Teamsters sound off on name change, RNC donation, and renewed Coors boycott

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday March 26, 2024
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Retired Teamsters local president and business agent Allan Baird is pleased to see an online petition about his goal of getting the union to change its name to be more gender inclusive. Photo: John Ferrannini
Retired Teamsters local president and business agent Allan Baird is pleased to see an online petition about his goal of getting the union to change its name to be more gender inclusive. Photo: John Ferrannini

A Teamsters leader has started an online petition for fellow members of the labor union to voice their support for a proposal to make its name more gender inclusive.

This comes as the man who first broached the proposal decades ago — Teamsters icon and Castro resident Allan Baird, who in the 1970s spearheaded the Coors Brewing Company boycott with Harvey Milk — reveals he's been battling cancer for two years, and a new imbroglio between the union and the company now producing Coors carries on.

Name change

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Baird, a 92-year-old straight ally and retired president and business agent of Teamsters Local 921 (the San Francisco Newspaper Agency), has for over three decades wanted the organization to add Sisterhood to its name to reflect that it has men and women as members. The union's official legal name is International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Baird renewed his request in a 2023 letter to Sean O'Brien, the president of the union.

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

The next convention is in 2026. Tizoc Arenas, a straight ally who is a business trustee at Teamsters Local 223 in Gladstone, Oregon, pledged to introduce a resolution at the convention regarding the name change.

In order to demonstrate support, Arenas started a petition that only Teamsters can sign. The petition has garnered 20 signatures as of press time.

"This petition is intended to continue the work Allan [Baird] began cultivating years ago," the petition states. "In preparation for the 2026 Teamsters convention, we the following undersigned Teamster members support a constitutional amendment moving forward that will amend the name of the 'International Brotherhood of Teamsters' to the 'International Union of Teamsters.'"

(Baird himself most recently suggested the International Sisterhood and Brotherhood of Teamsters.)

Arenas told the B.A.R. he also plans to introduce a separate petition for the general public to sign.

"We have a delegate system we use at the convention. Our hope is to raise the awareness of local leadership and those who will serve as delegates at the convention," Arenas said. "Our primary goal is to bring attention to this topic to rank-and-file members, officers, and delegates participating."

Baird told the B.A.R. March 25 that he thinks the petition is "great."

"It's finally waking up a lot of Teamsters who've been asleep and now they're waking up with this," he said in a phone interview. "They're not afraid anymore."

Ruben Bustillos, a gay man with Teamsters Local 896 who is a forklift operator for Shasta Beverages, told the B.A.R., "I think it's overdue" when asked about renaming the union.

"I think we do need to change the name to represent women in the union," he said. "We've always been on the forefront of progressive issues, dating back to our start, where there were contracts — I believe it was 1914 or 1916 — when women got paid equally with men, and for that time it was unheard of. ... Teamsters have always been ahead of the times, but on this issue, we're a little lagging."

Baird reveals cancer diagnosis

Baird has been a Castro resident since 1942. He led the famous 1973 boycott of Coors beer because of the company's then-homophobic and anti-union stances. He famously teamed up on it with Milk, then a gay political newcomer and Castro resident who would go on to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. (Milk would be assassinated in November 1978 along with then-San Francisco mayor George Moscone by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White.)

Baird told the B.A.R. on March 25 that he was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. He'd had it for "a little over two years," he said. The B.A.R. double-checked with Baird that he was OK with publicly revealing that information.

"You gotta have the fight; that's the whole thing," Baird said. "Some people are saying 'Allan has cancer in the brain,' and everything like that, but that's dirty crap they pull on people with cancer. I'm proud to say I'm fighting the cancer, and other people, I wish them well. He [Teamsters' president O'Brien] knows I'm fighting. I feel sorry for him."

In 2021, Milk protégé and longtime gay activist Cleve Jones threw a Pride weekend rally to honor Baird, as the B.A.R. reported. Jones told the B.A.R. on March 26 that "this guy just never quits a good fight. He's been a very important mentor to me, and I owe him a lot."

Even after Teamsters Local 888's (beer delivery drivers) boycott of Coors ended in 1975, Baird continued to work with Milk — both successfully against the anti-LGBTQ Briggs initiative, Proposition 6, in 1978 that would have banned queer people and their supporters from teaching in California's public schools, and for LGBTQ equality in the labor movement. For a time when American labor was often a bastion of social conservatism, Baird's coalition-building did not go unnoticed by the LGBTQ community — especially in the LGBTQ neighborhood he has called home for so long.

(Local 921, which represented newspaper delivery workers, has since been merged with Local 853. Local 888 represented delivery drivers who at the time faced low wages, union-busting, and employment discrimination. Local 2785 now represents food and liquor delivery drivers.)

Teamsters sound off on RNC donation

One of America's largest and most powerful unions, the Teamsters have not always been the most progressive, famously bucking traditional labor-Democratic Party bonds to endorse Republican presidential candidates, first by backing Richard Nixon in 1972 and then Ronald Reagan in 1980. More recently, however, the union supported Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.

But the Teamsters made headlines last month when its political arm donated $45,000 to the Republican National Committee — its first donation to the GOP in two decades.

The check came after a closed-door meeting between O'Brien and former president and presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Axios reported. The union's PAC also gave $45,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

Arenas said in his personal capacity that "as a Teamster member, amongst the folks in my bargaining unit, there was an immense amount of distaste for meeting with Trump and then giving money to the RNC. We certainly shouldn't have donated to the RNC — not speaking as [a union officer] — that's an opinion among everyone in my bargaining unit here in Oregon and we're not shy about it. But not everyone at the local level feels the same way."

Another Coors boycott

Teamsters are also once again boycotting Coors. The Coors Brewing Co. merged in 2005 with Molson of Canada, creating the Molson Coors Beverage Company. Now, the union is accusing the company of not negotiating in good faith with Local 420 in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Don't drink a drop of Molson Coors until they respect the workers," a Teamsters flyer states. "Texans stand with Texas workers for fair wages and benefits."

The local has been on strike since February 17.

"Teamsters walked off the job after Molson Coors failed to come to terms on a new three-year contract that respects the 420 workers who make, package, and warehouse the company's beer and beverage brands," a Teamsters news release stated. "The strike shuts down production at the only brewery that services the entire Western region of the United States with major Molson Coors products.

"Despite having months to negotiate, Molson Coors presented insulting and regressive contract proposals, including offering less than a $1 per hour wage increase for the majority of Teamsters members," the release stated. "Local 997 is seeking pay raises that reflect the impact of inflation over the term of the expired contract and the elimination of two-tiered health care and retirement benefits."

Arenas said that the 420 striking workers are supported by Teamsters nationwide with a boycott. He tied the current strike to the 1970s-era boycott.

"That narrative has not changed, and they have not changed as players at the table," Arenas said. "They can claim to be advocates for ethnic rights groups, the gay community, what have you, but the reality is they don't put their money where their mouth is with regard to workers."

Baird agreed. He said that it was during the 1970s boycott, over the Coors Brewing Co.'s then-homophobic and anti-union stances, that he got support from James Hoffa Sr. who was Teamsters' powerful president from 1957 to 1971.

Hoffa went to prison in 1967 after being convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud. His sentence was commuted by Nixon in 1971, though he was barred from union activity for nine years.

He never got to return to it after all, however, as he famously disappeared July 30, 1975. Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1982 and his body was never recovered. His son, James Hoffa Jr., was Teamsters president from 1998 to 2022.

"My union years ago had a dinner for Jimmy Hoffa to wish him well when he got out of prison," Baird said. "He was a good man, and during the dinner, I said I'd like to talk to him — there were 500 people at the Fairmont [hotel] — I said 'I'd like to talk to you about the Coors beer boycott.' He knew all about it. Here's a man in prison, nothing to do about it, he said, 'You're up against a very bad company. I can give you some advice — you got to get together with wealthy people and have the money to fight 'em because they're going to bring it every time, [say] nasty things about you on television, or whatever they can use against you.' I just kept with it, and Jimmy was really terrific for me in supporting the Coors boycott. I had met with him before, and he was very supportive of everything about the Teamsters union at that time."

Bustillos said, "I hope it gets resolved soon — it's not going to be easy."

"They'd rather give stock buybacks," he said. "I get it, it's the way of the world, but why not take care of the people making that stock buyback possible?"

Affected Molson Coors Co. brands include Coors Light, Foster's, Icehouse, Keystone Light, Leinenkugel's Family of Brands, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Milwaukee's Best Light, Milwaukee's Best Ice, Olde English '800,' Redd's Apple Ale, Redd's Wicked, Sharp's, Steel Reserve Alloy Series, Steel Reserve Tiki Series, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer, Vizzy Hard Seltzer, Henry Weinhard's Soda Family of Brands, and the Yeungling Family of Brands.

The Teamsters' union and the Molson Coors Co. did not return requests for comment.

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