Frank Edward Fitzsimmons (August 7, 1908 – May 6, 1981) was an American labor leader. He was acting president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1967 to 1971, and president from 1971 to 1981.
Fitzsimmons (left) with Richard Nixon in 1973
|Died||May 6, 1981 (aged 72)|
Cleo Delancy Hartman
(m. 1928; died 1952)
Mary Patricia (m. 1952)
|Children||2 (first marriage)|
2 (second marriage)
|Parent(s)||Frank and Ida May Fitzsimmons|
Frank Fitzsimmons was born in April 1908, in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, to Frank and Ida May Fitzsimmons. His father was a brewer who moved the family to Detroit, Michigan, in 1924 when Frank was 16. His father died of a heart attack when Fitzsimmons was 17 years old, and Frank dropped out of high school to support his family by working in an automobile hardware store. In 1932, he got a job as a bus driver in Detroit, Michigan, and New York City before becoming a truck driver in Detroit in 1935. He joined Teamsters Local 299, and became friendly with the local union's president, Jimmy Hoffa.
Fitzsimmons was elected Local 299 business manager in 1936, Local 299 vice president in 1940, and (at Hoffa's insistence) an international union vice president of the Teamsters in 1961. He was appointed secretary-treasurer of the 80,000-member Michigan Conference of Teamsters in 1949, and vice president of Teamsters Joint Council 43 in Detroit in 1959. During this time, Fitzsimmons became known as "a figure of ridicule" in the Teamsters; he was inarticulate, chubby, passive and easily embarrassed, and Hoffa and others frequently had him make coffee or hold chairs and rarely gave him any authority or duties. Nonetheless, Fitzsimmons was considered an adept manager and a very skilled contract negotiator. Despite Hoffa's many legal problems and the routine emasculation, Fitzsimmons remained the Teamsters president's staunchest supporter.
When Harold J. Gibbons resigned as Hoffa's executive assistant in December 1963 after a failed coup against the indicted Teamsters president, Hoffa appointed Fitzsimmons to the office. Hoffa was sentenced to eight years in a federal prison for jury tampering, conspiracy, and fraud, but was free while he appealed against the decision. Fitzsimmons was initially not considered to be politically popular enough to succeed Hoffa. But Fitzsimmons was elected General Vice President of the Teamsters in July 1966, which to many Teamsters leaders signalled Hoffa's intention to make Fitzsimmons his heir-apparent in the event Hoffa was imprisoned. On February 28, 1967, the Teamsters executive board passed a resolution appointing Fitzsimmons "acting president" in the event Hoffa was no longer able to carry out his duties.
But there is no certainty that Hoffa intends to let Fitzsimmons run anything. Indeed, few other Teamster big wigs even pretend that the chunky, amiable Hoffa right bower has the capacity to hold the union together for long. "He's just a peanut butter sandwich; he'll melt in no time," is the unflattering comment of one union insider.
Fitzsimmons and others even denied that they were doing work on Hoffa's orders. National trucking industry talks, interrupted when Hoffa went to jail, resumed with Fitzsimmons at the table. Although the pact expired and the union struck for three days, Fitzsimmons was able to negotiate a new agreement (with a federal mediator's help) which some believed was richer than any Hoffa could have obtained. He negotiated a second contract three years later which provided a 27 percent wage increase over three years.
Fitzsimmons rapidly solidified his own hold on the Teamsters presidency throughout 1967. He had permitted the International vice presidents greater latitude in their own affairs and delegated significant authority to them, winning their allegiance. He defeated an executive board attempt to oust him in July, and followed it up by demoting a number of Hoffa aides and promoting his own supporters (including Weldon Mathis) to high positions in the union. By August, he had openly declared he would run for the presidency of the union. He further enhanced his popularity by negotiating in October 1967 a national master contract in the trucking industry which brought 40,000 Northeastern truckers into the contract for the first time, and by negotiating a new contract which ended a five-month steel haulers' strike.
Fitzsimmons also began taking the union in new directions. In July 1968 he and Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers formed a new national trade union center, the Alliance for Labor Action, to organize unorganized workers and pursue leftist political and social projects. Fitzsimmons and Reuther offered the AFL-CIO a no-raid pact as a first step toward building a working relationship between the competing trade union centers, but the offer was rejected. The Alliance's initial program was ambitious, but Reuther's death in a plane crash on May 9, 1970, near Black Lake, Michigan, dealt a serious blow to the Alliance. The group collapsed in January 1972 after the Auto Workers were unable to continue to fund its operations.
In 1971, Hoffa resigned as Teamsters president and Fitzsimmons was elected international president in his own right. By year's end, Fitzsimmons had purged a number of Hoffa supporters from the union's top offices. In 1973, he resigned his position as vice president of Local 299 and his son, Richard, was appointed his successor.
Fitzsimmons engaged in a notorious jurisdictional and organizing dispute with the United Farm Workers (UFW) from 1972 to 1977, raiding the smaller union and establishing a new national farm workers' union to compete with it. The series of raids and counter-raids, repudiated contracts, and public relations attacks began in December 1972 when Fitzsimmons ordered a 1967 no-raid and organizing non-compete agreement with the UFW dissolved and Teamsters contract negotiators to re-open contracts. The UFW sued, the AFL-CIO condemned the action, and many employers negotiated contracts with the Teamsters rather than with the UFW. Although an agreement giving UFW jurisdiction over field workers and the Teamsters jurisdiction over packing and warehouse workers was reached on September 27, 1973, Fitzsimmons reneged on the agreement within a month and moved ahead with forming a farm workers regional union in California. The organizing battles even became violent at times. By 1975, the UFW had won 24 elections and the Teamsters 14; UFW membership had plummeted to just 6,000 from nearly 70,000 while the Teamsters farmworker division counted 55,000 workers. The Teamsters subsequently signed sweetheart deals with more than 375 California growers. Financially exhausted, the UFW signed an agreement with Fitzsimmons in March 1977 in which the UFW agreed to seek to organize only those workers covered by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, while the Teamsters had jurisdiction over all other agricultural workers.
By 1975, Jimmy Hoffa was planning to seize the presidency of the Teamsters again. Hoffa had been released from prison on December 23, 1971, when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence to time served. According to the United States Department of Justice and White House officials, Hoffa's release was granted on the condition that he not participate directly or indirectly in union activities until 1980. But Hoffa contended that he had never agreed to any such condition, and unsuccessfully sued to have the restriction overturned. But Fitzsimmons supported the government's position, and Charles Colson, special counsel to President Nixon who helped negotiate Hoffa's release, backed Fitzsimmon's interpretation of the release agreement. Hoffa intended to publish a book accusing Fitzsimmons of "selling out to mobsters" and giving large low- and no-interest loans from Teamsters pension funds to mob-related businesses. But Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975, removing the last significant opposition to Fitzsimmons' re-election. Fitzsimmons was, for a time, a suspect in the disappearance. Fitzsimmons continued to solidify his hold on the Teamsters throughout 1975 and 1976.
Fitzsimmons oversaw national trucking negotiations again in 1976, which led to major wage gains. Once again, the contract expired and the Teamsters engaged in a national trucking strike. But the strike ended after just three days, and union members ratified a contract which included a cost of living adjustment as well as a 30 percent rise in wages over three years.
Fitzsimmons was re-elected General President of the Teamsters in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 16, 1976. An insurgent reform group, which later adopted the name Teamsters for a Democratic Union, issued a massive report accusing Fitzsimmons and other Teamsters of corruption and suppressing democracy in the union and picketed the June Teamsters convention. Fitzsimmons attacked the dissidents for trying to "destroy the union". He famously raged from the podium:
To those who say it's time to reform this organization, that it's time that the officers quit selling out the membership, I say to them, go to hell.
Delegates to the convention were not persuaded by the attacks on the union leadership: They voted Fitzsimmons a 17 percent pay raise (bringing his salary to $516,250 a year) and re-elected him to a second full term.
In the late fall of 1976, Fitzsimmons oversaw a 10-week strike at United Parcel Service. The strike, which affected 15 Eastern states and included 18,000 warehouse workers and drivers, ended after the union reached an agreement to give workers a 33 percent wage increase over three years and restrict the employer's ability to replace full-time workers with part-time employees.
Fitzsimmons was investigated in 1976 for failing to perform his fiduciary duties as a trustee on the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund, and forced to resign from the board of trustees in 1977. The U.S. Departments of Labor and Justice first began investigating the fund in January 1976. He was subpoenaed by both the U.S. Senate's Committee on Labor and Public Welfare and by the Labor Department, and testified in public and private regarding loans the pension fund made to certain mob-related businesses and the fund's operations. Although the Internal Revenue Service revoked the fund's non-profit status, the penalty was suspended after Fitzsimmons agreed to remove several trustees (which he did in September 1976). Fitzsimmons and Roy Lee Williams, director of the Central Conference of Teamsters, attempted to remain on the board, but were forced out in March 1977.
Much of his final term as president was spent fighting deregulation of the trucking industry. Deregulation had first been proposed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, and President Jimmy Carter followed through by seeking and winning passage of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.
One of the last national negotiations Fitzsimmons oversaw was another national trucking contract. With deregulation moving forward, the negotiations (which began in early 1979) were particularly difficult. Fitzsimmons gambled and decided to engage in a series of whipsaw strikes in order to pressure the employers to agree to terms, but the trucking companies responded with a lockout on April 2. The Carter administration had imposed wage and price controls which sought to hold collective bargaining wage and benefit increases to 7.5 percent a year, but Fitzsimmons sought 10 percent a year. Four days into the labor dispute, layoffs in the automobile manufacturing industry reached 100,000, putting significant pressure on Fitzsimmons to lower his contract demands. The strike and lockout were a short one due to these pressures, and Fitzsimmons reached an agreement on April 11, 1979, which met the President's wage control guideline.
After suffering shortness of breath at a Teamsters executive board meeting, Fitzsimmons underwent surgery in late December 1979 which removed a non-malignant tumor in his bronchial passage. In early January 1980, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner published a story claiming that Fitzsimmons was suffering from abdominal cancer, setting off widespread rumors that Fitzsimmons was dying and that a power struggle over his succession was raging in the Teamsters. Fitzsimmons denied that he had cancer. Nonetheless, by July, Fitzsimmons admitted he had lung cancer and had undergone chemotherapy for the past seven months. However, he also declared himself cancer-free and fit to run for re-election in 1981.
Fitzsimmons' cancer returned in January 1981, leading to repeated hospitalizations, tests, weight loss, hair loss, and bouts of depression. Although he returned to work in mid-March, he was so ill by early April that many felt he might not attend the union's executive board meeting later that month. Although the deadline for announcing his re-election bid was June 1, anonymous union officials believed he was so ill that he would announce his retirement before the board meeting. Planning began to name Ray Schoessling, the union's 75-year-old secretary-treasurer, interim president. As news of Fitzsimmons' deteriorating health spread, a number of union leaders began to fight to take over the union.
Fitzsimmons' illness led to a significant deterioration in labor relations in the trucking industry. Deregulation had led to fierce competition and significantly lower rates in the industry, and a number of trucking companies let it be known that they would not pay the wage and benefit increases Fitzsimmons had negotiated two years before. Before entering the hospital again in late March, Fitzsimmons wrote a letter to the employers demanding that they adhere to the contract.
On May 1, 1981, Roy Lee Williams announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Teamsters. Williams made it clear, however, that if Fitzsimmons' health improved he would back the ailing general president. Williams made his announcement after rumors spread that union officials had visited Fitzsimmons in the hospital in La Jolla, California, and Fitzsimmons had agreed to retire.
Fitzsimmons died of lung cancer in San Diego, California, on May 6, 1981. He was survived by his second wife, Mary, and his four children. Only four mourners attended his funeral mass at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Palm Desert, California.
In popular cultureEdit
- Shabecoff, Philip (May 7, 1981), "Frank Fitzsimmons of Teamsters Dies", New York Times
- "Hoffa's Heir Apparent: Frank Edward Fitzsimmons", New York Times, July 8, 1966
- Brill, Steven (1979), The Teamsters, New York: Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-671-82905-X
- Sloane, Arthur A. (1991), Hoffa, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-19309-4
- "'Fitz,' Tough Negotiator For Teamsters", New York Times, January 7, 1979
- Raskin, A. H. (May 3, 1964), "Hoffa Is Facing New Challenge", New York Times
- Pomfret, John D. "Bid to Oust Hoffa Expected in Union." New York Times. December 7, 1963.
- Stetson, Damon. "Teamsters' Power Struggle to Succeed Hoffa Breaks Into Open." New York Times. November 23, 1965.
- "Board Acts on Succession." New York Times. March 1, 1967; Jones, David R. "Successor Choice Named By Hoffa." New York Times. May 4, 1966; Jones, David R. "Hoffa's Candidate Gets Clear Field as Potential President of Teamsters." New York Times. June 29, 1966; Jones, David R. "Hoffa Re-Elected Teamsters' Chief." New York Times. July 8, 1966.
- Jones, David R. "Hoffa Plans Way to Retain Power." New York Times. June 15, 1966.
- Raskin, A.H. "Hoffa Will Run the Union From Behind Bars-Maybe." New York Times. March 5, 1967.
- Roberts, Steven V. "Aides Deny Hoffa Does Union Work." New York Times. April 12, 1971.
- Jones, David R. "Fitzsimmons, Acting Head of Teamsters, Fights Off Move to Oust Him and Strengthens His Hand." New York Times. August 27, 1967.
- Jones, David R. "Trucking Negotiations Resume, Fitzsimmons Replacing Hoffa." New York Times. March 9, 1967; Jones, David R. "Truck Talks Reported Progressing Despite Absence of Hoffa." New York Times. March 20, 1967.
- Jones, David R. "Mediator Hails Pact." New York Times. April 12, 1967; Jones, David R. "Teamster Leader Sees Pact Backed." New York Times. April 26, 1967.
- Lydon, Christopher. "Drivers Approve Teamsters Pact." New York Times. May 19, 1970.
- Jones, David R. "Hoffa's Stand-in Is Making Headway." New York Times. October 1, 1967.
- Jones, David R. "Teamsters Curb One-Man Control." New York Times. May 6, 1967; "Head of Teamsters Denies Power Shift." Associated Press. May 8, 1967.
- Janson, Donald. "U.A.W. and Teamsters Form Alliance." New York Times. July 24, 1968; Stetson, Damon. "2 Biggest Unions Set Up Alliance." New York Times. May 27, 1969.
- Flint, Jerry M. "No-Raiding Pact Offered Meany." New York Times. November 24, 1968.
- Stetson, Damon. "New Labor Group Offers Program." New York Times. May 28, 1969.
- Lichtenstein, Nelson. Walter Reuther, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1997. ISBN 0-252-06626-X
- Salpuka, Agis. "U.A.W., in Debt, Halts Funds For Alliance With Teamsters." New York Times. July 6, 1971; Salpuka, Agis. "A Labor Alliance to Be Dissolved." New York Times. January 25, 1972.
- Shabecoff, Philip. "Hoffa Is Stepping Aside As Teamsters' President." New York Times. June 4, 1971; Salpuka, Agis. "Teamsters Elect Fitzsimmons To Succeed Hoffa as President." New York Times. July 9, 1971.
- Salpuka, Agis. "Teamster Aide Expects Ouster." New York Times. December 14, 1972.
- "Job in Local Left By Fitzsimmons." New York Times. August 31, 1973.
- According to the Teamsters, these contracts had purposefully low wages and benefits so as not to make the UFW contracts look bad. See: "Teamsters End a Truce With Chavez's United Farm Workers." New York Times. December 15, 1972.
- Turner, Wallace. "Teamsters Sued by Chavez's Union." New York Times. January 5, 1973; Shabecoff, Philip. "Meany Criticizes Teamsters' Drive." New York Times. April 19, 1973; "Chavez Tackles the Teamsters." New York Times. April 22, 1973; Shabecoff, Philip. "Chavez Union Struggling for Survival." New York Times. June 27, 1973; "Teamsters Repudiate Contracts As Chavez Quits Grape Talks." New York Times. August 11, 1973.
- Shabecoff, Philip. "Chavez Reaches Tentative Accord." New York Times. September 28, 1973.
- "Chavez Says Pact Means Teamsters Will Leave Fields." New York Times. September 29, 1973; "Meany Hints Teamster Accord With Chavez May Be Near End." New York Times. October 16, 1973; Shabecoff, Philip. "Teamsters Shift Stand on Coast." New York Times. November 8, 1973; "Meany Says Teamsters Renege On a Farm Labor Peace Accord." New York Times. November 17, 1973; "Teamsters Start Farm Union Local." New York Times. June 7, 1974; "Teamsters Local Termed in 'Chaos'." New York Times. November 10, 1974.
- Caldwell, Earl. "Picket Shot, Many More Arrested in Grape Strike." New York Times. August 3, 1973; "New Strife Nears in Grape Dispute." New York Times. September 16, 1973.
- "Rendering to Cesar." Time. September 22, 1975.
- Bacon, David. The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0-520-23778-1; Rosales, Francisco Arturo. Chicano!: The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston, Tex.: Arte Publico Press, 1997. ISBN 1-55885-201-8; Lifsher, Marc. "UFW Seeks New Way to Organize." Los Angeles Times. September 14, 2007.
- Turner, Wallace. "Chavez and Teamsters Sign Accord." New York Times. March 11, 1977.
- "Brewery Workers Merger With Teamsters Is Backed." New York Times. October 24, 1973.
- Shabecoff, Philip. "Hoffa Plans Bid for the Teamster Job." New York Times. April 29, 1973.
- Crewdson, John H. "Mitchell Is Cited in Hoffa Release." New York Times. May 30, 1974.
- Shabecoff, Philip. "Hoffa Denies Bar on Role in Union." New York Times. February 8, 1974; Shabecoff, Philip. "Hoffa Sues Nixon for Free Role in Union." New York Times. March 14, 1974; "White House Denies Hoffa's Allegations." New York Times. March 15, 1974; Salpuka, Agis. "Judge Upholds Conditions Barring Hoffa From Regaining Union Leadership." New York Times. July 20, 1974.
- There is some evidence that Colson's support may have been given because the Teamsters had shifted their legal counsel to Colson's firm, Morin, Dickstein, Shapiro and Galligan, In December 1972 shortly before Colson left government service. See: Rugaber, Walter. "Teamsters Union Plans to Shift To Law Firm With Tie to Nixon." New York Times. December 9, 1972; Shabecoff, Philip. "Frank Fitzsimmons of Teamsters Dies." New York Times. May 7, 1981. In 1977, convicted murderer and FBI informant Ralph Picardo alleged that Fitzsimmons had secretly funneled $1 million to President Richard Nixon in 1973 to bar Hoffa from seeking election as Teamsters president, but Picardo's claims were widely dismissed. See: Thomas, Jo. "Teamster Informant Drawing Skepticism." New York Times. August 3, 1977.
- Kihss, Peter. "A Book by Hoffa Accuses Fitzsimmons of Mob Link." New York Times. September 12, 1975.
- Hoffa may also have intended to have Fitzsimmons murdered. Charles Allen, a self-described mob killer, later testified before the U.S. Senate that Hoffa had asked him to kill Fitzsimmons while they served time in prison together, and again in 1975 after Hoffa's release. See: Treaster, Joseph B. "Mob Killer Says Hoffa Told Him to Slay Successor." New York Times. June 23, 1982.
- "Hoffa Is Reported Missing." New York Times. August 1, 1975; Salpuka, Agis. "Hunt for Missing Hoffa Focuses On Figures in Organized Crime." New York Times. August 2, 1975.
- Dembart, Lee. "Chicago Teamsters Grain in Power Shift." New York Times. January 18, 1976.
- Salpuka, Agis. "Teamster Strike Begins As Talks Falter." New York Times. April 1, 1976.
- Salpuka, Agis. "Most Teamsters Accept Contract With Truckers." New York Times. April 3, 1976; Salpuka, Agis. "Teamsters Agree On New Contract To End Walkout." New York Times. April 4, 1976.
- Raskin, A.H. "Teamster Rebels Doubt A Shake-Up." New York Times. May 29, 1976; Dembart, Lee. "Teamster Dissidents Picket Convention." New York Times. June 14, 1976.
- Dembart, Lee. "Teamsters Chief Scores Dissidents." New York Times. June 15, 1976.
- Serrin, William. "No Shift Is Foreseen in Teamsters' Course." New York Times. May 7, 1981.
- Dembart, Lee. "Teamsters Vote Chief A Big Raise." New York Times. June 16, 1976; Dembart, lee. "Teamsters' Head Wins Re-Election." New York Times. June 17, 1976.
- Stetson, Damon. "Tentative Accord Reported in Strike At United Parcel." New York Times. November 13, 1976; Dembart, Lee. "Accord Is Announced in Parcel Walkout." New York Times. December 4, 1976.
- Stetson, Damon. "Teamster Funds Under New Audit." New York Times. January 28, 1976.
- Dembart, Lee. "Teamster Chiefs Under Subpoena." New York Times. June 18, 1976; Dembart, Lee. "Teamsters Face A Senate Inquiry." New York Times. June 20, 1976; Horrock, Nicholas M. "Fitzsimmons Heard in Private In Pension Fund Investigation." New York Times. July 8, 1976.
- Raskin, A.H. "2 In Teamster Fund Are Forced Out." New York Times. September 18, 1976; Dembart, Lee. "More Seen Quitting Fund of Teamsters." New York Times. September 20, 1976; Dembart, Lee. "Teamster Pension Chiefs May Quit." New York Times. October 13, 1976; Dembart, Lee. "Teamsters Pension Fund Board Revamped as 11 Trustees Resign." New York Times. October 27, 1976.
- Dembart, Lee. "Teamsters' Pension Fund Choices Arouse New Demands for Cleanup." New York Times. October 30, 1976; Shabecoff, Philip. "Teamsters President and 3 Others To Quit Pension Fund Posts." New York Times. March 14, 1977.
- Blumenthal, Ralph. "Ford Offers Bill on Deregulating Trucks and Buses." New York Times. November 14, 1975.
- "Fitzsimmons Assails Bid to Cut Truck Regulations." New York Times. June 27, 1979; Moore, Thomas Gale. "Rail and Truck Reform: The Record So Far." Regulation. November/December 1988; Derthick, Martha and Quirk, Paul. The Politics of Deregulation. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8157-1817-9
- Shabecoff, Philip. "Fitzsimmons Keeps His Hold on the Driver's Seat." New York Times. March 25, 1979.
- Shabecoff, Philip. "A 'Selective' Strike Is Called By Teamsters as Talks Fail." New York Times. April 1, 1979; Shabecoff, Philip. "Trucking Leaders Call for Lockout of 300,000 in Strike by Teamsters." New York Times. April 2, 1979.
- "Issues in Walkout by Teamsters." New York Times. April 2, 1979.
- Stuart, Reginald. "Teamster Talks Resume as Auto Industry Layoffs Continue to Climb." New York Times. April 6, 1979.
- Shabecoff, Philip. "White House Endorses Teamsters' Pact as a Gain in Anti-Inflation Effort." New York Times. April 12, 1979; Shabecoff, Philip. "Wage Settlements in the Wake of Carter's Guidelines." New York Times. April 29, 1979.
- "Fitzsimmons, Teamsters Chief, Is Back on the Job After Surgery." New York Times. January 7, 1980.
- Serrin, William. "Health Rumors On Union Chief Stir Speculation." New York Times. January 11, 1980.
- "Teamsters President to Seek Re-election Despite Cancer." New York Times. July 11, 1980.
- "Fitzsimmons, Ailing, May Quit Union Job." New York Times. April 16, 1981.
- "Teamster Aide Is Ready To Seek Fitzsimmons Post." United Press International. May 2, 1981.
- "Fitzsimmons Rites Held With Few in Attendance." United Press International. May 8, 1981.
- Neibaur, James L. (2017). The Essential Jack Nicholson. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 120. ISBN 9781442269880.
| President of Teamsters Union (IBT)
George Mock (interim)