance from experienced organizers, negotiators, researchers, attorneys, safety and health professionals auditors, and communications specialists. The local Teamster representatives negotiate with the management of a company for contracts that guarantee union members fair promotion policies, health coverage, job security, paid time off, pay levels and raises, and other benefits. The negotiating process starts when the employees' business agent calls a meeting to ask the members' ideas for changes in the contract. Then meeting notices are posted on the union bulletin board at the workplace.
The teamsters' representatives then meet with management and negotiate for the things the employees want. A meeting is called when negotiations are finished so the business agent can explain details of the agreement. Then the employees vote to accept or reject the proposed contract either at a meeting or by mail ballot. If the workers do not agree upon the proposed contract, the business agent goes back and tries to renegotiate.
If management and the workers can not agree, then a strike can result. The union can basically shut down the business. Because of how big it is, the Teamsters Union has great economic power, and its pension fund is an important investment resource. Since the 1950's, the union has been investigated many times for corrupt practices, and several of its presidents have been imprisoned on criminal charges. In January 1957 the Select Committee on Labor and Management Practices was established by the U.S. Senate to conduct investigations of labor racketeering.
The committee found evidence of widespread corruption in the Teamsters Union. The union was expelled from the AFL-CIO, but was allowed to rejoin in 1987. There is still a mystery that surrounds the Teamster Union and that is the disappearance of its International President, Jimmy Hoffa, in 1975. Mr. Hoffa was long rumored to be associated with organized crime and, beginning in 1957, was the subject of many government investigations and prosecutions. Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1983 even though no one knows what happened to him.
Working to shed its notorious image, Teamsters president James Hoffa (son of Jimmy Hoffa mentioned above) has proposed ethics policies aimed at rooting out internal corruption and ties to organized crime.