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Ex-Teamsters Boss Sentenced to Prison; Dodger Dome? February 28, 1959

February 28, 2009 |  9:07 am



      

Ex-Teamsters Boss Dave Beck Dead at 99

JOHN BALZAR
TIMES STAFF WRITER

28 December 1993


1959_0228_cover_2

Feb. 28, 1959: Former Teamsters President Dave Beck is sentenced
to prison. In the preceding two decades, The Times frequently
attacked "Dave Beckism."

Dave Beck, a laundry driver who rose to president of the Teamsters Union and in the process traveled a rocky highway from working class to wealthy class-and then to the criminal class-has died at age 99.

A family friend announced Monday that the stout, steely-eyed retired labor leader died Sunday at Northwest Hospital "of old age."

Another friend said Beck had been up and alert on Christmas Day with his family.

In the hard-bitten, bare-knuckles battleground of the American labor movement of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Beck was among its foremost figures-along with the AFL-CIO's George Meany and the United Auto Workers Walter Reuther.

A colorful man, despised, feared, admired and courted, often by the same people at the same time, Beck's success emerged directly from the turbulent political currents of the day: He opposed left-leaning labor rivals and championed the free enterprise system-just as long as Teamsters got their share.

That earned him the trust, if not the love, of businessmen. In turn, he secured many advances for workers, including a vast expansion of health and pension benefits for union employees.

He was president of the Teamsters from 1952 to 1957, and before that founded the Western Conference of Teamsters.

At age 94, he summed up his philosophy this way: "Labor is strictly a business. All I ever did in the labor union movement was sell labor for the best price I could get."

*


He also would admit to interviewers in a loud, raspy voice another of his tools of success: "Busting skulls and bruising knuckles."

He became a confidant of presidents, and told his biographer that three times he was asked to be U.S. labor secretary-by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Under Beck's leadership, the Teamsters expanded into many industries besides truck drivers and was the largest and wealthiest union in the U.S., with a membership of 1.5 million.

But at the zenith of his career, Beck seemed to confuse the union's power and money with his own and ultimately ran aground before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1957. In the hearing, committee counsel Robert F. Kennedy accused Beck of illegally using $300,000 in union funds. A fuming Beck invoked the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination 142 times.

*


A Washington state court later convicted him of embezzling $1,900 from the sale of a used Cadillac owned by the union. In 1958, he was convicted of federal income tax evasion, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. In 1959, he was convicted of filing a fraudulent tax return.

Edwin Guthman, a USC journalism professor and former Los Angeles Times National Editor, charted Beck's downfall in the book "We Band of Brothers." After the Senate hearing and his embezzlement indictment, Jimmy Hoffa "pushed him aside unceremoniously and took over as president of the Teamsters. Certainly the testimony did not do him any good, yet it was important . . . because it enabled the people to see more clearly, through the details of Beck's snug associations with businessmen, what happens when power unchecked becomes the power of self indulgence and power without a purpose . . . . "

Beck served 2 1/2 years at McNeil Island Penitentiary, near Tacoma, for state, federal convictions. He was released in December, 1964. Then-Gov. Albert Rosellini of Washington pardoned him for the state conviction in 1965 and President Gerald R. Ford pardoned him on the federal conviction in 1975.

Beck never said he was sorry, telling an interviewer a decade ago: "Beck gave his best to the American labor movement. If I had it to do all over again, I'd do it exactly the same way."

As the years went on, the outspoken Beck lived an active and public life, speaking to students, serving as a historical resource on the labor movement. Best of all, he lived to enjoy the rehabilitation of his reputation. In 1984, Seattle honored him as its "Maritime Man of the Year."

Born in Stockton, Calif., on June 16, 1894, Beck moved to Seattle with his parents when he was 4. He was a news delivery boy, dabbled with prizefighting and left school at 15 to drive a laundry truck.

He joined the Teamsters in 1914. Five years later, he helped break Seattle's famous general strike of 1919 by convincing other laundry-truck drivers to vote against the radical Industrial Workers of the World, the so-called Wobblies.

His anti-communism, which some call red-baiting, severed him well with business later. In the meantime, he worked his way up the ranks of the Teamsters, becoming a full-time organizer in 1925. When he negotiated for the Teamsters he was known as a man of his word, and there were surprisingly few strikes for a city that was 95% unionized.

In 1952, he was elected to succeed Dan Tobin as national president of the union. Although the organization was headquartered in Washington, D.C., Beck continued to make Seattle his home.

In his Seattle history, "Skid Road," Murray Morgan describes what happened next:

His "observance of the rituals of being rich became more conspicuous . . . . His clothes grew richer and better tailored, his office larger and more deep-toned, his cars longer, his phone conversations curter, his invitations to the annual Round Up Party at the Washington Athletic Club-a must for business and political leaders-more peremptory.

"It was during this period that Dave Beck moved from the modest frame house which had pinned him to the middle class, into a new Sheridan Beach estate with private pool, private cinema, even sumptuous private quarters for his private bodyguards."

Beck dismissed such carping. He asked whether a labor leader should not dress and live as well as the business leaders he dealt with. And he had the same answer throughout his life for the charges of wrongdoing. "I never stole one damn dollar from the Teamsters."

*


Times researcher Tracy Shryer in Chicago contributed to this story.

1959_0228_dodgers Could Dodger Stadium have been renamed the Dodger Dome?

Capt. Emil Praeger, designer of the Chavez Ravine ballpark, told reporters at Vero Beach, Fla., about plans to add a dome after the stadium was finished.

"I realize that we didn't have any rainouts in Los Angeles last season and we're not worried about that," owner Walter O'Malley said. "But perhaps there would be sufficient demand for a covered stadium in which to present such events as industrial exhibits, conventions and the like.

"If we find, say, in five or 10 years that there is a demand for such a facility as we propose, the dome will be built."

The Dodgers had discussed the concept of a dome stadium in Brooklyn when the team was searching for ways to replace Ebbets Field.

--Keith Thursby

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