The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) was officially founded in 1903 when two rival organizations, the Teams Drivers International Union (formed in 1899) and the Teamsters National Union of America (formed in 1902) united to improve working conditions for drivers and cargo handlers.
In 1912, the history of transportation was changed forever by the first transcontinental delivery of merchandise by truck. This major new mode of transportation led to new problems and new needs. It was during these years that Teamsters Canada built its reputation as a strong, dynamic and militant union that knew how to fight for its rights.
A period of transition
The 1920s and 1930s were a period of great transition and growth. As it continued to expand and strengthen its base, the IBT became affiliated with the Canadian Trade and Labor Congress. Teamsters Canada developed its internal organization accordingly, by adopting a concept of Joint Councils and Regional Conferences.
Birth of the Canadian Conference
In 1976, the Canadian Conference of Teamsters was formed in recognition of the needs, interests and aspirations of its Canadian membership, which at the time numbered over 74,000.
In 1992, a proposal was submitted to the general executive committee to change the name “Canadian Conference of Teamsters” to “Teamsters Canada,” in recognition of the special sovereignty needs of Canadian members.
In 1994, delegates to the Teamsters Canada Special Convention adopted changes to the union regulations, granting Teamsters Canada a greater role in administering the affairs of its members and those of Canadian unions affiliated internationally.
In 1994, Teamsters Canada also created its own strike fund for Canadian members.
Teamsters Canada: An autonomous organization
In 1995 the terms of a proposal to amend the International Constitution regarding Canadian sovereignty were negotiated, granting Teamsters Canada more independence and control over issues affecting Canadian members. To this end, an amendment was passed at the International Convention in 1996 to create the position of president of Teamsters Canada. Candidates for this position would now be elected by the Canadian membership. Other changes to the IBT Constitution have also been considered in order to recognize Canadian sovereignty.
In June 2001, a historic agreement was announced between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Teamsters Canada, resulting in entrenchment, in the union’s constitution, of autonomy for members, local sections, joint councils and the national governing body in Canada. In other words, Teamsters Canada would now be an autonomous organization, while remaining affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
In the era of globalization, given the industrial sectors in which Teamsters Canada members work, maintenance of a link with the international union was essential. At the same time, Canadian autonomy since 2001 has given our union the tools it needs to represent and defend member interests on both the national and international scenes.
Teamsters Canada membership reached 125,000 by 2006, thanks to the addition of members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Canadian Pacific Maintenance of Way Employees and the arrival of members of the International Graphic Communications Union, to name just a few.
By this time Canadian Teamsters have become force to be reckoned with not only on our country’s roads but also on our railways, in our airports and in our printing plants. They handle hazardous materials, build houses, manufacture and distribute many different products and provide services to customers in dozens of supermarkets across Canada. Many other industries and trades are also represented by the Teamsters Union in Canada.
In fact, Teamsters is the union organization with the strongest membership growth in Canada.
The ability of the Teamsters to positively influence changes in the labour market is clearly illustrated by the presence of a lobbyist in Ottawa whose job it is to advance important issues affecting the welfare of our members. Because Teamsters Canada is not affiliated with any political party, we have become a preferred representative to governments. Senior officials, cabinet ministers and sometimes even premiers and prime ministers consult our union’s officials to help them make crucial decisions for our country’s future.
But Teamsters Canada’s activities don’t stop there. Our Education department gives courses for thousands of union delegates and staff employees. This improves the speed and effectiveness with which local sections respond to conflict situations with employers.
In addition, numerous campaigns are launched for the purpose keeping union members and the Canadian public informed about key issues of the 21st century. In fact, the main issue for our union in the next few years will almost certainly be the level of motivation of Canadian workers in a rather heartless labour market, one that has less and less consideration for its important human capital.
The Teamsters Union is active not only in standing up for our members, but for important social issues as well.
The Teamsters make hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations every year to numerous charitable causes across the country. For example, Teamsters Canada’s Women’s Caucus provides assistance to women and children in difficulty. Another example is our Local Unions in Ontario, who lend a helping hand to underprivileged children.
Is the union movement at a crossroads?
The union movement is almost certainly at a crossroads today. Pressure on the labour market from business and government, globalization, the quest for short-term profits, qualified worker shortages in certain fields – all these factors confirm once again that effective representation of workers must be done by professionals in labour relations.
The Teamsters Union and its multidisciplinary team of lawyers, educators, economists, public relations specialists and labour relations experts have the tools to face any situation that might arise.
The slogan for our 2005 convention, “Working for you and your family,” clearly states that our union is committed not only to defending members but also to watching out for the welfare of their families and, by extension, the welfare of all Canadians.
The Teamsters Union now represents nearly 1.4 million members – making us the most powerful union in North America.
Source: Teamsters Canada
Visit www.teamsters-canada.org for more information