May 1, 2023
Unionization, in all industries, has been a hot-button issue since, well… the inception of the concept. Worker’s rights are important, despite what the thinly veiled words and actions of most CEOs may tell you. Unionization is especially important in blue collar industries, although more white collar occupations have attempted it as time has went on. Despite all this, they are still the subject of controversy, with there being quite a large anti-union contingent in the United States, even in the modern day. In fact, the numbers of people in unions has steadily decreased, from the 1980’s to now. One of the blue-collar occupations that is the least unionized in the country is, of course, truck driving.
Today, truck driving is thought of as somewhat of a low-level job, which is unfair due to the long and grueling hours most truck drivers have to put in to their work. This perception of the occupation has no doubt led to the mindset that causes people to turn a blind eye to some of the struggles they face in their industry. For a while, they had people and organizations like the Teamsters to represent them, and while groups like that did not come without their own issues, they undoubtedly shaped the occupation into what it is today and helped them escape from that stigma, as well as poor pay working conditions, at least for a time.
However, the good times didn’t necessarily last long. If you’re not familiar with the Teamsters, you may be more familiar with a man that went by the name Jimmy Hoffa. A notorious associate, but not member, of the mafia, Hoffa was the founder and leader of the Teamsters. He was in charge of the union group from 1957 to 1971. That being said, Hoffa is more known today for a different reason: his 1975 disappearance. Not death, not arrest, not retirement, disappearance. He was officially declared dead in 1982, but what actually happened to him is still unknown, even today.
Hoffa also brokered the National Freight Master Agreement in 1964. This was a pivotal moment for truck drivers in the United States. The agreement set standardized wages and benefits for truck drivers in America. This even greatly benefitted truck drivers who were not a part of Hoffa’s union, or any union for that matter. The Master Agreement is still in place to this day, with certain changes and additions made here and there over the years since it was introduced. Clearly, this goes to show how instrumental it was in shaping the state of truck driver’s occupational rights. The Teamsters didn’t only support the transportation industry though. If they caught wind of employees in a certain area striking, they would cut off all shipments to those employee’s company. Naturally, this led to quick negotiations and therefore, resolutions.
It wasn’t supported by everyone, though, the Teamsters, and unions in general, had their fair share of detractors. During their formation, they were less strict about women and minorities joining their ranks, and it being the “different” that it was, this made some people not the biggest fans of the group. There was also the issue of lobbyists and even political opposition, both of which the Teamsters dealt with in large amounts. Presidents like Nixon, Ford, and Truman all fought to deregulate the trucking industry, and all failed due to fervent Teamsters resistance. Prominent media figures of the time, such as Mike Parkhurst, founder of Overdrive Magazine, lobbied for more regulation as well.
It is important to note that the Teamsters were not necessarily saints, and neither were other unions of the time. Corruption was rampant within them, which also led to their mostly negative perception among lawmakers and the general public.
Today, the Teamsters still exist, albeit much less prominently and with nowhere near as much influence and power as they once had. In fact, most unionized truckers in the modern era are still members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters – Freight Division. The only thing is, most truck drivers today aren’t in a union at all, with most drivers in agreement that unions are somewhat unnecessary in today’s world. The continued corruption in the Teamsters Union didn’t help either. The organization is currently under fire from the National Labor Relations Board, as current Teamsters leader Sean O’Brien, laid off 80 employees at the Teamsters headquarters with no severance pay or extension of benefits for those who were fired, when he was sworn in on March 22, 2022. Truck drivers also make up a occupational population pool that leans to the right politically, making them even less likely to be pro-union, especially since the Teamsters union itself has been decidedly pro-democrat since the 1990s.
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