Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The leader of the powerful Teamsters Union, Dave Beck, came before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor or Management and eventually was convicted for tax fraud and embezzlement. He was imprisoned, paroled in 1964, and pardoned by U.S. president Gerald R. Ford in 1975.

Summary of Event

In 1956, the McClellan Committee, formally known as the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor-Management Field, began investigating charges of corruption in American labor unions, particularly in the largest and most influential union of the time, the Teamsters. The McClellan Committee, named for its chairman, Senator John McClellan, included U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy as its counsel. Of the figures the committee questioned, one of the most powerful and prominent was Teamsters Union leader Dave Beck. [kw]Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud (May, 1959) [kw]Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud, Teamsters Leader Dave (May, 1959) [kw]Tax Fraud, Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of (May, 1959) Teamsters Union Beck, Dave Kennedy, Robert F. [p]Kennedy, Robert F.;and Dave Beck[Beck] Teamsters Union Beck, Dave Kennedy, Robert F. [p]Kennedy, Robert F.;and Dave Beck[Beck] [g]United States;May, 1959: Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud[01060] [c]Labor;May, 1959: Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud[01060] [c]Law and the courts;May, 1959: Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud[01060] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;May, 1959: Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud[01060] [c]Corruption;May, 1959: Teamsters Leader Dave Beck Is Convicted of Tax Fraud[01060] McClellan, John

After returning from service in the U.S. Navy during World War I and after a job as a laundry-truck driver, Beck became secretary treasurer of the Laundry Drivers Union in 1924. In 1927, he became a full-time organizer for the West Coast Teamster’s Union, which he would lead for more than forty years. Charismatic and intelligent, Beck had realized early on as he rose in prominence in the Teamsters Union that unions would not succeed without regional organization. Accordingly, he set up the Western Conference of Teamsters over the opposition of other Teamster leaders. Beck’s vision proved crucial to the organization’s success, and he became the union leader and one of the most popular and powerful figures in Seattle. In Seattle, he served as a member of the Washington state parole board, the Seattle Civil Service Commission, and the University of Washington Board of Regents. Beck supported other unions. Indeed, his support of the Newspaper Guild strike in 1936 is believed to have been a major factor in its success.

Beck’s policy in running the union reflected his business background. He opposed radicals and union democracy of the type espoused by leftist union leaders, such as Harry Bridges, who represented the Longshoremen and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Beck himself did not believe that rank-and-file workers could make informed decisions. He once noted, “I’m paid $25,000 a year to run this outfit. . . . Why should truck drivers and bottle washers be allowed to make decisions affecting policy? No corporation would allow it.” Beck’s organization, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), split from the CIO in the most intense struggle witnessed between the two labor organizations.

With time, Beck had acquired a name for success, but also for strong-arm tactics and blackmail. Teamsters would not deliver supplies to businesses that did not support the union, and in 1934, restraining orders were filed against Beck and fellow union leader Frank Brewster after a brawl in which several members of the Brewery Worker’s Union, which the Teamsters were attempting to absorb, were dragged from their vehicles and beaten with lead pipes.

Despite this reputation, Beck’s success was impressive enough to induce U.S. presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower to offer him the position of U.S. secretary of labor during their respective administrations. Beck turned each offer down, saying he preferred to remain part of the labor movement. His career continued to carry him up the ladder of command, and he appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines. In 1940, he joined the Teamsters International executive board as an international vice president. In 1952, he was elected general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Under his strong leadership, the membership swelled, growing from seventy-eight thousand to close to six million members by the time he faced the McClellan Committee.

In 1956, Kennedy began investigating corruption in the Teamsters Union. The investigation would prove the greatest challenge of Beck’s career. Two previous investigations of the union had found nothing (later historians would claim that this was due to cover-ups). Kennedy was surprised to find abundant evidence of Beck’s corruption, including interest-free loans for more than $320,000 and a home that had been purchased for him by the Teamsters; the Teamsters had bought the home from him and then allowed him to live in it rent free. Beck was brought before the McClellan Committee on March 26, 1957, to answer questions about misappropriation of funds, but he refused to testify, using his Fifth Amendment rights sixty-five times. The tactic of refusing to testify was used by many other members of the Teamsters who appeared before the committee.

In May, Beck testified before the AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Committee, led by AFL-CIO president George Meany. Because the committee could not guarantee he would not be subpoenaed by the McClellan Committee if he answered questions, Beck refused to testify, invoking the Fifth Amendment more than one hundred times in this case. His membership on the AFL-CIO executive council was withdrawn and the Teamsters were expelled from the organization. Beck, who had intended to seek the presidency of the Teamsters, declined in the end, however, because of the growing scandal and threat of indictment. He was succeeded by his former assistant Jimmy Hoffa, who Senator McClellan had called “a fountainhead of union corruption.”

Kennedy and the McClellan Committee continued to investigate Beck. They discovered additional illegalities, including defrauding the widow of his best friend. Eventually, Beck faced state embezzlement charges and federal indictments for income tax Tax evasion;Dave Beck[Beck] evasion for failing to pay $240,000 in back taxes. He was convicted on the state charge in 1957 and convicted of federal income tax evasion in 1958. The federal conviction was later dropped on appeal. In May, 1959, he was convicted for filing a fraudulent federal tax return. He was sentenced to five years in prison but appealed the sentence. The court cut his sentence in half, and he entered federal prison at McNeil Island in Washington State and served thirty months.

Beck stayed out of the public eye after his parole in 1964. He was pardoned by U.S. president Gerald R. Ford, Gerald R. [p]Ford, Gerald R.;pardon of Dave Beck Ford in 1975 and lived the rest of his life in Seattle. He retained his Teamsters president pension and parleyed the funds with his existing holdings into a multimillion dollar business in parking lots. He died in 1993 at the age of ninety-nine.

Impact

The trial and the media attention focused on crime and illegal tactics within the Teamsters Union influenced public opinion for years to come, and the Teamsters retained its reputation for corruption long after Beck’s departure.

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which owed its success to the prominence of the McClellan Committee’s investigations into the Teamsters and Beck, was passed. It guaranteed that union members had a voice in running unions as well as freedom from intimidation when reporting corrupt practices.

Beck’s conservative approach influenced the organization’s leadership for years, perhaps because of the similar strong personality of his successor, Hoffa. The Teamsters developed strong ties to organized crime under Hoffa’s leadership, eventually leading the U.S. government to sue the union in 1988 to impose federal supervision of the union’s daily operations and its internal election process.

Hoffa’s leadership lasted until the mid-1960’s, and one of his chief accomplishments was the 1964 implementation of a single, national, master freight agreement. Like Beck, Hoffa faced close surveillance from Kennedy and his office and was convicted in 1964 of attempting to bribe a grand juror. Hoffa vanished in 1975 under mysterious circumstances, and his death remains unsolved. Popular theory holds that the Mafia Mafia;and Jimmy Hoffa[Hoffa] was responsible for his disappearance. Teamsters Union Beck, Dave Kennedy, Robert F. [p]Kennedy, Robert F.;and Dave Beck[Beck]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Garnel, Donald. The Rise of Teamster Power in the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Describes the rise of the power of the Teamsters, focusing most attention on the economic and political causes rather than on individual personalities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hass, Eric. Dave Beck, Labor Merchant: The Case History of a Labor Leader. New York: New York Labor News, 1957. A very brief overview of Beck’s life that focuses on his Teamsters leadership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacobs, James B. Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2006. This narrative of the ties between organized crime and unions includes a lengthy examination of the corruption in the Teamsters and Beck’s and Hoffa’s connections.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCallum, John. Dave Beck. Mercer Island, Wash.: Writing Works, 1978. This biography provides a detailed look at Beck’s life, including his criminal conviction, although it focuses mainly on his work with the Teamsters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCann, John. Blood in the Water: A History of District Lodge 751, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Olympia, Wash.: Evergreen State College Bookstore, 1989. Focuses on the history of this union lodge, one of the most influential in the rise to power of the Teamsters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Witwer, David. Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003. Describes the process by which organized crime became involved with the labor movement. Includes a detailed account of the links held to Jimmy Hoffa.

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