Our History Is Our Foundation
The following represents a brief history of Teamsters Local 162, Joint Council of Teamsters No. 37 and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
In the 1890's a move to organize team drivers in cities across the nation took place. Early organization efforts were in conflict with the economic environment of the era. An era dominated by the growth of industry, monopoly and wealth, which the early team drivers were not benefiting from. There were no established collective bargaining laws that protected the rights of workers to organize unions.
The early team driver knew the laws were against him, but he dug in his heels and as a result a number of loosely tied team drivers groups began to organize and grow. A point was reached in 1899 when an American Federation of Labor charter was issued to the first formal team drivers organization, the Team Drivers International Union, headquartered in Detroit, Michigan.
Records indicate that in 1899, two Team Drivers Local Unions were issued charters in Portland, Oregon, Locals 162 and 197. The Portland Locals comprised part of the total nationwide membership, which stood at only 1,700 in 1899. While there is not a great deal of information existing about these very early and formative years in the Portland Teamster movement, the Oregon Teamster has a number of early documents from this era as well as an oral history from one of Local 197's first members.
James H. Hickey was a charter member of Team Drivers Local 197 and was actually involved in the Teamster movement as far back as 1895. Hickey's recollections, while common to the early Teamster movement as a whole, are important in that they establish not only his oral history, but his documented history as well. Hickey would later recall:
It constituted a pretty long day tending the horses both before the start of deliveries in the morning and after completion in the dark of the evening. The word overtime pay had not been discovered as of yet, and in most cases one-hour pay today would be considerably more than that paid for an entire day's work then. You did not have dollies, or lifts, you lifted and strained and hoped your back would hold up to the task. You went on a trot because if you did not cover a good deal of territory, there was someone else there waiting for your job-maybe someone who would work for a few cents a day less than you did.
Hickey's membership certificate, bearing the signature of then General Secretary-Treasurer George Innis, proclaimed, "Freedom Through Organization." This slogan was the rallying cry for the early Teamster movement.
By 1900 there were 92 Team Drivers Local Unions in cities across the United States. Depending on the source, total Team Drivers' International Union membership in 1902 was approximately 30,000. The membership was concentrated in the East and Midwest.
A group called the Teamsters National Union broke ranks in 1902 from the Team Drivers International Union over a per capita tax increase from five cents to 25 cents. The rival union was concentrated in Chicago, Illinois. Under the insistence of then American Federation of Labor leader Samuel Gompers, an amalgamation convention brought the rival Teamster Unions together in Niagara Falls, New York in August 1903. Out of that 1903 convention emerged the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and its first General President Cornelius P. Shea.
What did this mean for the Teamster movement in Portland? Team Drivers Locals 162 and 197 would join forces in 1903, and Local 162 would emerge as the first International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union chartered in Oregon.
Progress Brings Transition, Unity & Strength
With the chartering of Teamsters Local 162 in 1903, it would take organizational growth and the chartering of a number of additional Local Unions to attain the unity and strength needed to petition for a Joint Council in Portland.
In its formative years, Local 162 did not have an office or meeting hall. Meetings were held at members’ homes and at local taverns. Early per capita reports indicate that in February 1906, Local 162 had a dues paying membership of only 134. Early organizing efforts focused on the individual team drivers who owned and operated their own wagons, but as the membership increased, organizing efforts were successful at some of the larger transfer companies. By 1910 records indicate that Local 162 had made great organizational strides, and had a total membership of 770 in 1910. Interestingly enough, a Portland Teamster strike in June and July of 1910 reduced the membership rolls by more than 90-percent. Those members who were working contributed to a strike assessment fund, at that time called a “fighting fund,” for their brothers on strike. One member, W.H. Sparks, contributed more than $44.00 to the “fighting fund” during the two-month period of the strike-a substantial amount of Sparks earnings when you consider that was more than half-a-months wages at the time. Some of the early companies organized during this period included, Holman Transfer, Oregon Transfer and Rudie Wilhelm, all still under Teamster contracts. Archies Fuller, a charter member of Local 162 recalled that in 1911 when he worked for Wilhelm, “I drove a two-horse team when a trip to West Linn and back took an entire day.”
In 1908, Teamsters Local Union No. 182, a newly chartered Local in Astoria, would lay the foundation for the early organizing efforts along the northern coast of Oregon. Local 182 was the first Sand and Gravel Local of its kind in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Given the nature of the logging and salmon industries at that time and in that part of Oregon, it stands to reason that the Teamster movement could flourish during the boom years of that area. The first Local 182 contract called for 26 ten-hour workdays per month and $75.00 per month for a “man driving a four horse team steady.” While the number of days and hours worked may seem extreme, consider that before Local 182 organized in the area, team drivers were working 28-30 days per month and more than 12-18 hours per day.
Teamsters and Chauffeurs Local 163 was chartered in 1912 in Portland, and the early organizing efforts of this Local centered on the busy taxicab trade at Portland's Union Station, a railroad hub. Taxicab drivers were some of the first to make the transition from the horse to the auto truck, and one of the first cab companies to be organized by Local 163 was Red Top Cab Company.
1912 was the same year that the first transcontinental delivery of merchandise by truck took place. The year signaled the beginning of the end for the horse drawn wagon and organizing efforts across the U.S. began to focus on organizing truck drivers. In Portland, perhaps nothing symbolized the end of the horse drawn wagon more when in 1928, Holman Transfer burned more than 200 of its wagons in a mass fire. The only thing left from the smoldering ruins were the metal wheels from the wagons.
The Teamster movement in Oregon continued to progress and in 1919 Teamsters Local No. 499 was chartered as a Wholesale and Retail Drivers Local. The early organizing efforts took advantage of the burgeoning bakery, dairy and ice retail delivery business of the era. In 1952 then Joint Council 37 President Phil Brady, a former bakery wagon driver himself and charter member of Local 499, recalled that previous to Local 499, “there was not a major bakery organized in the city of Portland….and at one point the local was reduced to five members.” Local 499 would stay the course and score impressive organizing wins in the 1920’s and 30’s. Many of the early companies they organized, such as Franz, are still under Teamster contract today.
By 1920, total membership among the four Teamster Locals in the state of Oregon stood at approximately 1,500, and nationwide membership neared the 80,000 mark. The transition from the horse drawn wagon to the truck began in earnest. And the Teamster movement had progressed to the point when the leaders of the Oregon Locals petitioned the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for a charter, thus solidifying the unity and strength of the Teamsters movement in Oregon.
Hard Knocks, Expansion & A New Deal
When Joint Council 37 was chartered in 1920, it was actually referred to as Joint Council of “Drivers” No. 37. The first Joint Council office was located at the old marketplace between 1st and 2nd on Yamhill in Portland. The location was strategic in that the hub of distribution within the city for team drivers was the marketplace. The office was accessible for both the team drivers and the Teamster organizers attempting to bring more drivers into the union. The first office was headquarters for Chauffeurs Local 83; General Local 162; Sanitary Drivers Local 220 and Wholesale and Retail Delivery Drivers Local 499.
Local 220 was new to the Joint Council 37 ranks. It had received its charter in the later part of 1920, a number of months after Joint Council 37 was chartered. Sanitary drivers at that time were primarily owner operators and part of an association. The camaraderie and brotherhood among these early sanitary drivers is legendary-they were a rough bunch.
Local 83 was also new to Joint Council 37, but its jurisdiction was not. Local 83 replaced former Local 163 as the Chauffeurs Local in Portland. David Kidd, one of the charter Local 163 and Local 83 members would recall the early days in the Portland taxi trade:
Let me tell you about those so called ‘good old days,’ a hard working driver who knew all the angles could earn $50 a month. We had to grease our own cabs…polish our equipment…we were forced to wear a standard uniform with a stiff white collar and we had to keep our coat on no matter what. The whole thing was as chicken as the Army…don’t tell me about the good old days.
By 1922, when the AF of L Labor Temple building was built on the corner of 4th and Jefferson (now gone), Joint Council 37 and its affiliated Local Unions took office space on the first floor. As the Teamster movement grew, the Teamsters would eventually occupy the fourth and fifth floors of the Labor Temple. From the earlier days when the union was run out of members’ homes and the local taverns, the move to the Labor Temple marked a milestone in Teamster progress.
In the 1920's a number of other Locals would be chartered.
Local 569 was chartered as a General Local in Astoria in 1923. The Local quickly established its mark on the early Astoria labor movement. Aggressive organizing was the order of the day and as one Local 569 charter member stated, “nobody came in to Astoria and turned a wheel unless he joined the union.” Local 182, the earlier Sand and Gravel Local in Astoria, was merged into Local 569 after the big Astoria fire of 1922 destroyed all of Local 182’s records.
Local 305 was chartered as a Dairy, Ice and Ice Cream Employees Local in Portland in 1929. That was the era of daily milk and ice delivery, because homes were equipped with iceboxes rather than our modern day refrigerators. One of the charter members of Local 305 recalled that when he first started in the milk delivery business in 1909, “Milk was brought to the housewife in large cans…the housewife was expected to produce her own container which would be filled from one of the large cans…milkmen of that era were expected to milk cows in addition to delivering the fluid.”
Local 324 was headquartered in Salem and was also chartered in 1929. The chartering of this Local, aside from Astoria and Portland, represented the advancement of the Teamster movement to other areas of Oregon. In 1946, one of the first editions of Oregon Teamster reported that then Local 324 Secretary-Treasurer Ward Graham, had negotiated the first sick leave clause in a contract, “The contract negotiated between the local and Gas-Heat of Salem became a precedent to be followed by other locals…each employee …entitled to six days per year which could be accumulated for a period of three years.”
1928 brought the Teamsters under the AF of L Building and Construction Trades Department. Other trade unions initially opposed the entry of the Teamsters in the building trades, because they considered truck drivers to be unskilled. The entry into the building trades brought increased activity in construction organizing for the Teamsters, since all of the crafts were now working together for a common goal.
In 1929 the stock market crash ushered in the era of the Great Depression. The early Teamster gains made at the bargaining table were now in jeopardy, because as contracts came up for negotiation, employers were prepared to take advantage of the readily available labor supply in case of a labor dispute. Teamsters had no choice but to at best maintain the status quo, because as then General President Dan Tobin stated at the 1930 Teamsters International Convention, "our wages cannot advance if the industry cannot pay."
Joint Council 37 Locals were able to weather the storm, even though a number of Locals had not even celebrated their first year in operation when the stock market crashed.
1933 brought a number of AF of L breweries under the Joint Council 37 banner. There had been a bitter dispute and rivalry between the Teamsters Union and Brewery Workers Union. The AF of L ruled that beer truck drivers, chauffeurs and helpers were the Teamsters jurisdiction. In the Northwest, the Brewery Workers Union found that to be a hard pill to swallow. Joint Council 28 and 37 were able to solidify an agreement with the Northwest Brewers Association and ultimately, bring the Brewery Workers under the Teamster banner. An early labor agreement showed Brewery Workers Locals 1, 5, 6 and 8 affiliating with Joint Councils 28 and 37. Joint Council 37 Locals also signed the agreement, Local 162 represented brewery workers at Blitz-Weinhard in Portland; Local 324 represented brewery workers in Salem; Local 501 represented brewery workers at the Lucky Lager Brewery in Vancouver; and Local 900 represented brewery workers at the William Roach Brewery (Elkhorn Brand Beer) in Pendleton.
By the time Joint Council 37 hosted the 1935 Teamsters 13th International Convention in Portland, the Teamsters had rebounded from a depression era low of 75,000 members in 1933 to nearly doubling membership to 146,000.
During the two-year period leading up to the Teamsters Convention in 1935, a number of new Locals were chartered.
Teamsters Local 57 was chartered in 1933 as a General Local in Eugene. A 1957 Oregon Teamster article stated, “Local 57’s jurisdiction includes…auto-freight drivers, bakery drivers, dairy drivers, service station employees, and…has left a permanent imprint on the collective bargaining practices between management and labor in the Belt City.”
Local 58 was chartered as a General Local in Kelso/Longview, Washington in 1933. The area was and is dominated by the distribution and production of paper and wood products-truck drivers in these industries were some of the first to be organized by Local 58. Beverage, construction, dairy, fuel, local pickup and delivery, and a host of other industries were also early organizing targets. An interesting historical fact about Local 58-in1948 during the big Columbia River floods that caused major floods in the Vanport, Oregon and S.W. Washington areas, more than 300 Local 58 Teamsters mobilized an all out effort to evacuate more than 4,000 people and their household goods from the flood threatened South Kelso area. As a 1948 edition of Oregon Teamster stated, “The Local 58 Teamsters pressed every bit of rolling stock available in the effort and completed the evacuation.”
Chauffeurs Local 281 was chartered in Portland in 1933 and took over the former taxicab jurisdiction of Local 83, which closed its doors in 1933. Broadway, Radio Cab, Red Top, Union and Yellow Cab were some of the early companies Local 281 represented. Local 281 represented more than 450 cab drivers at one point. Local 281 was later merged into Local 305.
Laundry Drivers Local 358 was chartered in Portland in 1933. The chartering of the Laundry Local came on the heels of an AF of L jurisdictional ruling giving Laundry Drivers to the Teamsters. Local 358 was later merged into Local 281, which was later merged into Local 305.
Local 501 was chartered as a General Local in Vancouver, Washington in 1935. One of the oldest Local 501 contracts was for the old Lucky Lager Brewery (later General Brewing), which sadly closed its doors a number of years ago. Local 501 was later merged into Local 58.
Milk Wagon Drivers Local 522 in Astoria was chartered in 1934. The first company it organized was Johnson Dairy, and the contract contained an interesting clause, which made the contract “null and void” if the cost of milk increased. Local 522 was later merged into Local 569, which was later merged into Local 58.
Joint Council 37 sent delegates to the 1935 Teamsters Convention from Locals 57, 58, 162, 182, 281, 305, 324, 358, 358-A, 499, 522 and 569. Joint Council 37, while smaller than the other Eastern and Midwestern Joint Councils attending the Portland Teamsters Convention, could now claim a Teamsters movement that included Locals throughout Oregon and S.W. Washington.
All of the Local Unions chartered between 1933 and 1935, demonstrate the explosive growth of the Teamsters movement during that period. While it was the era of the Great Depression, a number of laws favorable to organized labor were passed by Congress and signed into law by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
President Roosevelt's New Deal programs cemented the rights of workers to collectively bargain. First under his National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which stated, "employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing." The U.S. Supreme Court overturned NIRA in 1935. Roosevelt and Congress then responded with an even stronger act, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
Reflecting the continued jurisdictional growth eight more Locals were chartered before the next Teamsters Convention in 1940.
Local 206 was chartered in Portland as a Warehousemen’s Local in 1937. The new Warehouse Local was quick to capitalize on the organizing opportunities in the growing grocery and general warehousing industry in Portland. Companies such as Safeway and United Grocers (now Unified Grocers) were targets of early organizing in the grocery industry. The organizing of Montgomery Wards took place in the 1950’s and Local 206 made impressive membership gains during those campaigns. One charter member of Local 206 later recalled that by winning their first grocery contract, Teamsters immediately went from $70 per month to $110 per month.
Local 255 was chartered as an Automotive and Service Station Employees Local in 1937. The automotive and service station jurisdiction was ruled by the AF of L to be that of the Teamsters. The ruling was based on the Teamsters earlier jurisdiction of “stablemen,” who cared for the horses of the early team drivers. Local 255 was well known for its campaign to educate consumers to solicit Teamster “manned” auto, gas and service stations. The “Teamsters Union Service” sign was the standard for quality. At one time, Local 255 represented more than 300 gas stations in the Portland area, and Locals across Joint Council 37 jurisdiction organized auto, gas and service stations. Local 255 was later merged into Local 305.
Local 321 was chartered as a General Local in Bend in 1937. Local 321 was later merged into Klamath Falls Local 911.
Local 689 was chartered as a General Local in Coos Bay in 1937, and was later merged into Local 57, which was in turn later merged into Local 206.
Local 900 was chartered as a General Local in Pendleton in 1937, and was later merged into Local 670.
Local 911 was chartered as a General Local in Klamath Falls in 1937. Local 911 was later merged into Local 962.
Local 223 was chartered as a Miscellaneous Drivers Local in Portland in 1938. Local 223 represented a number of early motorcycle, meat and delivery companies. The early motorcycle drivers they had under contract in 1938, made $5.00 a day for a motorcycle under 1,000 lbs and $5.50 a day for a motorcycle over 1,000 pounds-many of these motorcycle drivers delivered small parcels and documents. At one point Local 223 was reduced to a membership of only 100 in 1946, but the fast growing vending machine business, which turned into a billion dollar business after World War II, helped the Local double its membership by the end of 1946. Local 223 would expand its organizing to include the early car haul, floral, meat, news, parcel, poultry, produce and vending machine delivery companies. These organizing wins quickly swelled the Local 223 ranks. Early 1950’s organizing wins also included clerical and office employees of the many freight companies.
Local 962 was chartered as a General Local in Medford in 1938. Automotive, bakery, dairy, freight and just about every other industry in the area, were early targets of Local 962 organizing victories.
By the end of 1938 International Teamster membership had reached more than 340,000-another doubling in less than three-years. Joint Council 37 growth by 1938 had spread the Teamsters movement to every city in the state of Oregon and S.W. Washington.
At the 1940 Teamsters International Convention the name “stablemen” would be removed from the full title of our organization and replaced with “warehousemen.” The new name read International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers.
Following the 1940 Teamsters Convention, the Teamsters and the nation faced World War II. More than 2,000 Joint Council 37 Teamsters would go off to fight in the war. Joint Council 37 mailed cigarettes and care packages to members’ overseas, at a cost of $12,000. The industrial machine exploded during the war, and when it was all over the Teamsters and all of organized labor gained at an unprecedented pace during the economic boom that followed. At the end of the war Teamsters membership began to near the 1,000,000 mark.
What did the future hold for the continued march of progress for the Joint Council 37 Teamsters movement?
Victory, Expansion & Ultimately A Roof of Their Own
Teamsters who had served overseas during the war had returned home to rousing victory parades. The seniority of the returning troops had been protected during their wartime service, and the veterans quickly reunited in an effort to translate their war victory into a victory for organized labor. With victory came all the spoils of war, and the American economy boomed and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters grew.
By 1946, when the first edition of Oregon Teamster was published, there were more than 26 Local Unions under the Joint Council 37 banner.
The number of Locals increased dramatically after the AF of L ruled in 1946 that cannery and food processing workers on the west coast were under the jurisdiction of the Teamsters. Newly chartered Joint Council 37 Cannery Locals were, Local 634 in Hillsboro, 1946; Local 656 in Eugene, 1945; Local 670 in Salem, 1945; Local 681 in Portland, 1945; Local 766 in Woodburn, 1945; Local 809 in Portland and Vancouver, 1945; Local 883 in Hood River and The Dalles, 1949 (also a Drivers Local); and Local 962-A in Medford, 1949. After several years of intense organizing drives, then Joint Council 37 President Phil Brady commented that in 1952 during the peak of the cannery season, “more than 15,000 additional members were on the Teamsters membership rolls.” The most prolific of the Cannery Locals is Teamsters Local 670, and also at that time Local 809. Both of these Local Unions accomplished impressive organizing gains in their respective jurisdictions. All of the above-mentioned Cannery Locals were eventually merged into Locals 670 and 809. Local 670 is a still a Cannery and Food Processing Local, but also represents workers in a number of industries after merging with Locals 883 and 900. Local 809 was later merged into Local 305 in 1975.
A few more Locals were chartered in 1949. Local 267 was chartered as a Newspaper Drivers Local in Portland, followed by Local 267-A, a statewide Milk Producers Local.
Reflecting this expansion, a decision was made in 1948 that Joint Council 37 and its Portland affiliates had grown to the point where they could afford to move their offices from the Labor Temple. A number of Locals were in different areas of the city, including Local 206, which had its offices at the Steamfitter’s Building at 3rd and Columbia. In 1948 construction began on a Teamster building in Portland located at 1020 N.E. 3rd. The cost of construction totaled more than $220,000, and the building would house the Joint Council and all of the Portland Teamster Locals' for the next 40-plus years. During the move to the new building Joint Council 37 would make the transition from its more commonly referred to name of Joint Council of Drivers No. 37, to the now more inclusive name of Joint Council of Teamsters No. 37.
When the building was dedicated on July 8, 1949, Dave Beck, at that time I.B.T. International Vice President and later General President, stated:
Develop here within this fine new building a fraternity of men and women to work unceasingly for better wages, hours and conditions of employment, through lawful means. Thus you will earn the gratitude not only of your present membership but of generations yet unborn. I give you my sincere best wishes for the future and my heartiest congratulations upon this auspicious occasion.
Banner Flying High, Never Forgetting Our Past
1955 was a historic year for Teamsters in the now 13 western states. It was the year the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust was founded. Under the leadership of then Western Conference of Teamsters President Frank W. Brewster, the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Plan was created. One 1955 Oregon Teamster headline proclaimed, "Brewster Inks Major Pension Plan for Teamsters," and the article detailed:
A major milestone in Teamster negotiations was reached with announcement...that an area-wide pension plan had been signed covering 3,000 members of Teamster unions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska...the first of its kind in the United States.
Interestingly, more than 7-years previous, at the 12th annual meeting of the Western Conference of Teamsters in 1948, then Western Conference President Dave Beck predicted, “in the not to distant future” health and welfare and pension plans would become a reality. Beck delivered on that prediction-Teamster health and welfare and pension plans are now more than 50-years strong.
1955 was also the year Line Drivers Local 81 was chartered in Portland. The Local was started from the ranks of Local 162. Local 81’s history is closely linked with that of the National Master Freight Agreement, which was first negotiated in 1964 by then Teamsters General President James R. Hoffa.
Weathering The Storms
Since 1955 the Teamsters movement has had to face a number of challenges. Perhaps the two most difficult have been the deregulation of the trucking industry, and the proliferation of free trade agreements.
Deregulation of the trucking industry signed into law in 1979 by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and implemented under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's, took a serious toll on our great union.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has wreaked havoc on the American way of life. No one is protected from its wrath, which has seen not only the exportation of Teamster manufacturing jobs, but also other union and non-union manufacturing jobs are continuing to leave the U.S. at an alarming rate. The Teamsters continue to press lawmakers to reign in this and other flawed trade agreements.
Page Last Updated: Aug 10, 2015 (09:10:32)