The Teamsters Vote a Hoffa Critic Sean O’Brien as President

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The Teamsters Vote a Hoffa Critic Sean O’Brien as President

Sean O’Brien was a rising star in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 2017 when the union’s longtime president, James P. Hoffa effectively brushed him aside.

But the move appears to have set out to succeed Mr. O’Brien, a fourth-generation teamster and head of a Boston local, to succeed Mr. Hoffa as union president and one of the nation’s most powerful labor leaders. Is.

Teamsters’ vice president, who urged a more assertive stance toward employers such as United Parcel Service – as well as an aggressive campaign to mobilize workers at Amazon – O’Brien took his time to lead the nearly 1.4 million-member union. declared victory in the bid. ,

He won nearly two-thirds of the votes cast in a race against another vice president, Steve Varma, the Hoffa-backed candidate, according to a tally reported late Thursday on an election observer’s website. He will assume the presidency in March.

The result reflects frustration over the most recent UPS contract and growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Hoffa, who Headed the Sangh for more than two decades and whose father did it from 1957 to 1971. The younger Mr. Hoffa did not want another five-year term.

In an interview, Mr. O’Brien said that success in mobilizing Amazon employees – a stated goal of Teamsters – will require the union to show the fruits of its efforts elsewhere.

“We have to negotiate the strongest contracts possible so that we can take it up to Amazon employees and point it out and say it’s a benefit to you being in a union,” he said.

David Witwer, an expert on Teamsters at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg, said it was very rare for Teamsters to elect a president who was not supported by an incumbent or incumbent and who was as sharp as his predecessor as Mr. was criticizing. ‘Brian belonged to Mr. Hoffa.

Since the union’s official founding in 1903, Dr. Witwer said in an email, “There have only been two national union elections that have seen an outside reformist candidate win the election as president.”

During the campaign, Mr. O’Brien, 49, railed against the contract that the union negotiated with UPS to allow the company to create a category of employees who work on weekends and lower wages among other perceived loopholes. But top out.

“If we’re negotiating discounted contracts and we’re negotiating lousy deals, why would any member, anyone, want to join the Teamsters union?” Mr O’Brien said in September at a candid forum in which he often tied his rival to Mr Hoffa.

Mr O’Brien has also criticized his predecessor’s approach to the Amazon, which many in the labor movement see as an existential threat. Although the union approved a proposal at its most recent convention, promising to “supply all necessary resources” to unionize Amazon employees and eventually create a division to oversee that event, Mr. O’Brien said the effort was too late to arrive.

“That plan should have been under our warehouse director 10 years ago,” he said in the interview, pointing to the warehouse division director position that his rival Mr. Vairama has held since 2012.

In an interview, Mr Hoffa said the union was broken and divided when he took office and that he was leaving it “financially sound and strong in every way”.

He said he is proud of the recent UPS contract, calling it the “richest contract ever” and pointing out that it allows many full-time drivers to make around $40 an hour.

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He said Mr O’Brien’s criticism of the union’s efforts at Amazon was unfair. “No one was doing this a decade ago,” said Mr. Hoffa. “It’s a lot more complicated than just going out and organizing 20 people at the grocery store. It’s a lot easier than it seems.”

Mr. O’Brien did not elaborate on his plans for Amazon’s event, saying he wanted to solicit more input from Teamsters’ locals, but suggested that they look at the company in cities and towns across the country. to bring political and economic pressure. , The union has participated in efforts to deny Amazon a tax exemption in Indiana and a delivery station in Colorado.

Mr. O’Brien, who once worked as a rigger to move heavy equipment to construction sites, was elected president of a large Boston local in 2006. Within a few years, he appeared in the founding wing of the Sangh.

In a 2013 incident that led to an unpaid 14-day suspension, Mr. O’Brien threatened members of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform group, who were taking on a colleague of his in Rhode Island. “They will never be our friends,” he said of the challengers. “They need to be punished.”

Mr O’Brien has apologized for the comments and points out that the reform advocate who led the challenge in Rhode Island, Matt Taiby, is now a supporter who ran the most recent election on his slate.

The break with Mr. Hoffa came in 2017. Earlier that year, the longtime Teamsters chairman appointed Mr. O’Brien to a position whose responsibilities included overseeing the union’s contract negotiations with UPS, where more than 300,000 Teamsters now work.

But the union freed Mr. O’Brien from his post several months later, when he sought to lure Hoffa’s critics into the bargaining team, including the head of a large Louisville local, which That the Teamsters had lost the Presidency to Mr. Despite Hoff being considered a long shot in the last election.

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“I got tremendous pushback,” Mr. O’Brien said in the interview. “I will not deviate from my goal of bringing the right people to the table.”

Mr Hoffa said he did not think it would be useful to have a Louisville leader on the team. “I didn’t want to get rid of Sean O’Brien,” he said. “Sean O’Brien was insistent.”

Two years later, Mr. O’Brien appeared at the Teamsters’ Conference for a Democratic Union and discussed his support for a number of initiatives long supported by the group, such as abolishing a rule that required a contract to be declined. It requires a two-thirds vote. Half the eligible members voted.

The union approved its 2018 UPS contract under the two-thirds rule, even though a majority of the members who cast the vote opposed it.

Mr Hoffa said their hands were tied by the rule, but it also served a purpose: “We are going to see how they will be able to ratify contracts without the two-thirds rule,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be challenging for him.”

Ken Puff, a longtime leader of the Teamsters for the Democratic Union, said Mr. O’Brien built credibility with the group by emphasizing these reforms at the Teamsters convention this year, where many of them were adopted, with two-thirds elimination was also included. Rule.

“TDU could never win on its own,” said Mr. Puff. “We’ve put them forward and creamed in the past, but the O’Brien team backed them up.” That team included Teamsters leader Fred Zuckerman of Louisville, Ky., who ran against Mr. Hoffa in 2016 and will now be the union’s No. 2 official, its secretary-treasurer.

Mr. Vairama, the Hoffa-backed candidate for president, also supported some reform measures, including the abolition of the two-thirds regime, and appeared to be trying to seize a reformist position several times during the campaign. Were were

He portrayed a vote for his slate as a vote to diversify the union; His candidate for secretary-treasurer, Ron Herrera, a vice president, is one of the few Hispanic officials to serve in the top ranks of the union. He also tried to implicate Mr. O’Brien in the union’s slow-moving approach towards Amazon. “Sean, you sat on the executive board, and during my last nine years of trying to offer an active program with Amazon, I haven’t seen you do anything,” Mr. Vairama said in an argument.

The two candidates agreed on a number of issues: that self-driving trucks represent a potential danger to the public and their members; The union must fight employers’ efforts to unfairly classify workers as independent contractors; And that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate should not be implemented by employers without first bargaining with unions.

But differences became apparent during the dispute over the UPS contract, in which Mr. Vairama accused Mr. O’Brien of “demonic” and his overall posture towards employers.

Mr Vairma warned Mr O’Brien was reckless, while Mr O’Brien criticized his opponent for being overly cowardly. “Steve, you’ve already admitted that in your 25-year career, you’ve only hit six times, so UPS knows you’re not going to strike,” he said.

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