The International Brotherhood of Teamsters will hold its annual Women’s Conference in Hollywood this week, titled “Lights, Camera, Teamster Women in Action.” The three-day conference, which will be attended by IBT general president James P. Hoffa – the son of the late-Jimmy Hoffa – is billed as “a time to celebrate sisterhood,” but in the movie business, driving big rigs is still largely the brotherhood that the union’s name implies.
“We’re trying to get more women and people of color,” said an official at Hollywood Teamsters Local 399, one of the host locals for the conference, but only 13% of the local’s members are women, and that includes location managers, animal trainers and casting directors. An even lower percentage of the local’s studio drivers are women.
Brita McCollough, who drives a 40-foot, three-axel cast trailer, said that she was recently told by a high-ranking Local 399 official that there are only 155 female drivers in the local, compared to more than 2,000 male drivers – a men-to-women ratio of 13-to-1.
“It’s a good old boys network, and discrimination against women runs rampant,” she said, adding that when a woman is hired, it’s almost always to drive 15-passenger van. “That’s the lowest-paid position, and they’re hardly ever offered to drive anything but that,” she said.
The main problem, she said, is that transportation coordinators are allowed to hire whoever they want – and it’s usually their buddies. “When I joined the local in 1993, there were over 700 women drivers,” she said. “Now I hardly see any women. Women who can drive semis can’t buy a job. I know ten women drivers who lost their houses.”
Rita Lundin, who will be representing Local 399 at the Women’s Conference, which gets underway tomorrow at the Lowes Hollywood Hotel, drives wardrobes trailers and generator trucks. “I’ve been told I’m taking a man’s job,” she laughs. “I’ve been asked what kind of panties and bra I’m wearing.” Turning serious, she said she’s also had her vehicles vandalized and sabotaged by resentful male drivers. “I’ve had all kinds of horrible things done to my trucks and trailers.”
Lundin, who says she was “raised by cowboys,” started out in the business as a horse wrangler, but now makes “a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year” driving big trucks and operating generators, but adds: “That’s because I’m ornery.”
Transportation coordinators, she said, “are always going to ask for men drivers first, and then they’re always going to put the women in the van. And who wants to drive a van? I know I don’t.” Women drivers, she said, “need to be tougher and not be intimidated by the men. And the local should be aware that all the women are being put in vans.”
Employment opportunities for women movie drivers are even more scarce in Chicago and New York. The movie division of Teamsters Local 727 in Chicago has never placed a single female on its roster of drivers, and sources say that there are few, if any, female movie drivers at Teamsters Local 817 in New York City.
Controlled by three generations of men from the same family, the Chicago local’s movie division has “an ironclad policy against referring women,” according to a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in a recent sex discrimination case there. The court found that some 250-300 drivers belong to the Chicago local’s movie/trade show division, “but apparently, in its 70-year history, the division has never referred a female driver to any of the movie or television production companies that hire drivers.”
Just last month, the Chicago local admitted in court filings that transportation coordinators “have not hired women to do bargaining unit work” in its movie/trade show division since June of 2008, when the local assumed the movie jurisdiction of Chicago Teamsters Local 714, which Hoffa had placed into trusteeship for, among other things, job favoritism. Prior to that, and dating back to the 1940s, Local 714 had never placed a female on its roster of movie drivers.
Above are the leaders of Local 727. That’s the union’s boss, secretary-treasurer John T. Coli in the middle; his son, president John Coli Jr. (third from the left), and the elder Coli’s brother, recording secretary William Coli (second from the right). They inherited the local from their father, reputed mobster and longtime Local 727 honcho, Eco James Coli, now deceased.
Sources say that Teamsters Local 817 in New York City isn’t much better, with few, if any, women drivers on its movie division roster, although that could not be confirmed because the local steadfastly refused to answer any questions. Seen below are 13 men from the local’s movie division standing in front of a large production vehicle.
New Mexico Teamsters Local 492 may hold the record for the highest percentage of female movie drivers – 21%. Trey White, the local’s recording-secretary, said that 64 of the local’s 305 movie drivers are women.
At Teamsters Local 270 in New Orleans, fewer than 10% of the movie drivers are women. Stephen Sorrell, the local’s secretary-treasurer, said that “six or seven” of the local’s 80 members who work as drivers on movies are women, and most of them are van drivers. “We don’t discriminate against women,” he said. “If they’re qualified to do it, I’ll give them a shot.”
San Francisco Teamsters Local 2786 has about 50 members who drive movie trucks, of which 10 are women, according to the local’s business agent. Only one of the 18 members on its “A List” of senior drivers is a woman, however.
Deadline reached out to Teamster locals in Boston, Atlanta and Miami, but got no response, and the IBT said it doesn’t keep records on the gender of movie drivers. Until it does, the full extent of the gender-gap in this traditionally male-dominated sector of the industry won’t be fully known, although it is clearly very wide.
The IBT’s website notes that it “has always stood as a bastion of hope for all working people, regardless of gender, race or creed.” Founded in 1903, when women couldn’t vote, the union, which recently endorsed a woman for President of the United States, certainly does have a proud history of fighting for the rights of working men and women. So perhaps as a first step toward becoming more inclusive, the union might start gathering statistics, as do the DGA and the WGA, on the employment of women in the film and TV industry – and then consider adopting a less gender-exclusive name: maybe something like the International Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Teamsters.