Dave Beck forms the Western Conference of Teamsters in 1937.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 6/26/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7359
See Additional Media

In 1937, Teamster leader Dave Beck (1894-1993) forms the Western Conference of Teamsters following more than a decade of successfully organizing labor forces in Seattle. This gives Beck more control over Teamster forces throughout the Western United States.

Standing Firm

After Beck organized the Western Conference, national Teamster head Dan Tobin told him he was against the idea. Tobin called Beck from Denver and told him to disband the conference. Beck later said that although he "loved Tobin like a father," he told his boss to "go plumb to hell, I'm quitting right now."

Not wanting to lose one of his best organizers, Tobin attended the conference's first meeting in San Francisco. There were those who thought that even Dave Beck couldn't organize a notoriously anti-labor city like Los Angeles, but after watching Beck lay out his plans, Tobin supported the Western Conference 100 percent.

Moving Forward

Beck's ability to organize was legendary, having worked -- and in some cases bullied -- his way through the Northwest labor force one employee and one employer at a time. Once the Western Conference was set up, Beck worked his way south, organizing forces in Oregon, then in northern California in places like Stockton, Fresno, Oakland, and San Francisco.

Beck moved in on Los Angeles, and strode into the office of the president of United Parcel. Beck told the CEO that he would organize in Los Angeles, to which the CEO responded, "You'll do no such goddamned thing." He informed Beck that United Parcel had millions of dollars to fight with, and that there was no way that Beck would get a foothold in L.A.

Beck reminded the businessman that contracts were already in place all up the coast, and that those contracts would be honored. But when those contracts ran out, Beck warned him, not even a get well package would ever make its way out of Los Angeles. And if United Parcel had millions to fight with in L.A., Beck noted, they better have millions to fight with in every other major city along the coast.

A few days later, United Parcel signed with the Teamsters in Los Angeles. Beck moved on, and used the same tactics successfully with other trucking firms throughout the city. In 1940, Dan Tobin awarded Beck with the vice-presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In 1952, Beck became president.


"'Mr. Union' Remembers Bare-knuckles Organizing," The Seattle Times, June 6, 1987, p. B-1; "Shape Up, Beck Tells Teamsters," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 30, 1979, p. A-4.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You