Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement

Jimmy Hoffa negotiated a National Master Freight Agreement, consolidating his own power and that of his Teamsters Union and perpetuating the corruption endemic to both.

Summary of Event

On behalf of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America (IBT), union president Jimmy Hoffa signed the National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA) in Chicago, Illinois, on January 16, 1964. Labor experts, Teamster dissidents, and even many state and national officials who would later comment that Hoffa’s sensational disappearance (and probable murder) in 1975 was the best thing that could have happened to American trade unionism agree that the NMFA represented, from Hoffa’s perspective as well as from those of many Teamsters, his finest achievement. It was the first agreement to cover the trucking industry nationwide. Teamsters Union
National Master Freight Agreement
Labor unions;Teamsters
[kw]Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement (Jan. 16, 1964)
[kw]Trucking Agreement, Hoffa Negotiates a National (Jan. 16, 1964)
Teamsters Union
National Master Freight Agreement
Labor unions;Teamsters
[g]North America;Jan. 16, 1964: Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement[07930]
[g]United States;Jan. 16, 1964: Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement[07930]
[c]Business and labor;Jan. 16, 1964: Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement[07930]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Jan. 16, 1964: Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement[07930]
[c]Transportation;Jan. 16, 1964: Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement[07930]
[c]Trade and commerce;Jan. 16, 1964: Hoffa Negotiates a National Trucking Agreement[07930]
Hoffa, Jimmy
Kennedy, Robert F.
[p]Kennedy, Robert F.;and organized labor[organized labor]
Fitzsimmons, Frank E.
McClellan, John L.
Tobin, Daniel J.
Mollenhoff, Clark R.

The NMFA and its successive versions brought contractual uniformity to the wages, hours, and working conditions of 30 percent of the Teamsters’ 1964 members, encompassing 450,000 intercity (or “over-the-road”) truckers and local carters. Despite local unions’ resistance to it in the San Francisco Bay Area, in New York City, and in northern New Jersey, as well as qualifications to it in the form of regional supplements and local riders, the agreement paved the way for standardization of the wages and contracts of the rest of the membership.

For Hoffa, the agreement, which was renegotiable every third year, consolidated his political position within the IBT and made him the chief collective bargainer for the nation’s largest trade union. Given Hoffa’s profound knowledge of the industries with which he dealt, his domineering personality, his exploitation of underworld and political alliances, and his unbridled ruthlessness, it bestowed unprecedented power upon him within the IBT at the same time that it gave the IBT unprecedented power within the American labor movement.

Hoffa always generously acknowledged that if the attainment of a national agreement was his, the vision was that of Farrell Dobbs Dobbs, Farrell , a farsighted union leader in the Depression years and an obscure presidential candidate in the early 1960’s. In the mid-1930’s, Dobbs, a Minnesota Trotskyite and leader of the Minneapolis Teamsters, successfully reached out to organize and integrate the much-despised and hard-pressed truck drivers of the Midwest into the North Central District Drivers Council, soon designated as the Central States Drivers Council Central States Drivers Council (CSDC). Originally embracing thirteen local unions in the Dakotas, Minnesota, upper Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin, the CSDC under Dobbs’s guidance swiftly expanded to encompass forty-six locals. The tough young Hoffa was introduced to Dobbs late in the 1930’s by Red O’Laughlin, a Detroit teamster and friend of longtime Teamsters president Daniel J. Tobin.

Insofar as Hoffa espoused any political ideology, it was borrowed from Dobbs’s own, namely that the American economy was fated to endure cycles of depression and faced ultimate failure. Dobbs believed that trade unions ought to contribute to revolutionary change. At the peak of a promising union career, Dobbs abandoned unionism, later to lead the Socialist Workers Party Socialist Workers Party, U.S. . He imparted a number of invaluable lessons, some strategic, some tactical, to young Hoffa.

Foremost was Dobbs’s insistence on establishing centralized areawide collective bargaining mechanisms through which to acquire uniformity in wages, hours, and working conditions for “over-the-road” truckers. Dobbs believed such centralization was mandated by the nature of the trucking industry, one characterized by ease of entry, low capital requirements, and tens of thousands of intensely competitive operators. In such circumstances, individual operators had little opportunity to pass increased costs to consumers through price hikes. They could lower their basic costs, principally labor, only by undercutting wages, increasing hours of work, or moving operations to low-wage areas.

Dobbs believed that the harmful effects of this competition could be mitigated if uniformities were brought to the drivers’ wages, hours, and working conditions. Under common conditions, operators could raise their prices together and more readily pass their cost increases to consumers without traditional price wars, wage cuts, or changes of base.

Tactically, Hoffa became a master of Dobbs’s techniques of leverage, or of using an employer or situation the union controlled to organize or to negotiate successfully with employers or other unions. Hoffa maximized advantages inherent in labor reform laws of the 1930’s. The federal Norris-LaGuardia Act Norris-LaGuardia Act (1932)[Norris LaGuardia Act] of 1932, for example, contrary to the previous half century of antilabor legislation emanating from all levels of government, legalized organizing campaigns conducted by means of picketing and secondary boycotts. The National Labor Relations Act National Labor Relations Act (1935)
Wagner Act (1935) of 1935 (Wagner Act) appended the principle of employee self-determination, permitting workers—under procedures stipulated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the quasi- judicial monitor of the act—to select or reject, by secret ballot vote, unions attempting to represent them.

Labor reforms, in short, legalized certain types of economic coercion peculiar to the needs of a vigorous labor movement. To the leverages legally available, Hoffa and his cohorts added their preferred efforts to impose organization from the top down. They invoked their own forms of coercion, from questionable contract clauses to tertiary boycotts, beatings, and bombings. The sweeping centralization afforded by the NMFA, linked to the clout of the IBT and to a personality such as Hoffa’s, gave Hoffa and his union vast power.


Several immediate consequences resulted from Hoffa’s centralization of Teamster authority in his own hands by virtue of the NMFA, within a union historically characterized by its decentralization and the substantial autonomy of its locals. Union membership had risen to 1.7 million by 1964 from 1.4 million in 1957, when Hoffa became Teamster president. By the time Hoffa went to prison in 1967, three years after the first NMFA, the Teamsters had gained 300,000 members, only a minority of whom were truckers. Unionization had been extended, for example, to warehousemen, chauffeurs, bakers, and confectionery workers. In addition, as the Teamsters’ chief collective bargaining agent, Hoffa redrafted and shrewdly reinterpreted the union constitution to funnel the all-important, and politically exploitable, grievance procedures into his own office. Furthermore, but of vital importance, Hoffa extended and intensified his power over the Teamsters’ Central and Southern States Pension Fund (CSSPF).

Despite the fact that Hoffa had become the Teamsters’ principal leader by 1954, three years prior to his election to the union’s presidency in 1957, he lagged far behind other major labor leaders in developing pension funds Pension funds and in recognizing their economic and political potentials. Union-negotiated pensions had been pioneered a decade earlier, during 1944 and 1945, by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, whose initiatives were swiftly followed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and by John L. Lewis on behalf of his United Mine Workers (UMW). The UMW’s defection from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) forced the AFL-CIO leadership to respond with their own pension plan. In the light of favorable rulings by the NLRB and several judicial decisions, other major unions were soon pursuing similar courses.

Hoffa clearly was aware of how to deploy the funds of local union treasuries and welfare trusts to buttress his personal empire, but he did not negotiate the Teamsters’ CSSPF, his first pension fund, until January, 1955. Thereafter, however, with characteristic astuteness, he learned to manipulate CSSPF moneys by grasping personal authority over their dispersal and investment and made these decisions his principal preoccupation.

There was much to preoccupy him, for successive NMFA Teamster contracts with employers stipulated ever-rising employer contributions to the CSSPF. The $2 per week that employers paid for each employee in 1955 rose to $4 by 1960 and to $7 in 1964. By 1965, $6 million in such contributions flowed into the CSSPF monthly. The fund’s total value for the union’s 1.7 million workers had soared to $200 million. By 1967, the U.S. attorney general’s office and the nation’s courts had handed down 200 individual indictments against Teamsters and their allies, winning 125 convictions related mainly to Hoffa’s and other Teamster officials’ illegal uses of CSSPF funds. The ability to exploit the power inherent in this immense fund stemmed from Hoffa’s ability, thanks to this control over successive NMFA contracts, to control the Teamsters’ collective bargaining.

Hoffa’s unprecedented labor empire and the many threats it posed were brought to the general public’s attention rather dramatically on several fronts. The menace of the IBT was already painfully evident to both union and nonunion workers, as well as to employers and employer representatives, who were victims of the Teamsters’ ostracization, intimidation, beatings, shootings, and bombings. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clark R. Mollenhoff was among the first at the national level to expose Hoffa’s tentacles of power. He informed and advised congressional and other federal officials as they investigated Hoffa’s union.

Public awareness was more broadly awakened by the persistent investigations of the McClellan Committee McClellan Committee[Macclellan Committee] (officially the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field ). Under the direction of Senator John L. McClellan, an Arkansas Democrat, the committee began hearings on January 30, 1957. Within two years, McClellan’s committee was able to bring eighty-two charges against Hoffa alone and to provide a political launching pad for the impressive investigative talents of Robert F. Kennedy, who would pursue Hoffa and other suspected labor racketeers after becoming the U.S. attorney general. To these activities should be added a nationwide televised speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower calling for strong legislation designed to curb union excesses and racketeering.

A legislative response came even as McClellan’s hearings proceeded. The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (1959)[Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act] (the Landrum-Griffin Act Landrum-Griffin Act (1959)[Landrum Griffin Act] ) of 1959, despite its sweeping title, was understood to be aimed chiefly at Hoffa and his Teamsters. The IBT possessed the economic capability to bring America’s most vital form of transport to a halt, paralyzing the nation’s economic life and thereby its well-being. Congress wanted some reins to be put on such a powerful union. Even with restraints in force and while under indictment, Hoffa was able to negotiate the NMFA.

The labor reform legislation enacted between 1932 and the mid-1940’s—in spirit mostly trusting and permissive by past comparisons—was altered by modifications following the lines of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Sober questions were raised concerning how much union power the national welfare could tolerate and whether union “monopolies” ought to be subject to the full force of the country’s antitrust laws. Hoffa’s consolidation of power through the NMFA brought further concerns as well as achieving the practical purpose of standardizing the working conditions of truckers and ending some of the competition among them. Teamsters Union
National Master Freight Agreement
Labor unions;Teamsters

Further Reading

  • Franco, Joseph, with Richard Hammer. Hoffa’s Man: The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa as Witnessed by His Strongest Arm. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1987. Candid and colorful. Written by a voluble Hoffa admirer and organizer whose background of violence is characteristic of Hoffa’s associates, many of whom are depicted here. Photos, excellent index.
  • Hoffa, James Riddle. The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa: An Autobiography. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1970. Interesting, if self-serving. Politicians, judges, journalists, and others not “connected” with Hoffa are presented as wrong or confused. No reference features. To be read for balance and some color.
  • Jacoby, Daniel. Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1998. Discusses Hoffa’s effects on the overall history of the U.S. labor movement.
  • James, Ralph C., and Estelle Dinerstein James. Hoffa and the Teamsters. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand, 1965. An invaluable and unique inside scholarly study based on ninety days of close association with Hoffa in action and broad access to Teamster files. Admiring of Hoffa’s intelligence and abilities, but objectively raises serious questions about his use of power and money. Clearly written. Chapter notes, glossary, and good index.
  • Moldea, Dan E. The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians, and the Mob. New York: Paddington Press, 1978. The book began as a working thesis and became the author’s project for the National Broadcasting Company in the mid-1970’s. Detailed and informative insights into both Hoffa’s connections and his decline. Photos, brief chapter notes, excellent index. Updates aspects of Mollenhoff’s work.
  • Mollenhoff, Clark Raymond. Tentacles of Power: The Story of Jimmy Hoffa. Cleveland, Ohio: World, 1965. Superb reporting that earned the author a Pulitzer Prize. Relies heavily on Mollenhoff’s investigations and McClellan Committee testimony. An exciting, informative, and frightening read. Photos, notes, brief appendix, but no index. Outstanding objective damnation of Hoffa’s abuses of power.
  • Witwer, David. Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003. The bulk of this history of the Teamsters is devoted to Hoffa and the era of corruption that he came both to preside over and to symbolize.

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