Twenty-second Western Conference of Teamsters is held during a union leadership changeover in Seattle on June 23, 1958.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 7/12/2005
  • Essay 7380
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On June 23, 1958, the Western Conference of Teamsters holds its 22nd annual conference in Seattle, following a shakeup in national teamster leadership. The shakeup continues locally, effectively putting an end to the Dave Beck era.

Dave Beck formed the Western Conference of Teamsters in 1937, which gave him more control over Teamsters throughout the Western United States. In 1952, he became president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Frank Brewster -- his right-hand man, and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 174 -- took over as Western Conference chairman, later becoming Beck’s vice-president.

Power Struggles

Troubles began in 1956, when Bobby Kennedy, a young staff attorney for the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, began investigating Beck for corruption. During committee hearings, Beck pleaded the 5th Amendment 65 times. He also refused to answer questions before the AFL/CIO Ethical Practices Committee, which led to his expulsion from the AFL/CIO Executive Council and to the withdrawal of the Teamsters from the labor consortium.

Beck was convicted in 1957, and Teamsters members gathered in Miami Beach that October to choose a new president. A large contingent of Seattle and Washington delegates -- including Frank Brewster -- backed William A. Lee for the position, but Jimmy Hoffa won. Brewster paid for his opposition to Hoffa by losing his vice-presidency, and Einar Mohn took over as chair of the Western Conference.

Brewster remained as president of Local 174, which he had joined in 1914, but a power struggle brewed at home as well. George Cavano, Brewster's bitter rival, held the more powerful post of secretary-treasurer. Cavano had also backed Hoffa, leading a small but sold block of 10 Washington votes. For this, Hoffa was very grateful.

The Gavel is Passed

Two weeks before the 22nd Western Conference began in June, Cavano’s supporters circulated petitions asking that Brewster not be named as an organizer for the union in the area. Brewster’s supporters called this a stab in the back, which it most likely was. Brewster was also president of the Joint Council, the host of the conference, and some expected sparks to fly.

The conference opened on June 23 at the Olympic Hotel, and cooler heads prevailed. Brewster welcomed the attendees, including Jimmy Hoffa, and during his keynote address he sounded a bid for solidarity during the changing times. Brewster recalled his more than 40 years of service in Local 174 and ended by passing the Western Conference gavel to Einar Mohn.

Mohn ended the conference by echoing Brewster’s sentiments in regards to teamwork, urging members to “make our name felt as right, fair, honest, and a credit to the community.” Mohn also laid out his plans to move the Conference’s headquarters to San Francisco, effectively ending Beck and Brewster’s era of leadership from Seattle. Brewster continued on with the Teamsters, but Cavano was in the ascendancy. He led Local 174 for the next two decades.

Sources: "Cavano Camp Fights Brewster as Organizer," The Seattle Times, June 6, 1958, p. 1; "Support of Western Conference Pledged," Washington Teamster, June 27, 1958, p. 1-2; "Harmony Winds Up Conference," Ibid., July 4, 1958, p. 1-2; John McCallum, Dave Beck (Mercer Island, WA: Writing Works, 1978).
Note: George Cavano's name was corrected on June 13, 2007.

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