Teamsters official casts doubt on name change request

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 6, 2023
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Allan Baird, a retired Teamsters official, has worked for many years to see the union's name changed to acknowledge women members. Photo: John Ferrannini
Allan Baird, a retired Teamsters official, has worked for many years to see the union's name changed to acknowledge women members. Photo: John Ferrannini

A legendary labor leader and longtime Castro resident who has requested that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters change its name has been told he will have to wait until at least 2026 for someone to initiate a constitutional amendment to do so.

Allan M. Baird, a retired president and business agent of Teamsters Local 921, has for over three decades wanted the organization to add Sisterhood to its name to reflect that it has men and women as members.

Baird is a straight ally who has lived in the Castro since 1942. He led the famous 1973 boycott of Coors beer because of the Coors Brewing Company's then-homophobic and anti-union stances. He famously teamed up on it with then-political newcomer and Castro resident Harvey Milk, a gay man who would go on to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

But after Baird's story appeared in the Bay Area Reporter November 16, his request was met with a chilly response from union official Bret Caldwell, who told Baird that the union's name could only be changed through a constitutional amendment ratified at a Teamsters international convention, the next of which is slated to take place in three years.

"I don't know if I am still alive in 2026," Baird, 91, told the B.A.R. Tuesday. "I'm not a delegate — I'd have to be a delegate so I can't do anything and he knows that. That's the rule."

As the B.A.R. recently reported, Baird has been trying to get the Teamsters to change its name since 1992. His most recent letter to union President Sean O'Brien reminded him of his long-standing request that the union's name be changed to the International Sisterhood and Brotherhood of Teamsters.

O'Brien responded that the term "brotherhood" was not meant to be gender specific, which Baird thought sidestepped the issue of recognizing the women in the union.

After the publication of the B.A.R.'s report, Baird received the letter from Caldwell, deputy chief of staff to O'Brien. The letter, dated November 27, stated that the name "can only be changed through a constitutional amendment approved by delegates to the International Convention."

"The General President does not have the authority to unilaterally change the name of the union," Caldwell wrote. "Should an amendment regarding a name change be submitted to the International Convention in 2026, the Constitution Committee will determine whether or not the amendment will be presented for a vote of the delegates. If so, the convention delegates would debate the proposal and then vote on the matter. As such, any consideration regarding a name change will not occur until the International Convention in 2026."

Baird told the B.A.R. that he hasn't written back yet and isn't sure if he's going to.

The Teamsters did not return a request for comment.

Baird said that, nonetheless, Tizoc Arenas, who is a business trustee at Teamsters Local 223 in Gladstone, Oregon, would be able to offer the amendment.

Arenas, a straight ally, told the B.A.R. that while he could do it, he'd like someone who is a woman or LGBTQ to be the one who takes that step.

"I'll bring it forward if I have to," Arenas said. "There's a little bit of nuance to it — I think the way I would want it articulated is I would want to build support to have this amendment brought forward in 2026. Who we're looking at is our female membership, our LGBTQ+ membership."

Baird said he thinks O'Brien should take a position on the matter himself in the meantime.

"He can say 'my opinion right now for this proposition is yes, it should be changed' and if he doesn't have the guts to do that, he has no guts at all," Baird said.

Isak Lindenauer, a longtime friend, is the proprietor of Isak Lindenauer Antiques at 4143 18th Street. A gay man, Lindenauer, 78, said he has known Baird for 46 years and though he is not a Teamster, he has been helping Baird with his letters on the matter.

"I was glad to have him bounce his ideas off of me and help him organize his thoughts and write these letters, and he's finally received word back from the president with the understanding that it's something that will have to go through the formal procedure but whose time may have come. Personally, I think it's long overdue, and I think Allan does as well."

Susan Englander, a bisexual woman who is political director of the California Faculty Association chapter at San Francisco State University, and who supports Baird's proposal, did not return a request for comment for this report by press time. Neither did Cleve Jones, a longtime gay community and Castro neighborhood leader who currently works for the UNITE HERE hospitality union and who has also known Baird for several decades.

Since they are not Teamsters members, neither Englander nor Jones would be able to bring forward the name request proposal at the union's convention. A request for comment sent to the Teamsters LGBTQ+ Caucus was not returned by the B.A.R.'s press deadline Wednesday.

"My hope is if this thing goes that far — and it probably will — the delegates will probably vote and vote yes, but we don't know how that's gonna go," Baird said.

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