June 6, 2014
By Neal Tepel
In 1910 a teamster referred to someone who led a team of draft animals employed to cultivate a farmer's fields or to carry wagons with market goods from one place to another. Animals were required to perform hours of difficult work commanded by a teamster. Horses, mules and oxen were most commonly used.
Teamsters worked long days alongside their animal companions. The pay was irregular and teamsters were held responsible for damaged goods transported in their care. Frustrated by what they observed as exploitive work conditions, teamsters organized in the late 19th century to protect themselves and their teams. In 1899, Team Drivers International was formed. In 1902, the Teamsters National Union was created. The two groups merged in 1903 to form the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Their contribution to the labor movement is undisputed. The union's logo is a visual reminder of their past — two horse heads placed above a wagon wheel. Today, the union claims membership of more than 1.4 million. While truck drivers and warehouse workers constitute their strongest employment sector, bakers, agricultural laborers, lawyers and airline pilots have joined their ranks nationwide.