AFL-CIO President George Meany
On November 4, 1957, a Time magazine article reported on the recent vote by AFL-CIO union leadership to oust the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) from the parent organization. AFL-CIO President George Meany, “the stocky, onetime plumber’s helper with a mind and heart as tough as cast-iron pipe”, together with his Executive Council, followed through on their promise to sever ties to the IBT if they elected James Riddle Hoffa president. Hoffa and the Teamsters were dirty; unless they cleaned house, Meany wanted nothing to do with them.
Hoffa had risen through the IBT ranks over the past ten years. Through strikes, boycotts, fraud, wiretaps, bribery, and perjury, the union and its leadership had become one of the most powerful labor groups in the nation. Newly-elected President Hoffa’s predecessor, Dave Beck, had been called to testify before Sen. John McClellan’s powerful Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and had taken the Fifth Amendment 140 times in response to questioning before that body. Now Hoffa was confident that the AFL-CIO Council wouldn’t have the guts to kick out the IBT – the IBT contributed over $840,000 in per capita dues annually, and too many industries depended for their livelihood on transportation by Teamster truckers. An angry IBT could easily tie up deliveries, perform raids, and splinter the resolve of the parent group.
But Meany and the AFL-CIO Executive Council held firm, Time reported. After ninety minutes of discussion, and ninety minutes of deliberation, the Council gave its verdict: the Teamsters were suspended on a 25 – 4 vote. Only representatives from the Teamsters, “scandal-tinged” Bakery Workers, “powerful” Carpenters, and Letter Carriers unions had sided with the IBT. “Under George Meany’s tough hand,” Time declared, “a powerful majority had shown that the AFL-CIO would risk its own future to protect honest unions from creeping corruption.” If Hoffa and his cronies were removed from power, and Teamster abuses were corrected, the IBT could return. Otherwise, the Council would recommend expulsion.
Hoffa had been cocky with reporters before the hearing, but he marched out “grim and glum”. Soon on the heels of the AFL-CIO smack-down, a Manhattan federal court ordered Hoffa to stand trial on perjury and wiretapping charges. Also, in Washington, rank-and-file IBT members secured a preliminary injunction preventing Hoffa and his followers from assuming union leadership, alleging election fraud. Things weren’t looking good for Jimmy. Were his leadership days numbered?
Teamster’s President, Jimmy Hoffa