Transforming the Teamsters? A Case Study on the Challenges of Union Revitalization

Barry Eidlin, McGill University

As U.S. union density continues its steady downward decline, there is considerable debate on how best to revive labor’s fortunes. The problem of union revitalization also engages with broader debates within the sociology of organizations on the challenges of organizational transformation, as well as within the sociology of social movements on movement bureaucratization and barriers to mobilization. Simply put, there are many barriers to organizational reform and movement revitalization, and many reasons, both theoretical and empirical, that we would expect reform efforts to fail. This paper seeks to revive and extend current debates on paths to union revitalization through an analysis of current reform efforts in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America. While it has a history of corruption and bureaucratization, IBT members elected a slate in 2021 committed to organizational reform. The IBT’s contract at United Parcel Service (UPS), covering 350,000 workers across the U.S., which expires on July 31, 2023, offers a unique hard test of the degree of organizational transformation in the IBT. To the extent that the IBT is able to score a victory at UPS, whether through contract settlement or a strike, it will be possible to say that the new administration has been able to implement meaningful organizational reforms. I am conducting current research observing reform efforts in the IBT. Given that the key outcomes of our study remain unknown, we have no findings to report at this time. However, given that the SSHA meeting will happen in November, about three months after negotiations and a possible strike will have concluded, we will have some preliminary findings to report at that time.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 208. Unions and the Fight for Labor Rights