Who is a Teamster?

By Deane Barker

This is a large labor union in the United States. Its long and colorful history, as well as its unique name, has made it one of the most recognizable unions. Its official name is the “International Brotherhood of Teamsters.”

It started as a “team drivers” union in the late 19th century. Originally, a team driver was a cart driver that managed a “team” of animals to pull their load. This was shortened to “teamster.”

In the 100+ years since its founding, The Teamsters now represent dozens of employee groups, from airline workers to restaurant workers to transportation workers – there are 24 “divisions” in all, tending toward blue collar employees. Teamsters membership stands at 1.3 million after peaking at 2 million in the 1970s.

Rightly or wrongly, the Teamsters has long been associated with organized crime and corruption. Jimmy Hoffa was president of the Teamsters in the 1950s and 1960s, before going to prison on various charges. He was released in the early 1970s, and was trying to regain the Teamsters presidency when he went missing in 1975. (Hoffa’s son is the current president.)

The Teamsters is a member of the AFL-CIO federation of unions.

Why I Looked It Up

I knew that the Teamsters was a labor union, but didn’t know the scope or what types of workers it represented. It kept coming up in a book about the history of the oil industry.

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