Labor Union

Teamsters for a Democratic Union

Website:

www.tdu.org/

Location:

DETROIT, MI

Tax ID:

38-2303810

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(5)

Founded:

1976

Type:

Union Advocacy

Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) is an activist caucus within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), which represents transportation workers and is one of the largest private-sector unions in the United States. The caucus claims to represent the interests of rank-and-file union members and hold union officials accountable, particularly when it comes to perceived concessions by the union during contract negotiations and union member benefit reductions. [1] TDU is headquartered in Detroit, Michigan. [2]

According to the World Socialist Web Site, a leading radical-left media resource, the founding members of the TDU were members of an organization called the International Socialists, which infiltrated the Teamsters Union in the 1960s and 1970s. The International Socialists organized on university campuses, including the University of California at Berkeley, where TDU founding member and current caucus president Kenneth Paff was a student. [3]

TDU opposes legislation which facilitates the emergence of non-union affiliated transportation companies and increased competition within the industry. Starting in the 1980s, the caucus has aggressively campaigned against free market reforms to transportation industry regulations. [4]

Left-progressive and pro-labor media has praised TDU for successfully applying pressure on the Teamsters Union. [5] [6] At the same time, some further-left elements of the organized labor movement accuse the caucus of being “controlled opposition” that collaborates with union leadership and the federal government, rather than acting as a genuine force for pushing union policies to the left. [7]

Teamsters Union

The IBT, commonly known as the Teamsters Union, represents more than 1.3 million employees in the trucking, railway, and airline industries. [8] The union is notorious for its history of corruption and involvement with organized crime. In 1986, the President’s Commission on Organized Crime under the Reagan administration reported that Teamsters leadership “have been firmly under the influence of organized crime since the 1950s.” The commission also accused then-Teamsters General President Jackie Presser of using violence to intimidate opponents of mob-affiliated union officials. [9]

The Teamsters Union endorsed the Republican candidate in the 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988 presidential elections. [10] However, under the leadership of general president James P. Hoffa, the union shifted to the left. Since the 1990s, nearly all IBT political contributions and endorsements have gone to left-of-center candidates, most of them affiliated with the Democratic Party. [11]

History of the IBT Reform Movement

TDU cites the infiltration of the Teamsters Union by organized crime in the 1970s as the motivation for reform initiatives which would eventually coalesce into an official caucus. In 1975, a group of freight workers formed a group called Teamsters for a Decent Contract and began pressuring then-union president Frank Fitzsimmons to not make concessions in an upcoming contract negotiation. TDU claims that the group successfully forced Fitzsimmons to call a national strike and secure an unlimited cost of living allowance clause in the contract. Two years later, the group merged with a similar activist movement made up of United Parcel Service employees, forming TDU. [12]

In 1977, TDU formed the Teamster Rank and File Education and Legal Defense Foundation as the TDU’s policy advocacy sister organization. [13] The Foundation raised over $409,000 in total revenue in 2019. [14]

As TDU gained influence throughout the 1980s, it escalated its activism against perceived concessions by union leadership, as well as deregulation of the transportation industry. The caucus also pushed back against organized crime influence within the union, but opposed the Reagan administration’s prosecution of Teamsters and other organized labor leadership. TDU claims that its organizing was a key factor in the union’s deal with the Department of Justice which established the direct election of Teamster officers by union members. [15]

According to the TDU, the 1990s and 2000s were marked by a return to establishment politics within the Teamsters Union. The caucus opposed Teamsters establishment leader James P. Hoffa and his ultimately successful bid for the union presidency. TDU claims that since Hoffa took office, the union has made major concessions during contract negotiations. The caucus has also accused Hoffa of corrupt practices, such as providing large salaries to supporters and using intimidation tactics to silence or remove detractors. [16]

Starting in the 2010s, the TDU has escalated its calls for its members within the Teamsters Union to vote no on contracts and vote establishment union officials out of office. The caucus has celebrated what it calls a “new labor insurgency,” especially the so-called “red state rebellion” by teachers on strike in traditionally Republican Party-leaning states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. [17]

TDU and the Broader Labor Movement

TDU has a mixed reputation among media and activist organizations sympathetic to the labor movement. The leading left-progressive publication In These Times has covered the caucus favorably, calling it “a thorn in the union’s side” which successfully brings attention to “officials’ corruption and lopsided multiple salaries” while “electing reform-minded members to local and national positions.” [18]

The pro-union publication Labor Notes has also provided favorable coverage of TDU and its activism. In its reporting on the 2021 Teamsters Union annual convention, Labor Notes identified the caucus as the driving force behind several union policy changes. These included changing ending the two-thirds majority vote required to reject negotiated contract decisions in favor of a simple majority, as well as making members eligible for union strike benefits on the first day of a strike, rather than after a week. Labor Notes suggested that this change signaled TDU members’ desire to use strikes as a political tool more often. [19]

However, the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) has accused TDU of being “not a genuine rank-and-file movement, but rather a faction of the union bureaucracy closely linked to the federal government and the Democratic Party.” WSWS claims that while individual TDU members have “showed physical courage” in opposing alleged corruption within the union, the caucus leadership has done “nothing to change the trajectory of the IBT.” WSWS has also accused the caucus of collaborating with the federal government in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration’s crackdown on organized crime within the labor movement. [20]

Financials

In 2019, TDU collected more than $25,000 in membership dues, and received more than $60,000 in contributions, gifts, and grants. The caucus also earned more than $37,000 from program services, fees, and contracts. In total, TDU generated nearly $130,000 in revenue in 2019. Just over $38,000 of these funds went towards caucus staff salaries, with the rest spent on renting and maintaining TDU offices, printing and mailing promotional materials, and other expenses. As of 2019, the organization held total assets of just over $200,000. [21]

References

  1. About Us. Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.tdu.org/about ^
  2. Teamsters for a Democratic Union 2019 Internal Revenue Service Form 990EZ. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/382303810/04_2021_prefixes_37-38%2F382303810_201912_990EO_2021042017973449 ^
  3. Tom Mackaman. “What is the Teamsters for a Democratic Union?” World Socialist Web Site. September 8, 2018. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/09/08/team-s08.html ^
  4. “Winning The Fight For Democracy.” Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.tdu.org/fight_for_democracy ^
  5. Alexandra Bradbury. “At a Convention Like No Other, Teamster Challengers Turn a Corner.” LaborNotes. July 14, 2021. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.labornotes.org/2021/07/convention-no-other-teamster-challengers-turn-corner ^
  6. Stephen Franklin. “After 41 Years, The Teamsters Reform Movement Is Finally Building Power.” In These Times. October 26, 2017. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://inthesetimes.com/article/teamsters-for-a-democratic-union-reform-labor-workers ^
  7. Tom Mackaman. “What is the Teamsters for a Democratic Union?” World Socialist Web Site. September 8, 2018. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/09/08/team-s08.html ^
  8. Andrew Wallender. “Teamsters Membership Drops While SEIU Numbers Rise in 2019. Bloomberg Law. April 23, 2020. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/teamsters-membership-drops-while-seiu-numbers-rise-in-2019 ^
  9. Caroline Rand Herron and Michael Wright. “A Strong Attack On the Teamsters.” The New York Times. March 8, 1986. Accessed September 10, 2021. http://www.nytimes.com/1986/03/09/weekinreview/the-nation-a-strong-attack-on-the-teamsters.html ^
  10. Cogan Schneier and Louis Nelson. “Teamsters endorse Hillary Clinton.” Politico. August 26, 2016. Accessed June 27, 2017. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/teamsters-endorse-hillary-clinton-227463 ^
  11. Teamsters Union. OpenSecrets. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/teamsters-union/summary?all=2020&id=D000000066 ^
  12. “How The Reform Movement Has Changed The Teamsters Union.” Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.tdu.org/the_reform_movement ^
  13. “What is TRF?” Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Accessed September 13, 2021. What is TRF? – Teamsters for a Democratic Union (tdu.org) ^
  14. Teamsters Rank and File Education and Legal Defense Foundation Internal Revenue Service Form 990EZ. Accessed September 13, 2021. Teamster Rank And File Education And Legal Defense Foundation – Nonprofit Explorer – ProPublica ^
  15. “Winning The Fight For Democracy.” Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.tdu.org/fight_for_democracy ^
  16. “The Fight To Save Our Union.” Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.tdu.org/fight_to_save_our_union ^
  17. “From Vote No, To Vote Them Out.” Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.tdu.org/from_vote_no_to_vote_them_out_2013_2020 ^
  18. Stephen Franklin. “After 41 Years, The Teamsters Reform Movement Is Finally Building Power.” In These Times. October 26, 2017. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://inthesetimes.com/article/teamsters-for-a-democratic-union-reform-labor-workers ^
  19. Alexandra Bradbury. “At a Convention Like No Other, Teamster Challengers Turn a Corner.” LaborNotes. July 14, 2021. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.labornotes.org/2021/07/convention-no-other-teamster-challengers-turn-corner ^
  20. Tom Mackaman. “What is the Teamsters for a Democratic Union?” World Socialist Web Site. September 8, 2018. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/09/08/team-s08.html ^
  21. Teamsters for a Democratic Union 2019 Internal Revenue Service Form 990EZ. Accessed September 10, 2021. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/382303810/04_2021_prefixes_37-38%2F382303810_201912_990EO_2021042017973449 ^

Donor Organizations

  1. North Star Fund (Non-profit)
  See an error? Let us know!

Teamsters for a Democratic Union

PO BOX 10128
DETROIT, MI 48210-0128