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International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 70. OAC

 
 

 

Biographical History

International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 70, of Oakland, California, was chartered in 1901. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the East Bay lagged behind San Francisco in population (Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda combined had less than 100,000 residents in 1900 while San Francisco boasted three-and-a-half times that) and organized labor activity. Many East Bay laborers commuted to San Francisco each morning or were scattered in small, hard-to-organize industries. Moreover, Oakland lacked San Francisco's tradition of union militancy and its cadre of experienced labor leaders. East Bay unions were typically smaller, less organized, and less likely to strike than their San Francisco counterparts.1 This was true for Oakland-based Teamsters Local 70 when contrasted with its San Francisco counterpart, Local 85, which was charted in August 1900.

In 1901, Local 70 joined with Local 85 and other Bay Area Teamster locals in organizing a central organization called the Team Drivers Joint Executive Council.2 After the 1906 earthquake and fire, Local 70--like most East Bay unions, especially in the building trades--saw a rise in membership as San Francisco companies transferred operations to the East Bay.3 More work meant higher wages and more interest in unions. Also as a result of the fire, the Team Drivers Joint Executive Council was reorganized as San Francisco Bay Area Joint Council 7, with Local 70 as a member.4

From 1920 to 1949, Local 70 was led by its dynamic and controversial secretary-treasurer, Charles W. Real (1888-1966). Born in San Francisco, Real was active in East Bay unionism and politics for virtually all of his adult life; he was a longtime member of the Oakland Civil Service Commission and chairman of the Alameda County Labor Committee for Earl Warren's gubernatorial campaign of 1942 and Thomas Dewey's presidential campaign of 1948.5 Hot-tempered and ambitious, Real made as many enemies as allies; he was once indicted for a murder that occurred while he was attempting to organize local taxicab drivers, but was acquitted.6

Real was a tireless promoter of Local 70's interests. Frustrated at Local 70's second-class status behind powerful Local 85 within Joint Council 7, in 1935 Real gave his support to a plan, opposed by Local 85, to organize Bay Area highway delivery drivers. As a result, Local 70 gained several hundred new members.7 "There was always a battle goin' on between Local 70 and Local 85," remembered Teamster president Dave Beck, "because Charlie Real was tryin' to dominate the whole picture and he was always tryin' to beat Local 85 to the punch on contracts and everything else that happened."8 Real remained a powerful figure in Bay Area Teamster activities until he was expelled from Local 70 for unknown reasons in 1949; executive board minutes indicate only that he was removed "for conduct unbecoming an officer of the Union."9

In July 1934, Local 70 joined dozens of other unions up and down the Pacific coast in a sympathy strike after the events of "Bloody Thursday" in San Francisco. During the strike, Local 70 continued to help city and county officials supply food desperately needed to the East Bay.10

In 1937, Local 70 joined approximately 150 other Teamster locals in eleven western states to form the Western Conference of Teamsters, led by Seattle Teamster Dave Beck. The creation of this multi-jurisdictional regional body, unprecedented in Teamster history, significantly shifted the balance of Teamster power westward; Beck himself rose to become president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1952.11

In April 1937, Beck placed Local 70 in trusteeship for one year after Oakland Teamsters refused to cross the picket lines of longshoremen led by Harry Bridges. The trusteeship suspended Local 70's right of self-rule, ousted several officers, canceled all regular union meetings, and placed an outside agent (appointed by Beck) in temporary control. Beck then ordered Local 70 to break Bridges's strike. However, more than 500 of Local 70's 2200 members met secretly to vow allegiance to the ousted officers and to promise to honor the longshoremen's picket lines. On May 2, Beck himself spoke at a mass meeting for Oakland Teamsters where he garnered their compliance in return for $1 per day wage increases. Local 70 thereafter ignored the Bridges's picket lines, sparking a long-standing rivalry between Bay Area Teamsters and longshoremen (soon part of a larger "holy war" between the A.F.L and the C.I.O.)12

Local 70 initiated three lengthy strikes in the early 1960s. Seeking higher wages and better fringe benefits, Local 70 went on strike in July 1961 against members of the Lumber and Mill Employers' Association and four ready-mixed concrete companies. The dispute was resolved in late September.13

Also in September 1961, Local 70 joined Teamsters Locals 896 (bottlers) and 278 (drivers) in a strike against several soft drink bottlers in San Francisco, Alameda, and San Mateo counties. In response, four soft drink companies purchased newspaper, radio, and newspaper advertisements to recruit strikebreakers in what the East Bay Labor Journal called the "most serious strikebreaking drive by employers in 25 years."14 The strike ended in October when Oakland mayor John C. Houlihan stepped in and helped settle the dispute.15

In November 1962, Local 70 initiated a wildcat strike against Consolidated Freightways after the company fired two Teamsters for refusing to unload a non-union trailer. The dispute, which lasted for almost a month, was particularly bitter; Consolidated Freightways fired all 126 of the striking union members and obtained a restraining order to stop their picketing. The dispute went before arbitrator Arthur M. Ross in December. "The ringleaders are dismissed while the followers are reinstated," he decided, reinstating (with unimpaired seniority but without back pay) the jobs of all but five of the striking Teamsters.16 The Local 70 strike bulletin called the decision "full of discrepancies, inconsistencies, and sloppy thinking.... Nowhere in the annals of modern arbitration can such an unfair decision be found."17

In May 1964, Teamster Local 291, representing construction, excavation, ready-mix, and lumber drivers, split from Local 70.

1Robert Edward Lee Knight, Industrial Relations in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1900-1918 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960), 127-130.

2Donald Garnel, The Rise of Teamster Power in the West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 49-50.

3Knight, 176-177.

4Robert M. Robinson, "A History of the Teamsters in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1950" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 1951), 181.

5Obituary, San Francisco Chronicle, November 3, 1966: 48.

6Garnel, 141.

7Garnel, 105-109.

8Garnel, 105.

9Executive board minutes, February 14, 1950: 2.

10East Bay Labor Journal Official Labor Year Book, 1934: 23.

11Robinson, 298; Garnel, 200.

12Robinson, 315-320; Garnel, 142, 164, 166.

13East Bay Labor Journal, August 18, 1961; October 6, 1961.

14East Bay Labor Journal, September 29, 1961.

15East Bay Labor Journal, October 13, 1961.

16Arthur M. Ross, arbitration decision, Consolidated Freightways v. Teamsters Local 70, 12.

17Teamsters Local 70 strike bulletin, December 17, 1962.

From the finding aid for International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 70 Records, 1916-1980s (bulk 1937-1958) (San Francisco State University. Labor Archives & Research Center)

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