Leo T. Reed, Longtime Leader of Teamsters Local 399, Dies at 83
Art and Experience:
Reed was appointed secretary-treasurer of the union in 1988, representing Hollywood studio drivers and other workers for eight terms. He was also chairman of the Basic Crafts unions, responsible for joint negotiations with the studios in partnership with other below-the-line unions. He was ousted by the current secretary-treasurer, Steve Dayan, in an election in 2013.
Dayan issued a statement on Monday praising Reed’s tenure, saying that his contributions would “live on forever.”
“As the longest serving principal officer of Teamsters Local 399, he grew our Local from near bankruptcy to the gold standard it is today,” Dayan said. “He prioritized organizing and negotiating strong contracts that would serve as the foundation for the benefits, wages and working conditions we still build upon to this day. He was smart, stern and most importantly, focused on the betterment of his members. It’s what drove his passion at Local 399 every single day.”
Reed hailed from the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. His father was Scotch-Irish, and his mother was Samoan. In an interview with the Local 399 newsletter in 2019, Reed said that he was largely raised by his Samoan grandparents. He attended Colorado State University on a football scholarship, and spent the 1961 football season as a lineman with the Houston Oilers and then, after being traded, with the Denver Broncos, both of the AFL.
He later returned to Hawaii and joined the Honolulu Police Department, while also competing in judo. He became a teacher before being hired by the Hawaii Government Employees Association in 1973, as a supervisory business agent. He took a job as a business agent with the Teamsters union in Hawaii, Local 996, and worked there for five years before moving to Los Angeles and becoming a driver and then a business agent with Local 399.
When he took charge of the local a few years later, he told the newsletter that it was losing $41,000 a month, its headquarters was dilapidated and it had about 2,800 members. He focused on organizing at non-union cable outlets, including Showtime, HBO and TNT, and then turned to commercials. By the end of his tenure, membership was around 4,500.
“We organized all the low-budget productions that were running amok all over Hollywood,” Reed told the Local 399 newsletter. “I bought two pages in the Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. It read, ‘To all non-union producers, our office hours are from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Come see us or we’ll come see you.’”
The Teamsters local represents drivers, animal wranglers and location managers. In the early 2000s, the union waged a successful organizing drive among casting directors. At the bargaining table, Reed resisted the imposition of “New Media” rates, under which the studios were looking to set a lower wage tier for digital productions. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees agreed to a New Media tier, which has been a source of regret since then.
Dayan, then a business agent at the local, led a campaign to unseat Reed under the banner of “399 Members First” in 2013. He argued that Reed had grown out of touch, and objected that Reed had hired his son for a union position. Reed fired Dayan, saying Dayan had stabbed him in the back. Dayan won with 56% of the vote.
In an interview, Dayan said that the hard feelings of the campaign quickly dissipated.
“We did patch things up,” Dayan said. “Even though we had our ups and downs, we were close. I’m very grateful we were able to make amends and move ahead.”
Dayan established a union scholarship in Reed’s name.
Reed died at his home of natural causes. He is survived by his wife, five children, 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.