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Leo T. Reed, the longest-serving secretary-treasurer for the Hollywood Teamsters, has died. He was 83 years old.
Teamsters Local 399, which bargains on behalf of thousands of members in the entertainment industry, said on Monday that Reed died on Sunday from natural causes. “Leo was a fierce labor advocate that dedicated 25 years of his career to the members of Teamsters Local 399,” the Local’s current secretary-treasurer, Steve Dayan, said in a statement. Dayan added, “As the longest serving Principal Officer of Teamsters Local 399, he grew our Local from near bankruptcy to the gold standard it is today. 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.”
Raised in La’ie on the North Shore of Oahu, Reed was the oldest of multiple children and largely raised by his Samoan grandparents. After graduating from Kahuku High School, he attended Colorado State University on a football scholarship: “I wanted to get off the island and the entire community saw me off because in 1958, going to Colorado was like going to Mars today,” he told Local 399’s 2019 winter newsreel in a retrospective article about his career. Reed went pro in 1961, joining the Houston Oilers before he was traded to the Denver Broncos, and was among the first players of Samoan descent in American professional football.
After leaving football for “personal reasons,” as he told the newsreel, he joined the Honolulu Police Department and was assigned to the department’s Metro Squad before he began his union career. In 1973, Reed was hired as a supervisory business agent for the Hawaii Government Employees Association and, two years later, joined the Hawaii Teamsters (Local 996) before relocating to California in 1980 and working as a Local 399-affiliated driver. Not long after, he rose to become the Local’s business agent.
By the time Reed became the Local’s secretary-treasurer in 1988, first by appointment by the executive board and one year later elected to the role, he said the Local was “41 thousand dollars in the red.” During his tenure, he focused on organizing workers in commercials, low-budget productions and cable television projects. “Money started rolling in and more members started joining,” he recalled to the 2019 newsreel. Reed refused to make a “New Media” deal with the studios because he didn’t want to agree to lower wage standards, thereby forcing individual “New Media” projects to craft one-off deals with the Local.
After he became director of the motion picture theatrical trade division at the Teamsters in 1994, Reed traveled around the country to other Locals, aiming for somewhat standardized wages so that employers would have a harder time moving work to other jurisdictions to cut costs. Starting in 1986 he also served as director of the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans, and in 1988 became the chairman of the Basic Crafts. After eight three-year terms as secretary-treasurer, Reed lost out to Dayan in a 2013 election.
For several years, Local 399 has offered a scholarship fund in Reed’s name for graduating high school seniors who have at least one parent belonging to the Local. The fund offers financial assistance to select students attending a four-year college and university as well as a training and vocational program.
Reed is survived by his wife, five children, 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
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