Part 4 – Teamsters on the Rise (1950's)

Many changes occurred in the U.S. during the 1950’s. Americans moved out to the suburbs in large numbers, creating a new “car culture” where consumers drove to shop. Even in cities, customers increasingly carried their own purchases. Additional challenges to American workers included increasing automation, changes in the patterns of production and distribution and a conservative political climate that spawned anti-union legislation.

But Teamsters, at both the local and national level, prepared to overcome these obstacles.Teamsters expanded organizing and created public relations campaigns. In addition to Local 804’s campaign to convince consumers to use members’ services, the Teamsters created a national decade-long campaign to “Have it delivered” promoting Teamster freight and delivery services. Also during this period, DRIVE (Democrat, Republican, Independent Voter Education) was created to increase Teamster political influence.

Congress approved the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956, which created the Interstate Highway System. Teamster leaders were key in helping pass this legislation. The creation of the Interstate Highway System greatly impacted on the American economy, producing new jobs in manufacturing, construction and transportation.

While still providing deliveries for retail stores, UPS also began expanding into freight. UPS’s specialized in parcel post – or small packages weighing a pound or more – and competed with the U.S. Postal Service. But In the early 1950’s the US Postal Services stopped delivering packages weighing over 20 pounds. During this period, UPS expanded and became a national company.

In preparation for a new decade, Local 804 moved from its West 42nd Street Manhattan offices to a new hall at 24-01 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City. The same year, 1949, significant changes were made to the Local’s bylaws. For the first time, stewards were elected directly by the membership and a formal Stewards’ Council was created. The terms of Local 804’s President, Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer and Recording Secretary were extended from one to three years.

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National Teamster Campaign

  General membership meeting notice – Note that members were fined for not attending union meetings.

 

In the Community
As in earlier times, Local 804 actively supported important causes. In the early 1950’s the local participated in a push to raise funds for a polio cure. Once the vaccine was developed, Teamsters across the US helped to distribute it.
(photo, press release)

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Inspecting the 1951 polio poster are (L to R) Thomas Beaton, UPS Personnel Manager,
Robert Weinberg, March of Dimes and Local 804 Secretary-Treasurer Edward Conway.

In 1949, International Vice President Dave Beck spearheaded a major organizing drive to bring in an additional 2 million warehouse workers nationwide. Local 804 figured prominently in the plan. With the blessing and the financial support of the IBT, Local 804 stepped up organizing warehouse workers. The international also created regional conferences and industrial divisions with the goal of creating national and industry-wide contracts.

1953 Organizing


In the spring of 1950 Local 804 obtained strike authorizations from both Joint Council 16 and the IBT for actions at JC Penny, UPS, Macy’s warehouse, Peck & Peck and Winston Television. In a departure from the previous decade, Local 804 did not engage in wildcat strikes. The support of fellow Teamsters – including worker payments from the national strike fund – helped to strengthen the contracts of Local 804 members.

25 and Out Pension, Contract Gains
Local 804’s made significant contract gains over the decade. UPS members received a severance retirement plan that paid $3,000 - 5,000 if they worked until the age of 55. In the 1954 contract they received a weekly raise of $5.50, bringing up basic pay to $80 a week, as well as and shift differentials of up to 10 cents.

Three years later, Geiger negotiated a contract with a very unusual provision – a 25 years and out pension. Rather than receive a lump-sum payment at retirement, UPS workers retiring at age 55 with 25 years of service had the option of receiving a monthly pension of $141 a month until age 65. Once retirees reached 65, the monthly payment would drop to $33 per month, which, combined with social security payments, would equal $140. The new Local 804/UPS pension plan was considered the best pension plan for union members in the country.

At the time, most American workers had their pensions cut 35%-40% if they retired at age 55. Local 804 argued that for reasons of safety, drivers should be able to retire at 55. Safety studies had shown a correlation between advancing age and driving accidents. The new pension gave workers the incentive needed to retire while still relatively young and healthy.

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1954 UPS Contract Highlights

 

25 and Out!

   
First in the nation
   


Changes in Retail and Labor

While conditions improved markedly for members employed at UPS, the Local had lost over 1,000 members by 1957, a result of the closure of several department store warehouses. The Local’s executive board called for a $1 a dues increase, up to $3 per month, to make up for the lost membership and higher assessments from the International union. But the membership overwhelmingly voted it down, despite the fact that the majority of area Teamsters paid dues of $4 - $5 a month.

Members vote down a 1957 dues increase


Mid-decade, the AFL and CIO merged to form AFL-CIO, lessening the competition for organizing between the former rivals. However, many Teamster locals, including 804 continued to organize former CIO workers whose unions had gained jurisdiction within the AFL-CIO. Notably, Local 804 refused to honor a 1956 Macy’s sales staff strike. The following year, IBT Vice President James R. Hoffa announced a push on the East Coast to organize not only store warehouse workers, but also sales and office workers who were often represented by CIO unions.

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804 did not honor a RWDSU strike

  Teamsters expand organizing


Relations between the US Congress and Teamsters, as well as between the AFL-CIO and IBT, were rocky. At the national and local levels a split occurred within the Teamsters as well. Running for General President were James R. Hoffa and Thomas Hickey. Local 804 President Geiger strongly supported Hoffa, will many Local 804 members backed Hickey.

In 1957, the US Senate Select Committee on the Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field – also known as the McClellan Committee - subpoenaed several Teamsters, including Local 804 Pres. Geiger, to testify on an attempt to seat “paper locals” within Joint Council 16. The US Marshall was unable to locate Geiger for a month, until he was declared dead from a heart attack at a New York hospital.

Local 804 Pres. Geiger dies


The death of Teamster Local 804 President Leonard Geiger in August 1957 opened up a period of strife within the local and throughout the Teamsters.

Jack Mahoney was elected President of Local 804 and James R. Hoffa was elected General President of the IBT. Also in 1957, the Teamsters were expelled from the AFl-CIO for refusing to make “reforms” or remove James Hoffa as General President. In the year after Geiger’s death, Local 804 engaged in 20 wildcat strikes.

The UPS contract negotiations of 1959 were contentious. For the first time in more than a decade, Locals 804, 138, 177 and 478 struck. The unions however, had less leverage than in 1946. UPS’s volume had decreased 23% since 1951. The bulk of UPS work was delivering for stores, and fewer customers were having their packages delivered. As reported by the New York Times, a division within Local 804 complicated negotiations. One faction was headed by President Mahoney and the other by Secretary-Treasurer Conway. New York Times labor reporter A.H. Raskin wrote that, “rank-and-file democracy had been carried to such lengths as to approach anarchy,” and that 37 men (804 members) took part in negotiations, with each having a different idea of what should be in the final contract.

Coverage of the 1959 UPS strike


Public opinion appeared to have soured on the strikers. Raskin wrote that the fear of being labeled “sellouts” led Local 804 officers to hold out for unrealistic and unattainable demands that threatened the solvency of UPS. He noted that the union’s noneconomic demands included giving the union veto power on the company’s rights to open new depots. He also reported on the union’s rejection of a clause they had put forward after the company had agreed to it.

A piece by The New York Times labor reporter.


Retailers, including Macy’s filed NLRB charges against the Locals for engaging in secondary pickets in front of their stores. Joint Council 16 opposed those pickets. Local 804 no longer had the full support of the Joint Council and International union in contract negations and actions.