Teamsters vote for Hoffa critic Sean O'Brien as president

Sean O’Brien was a rising star of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 2017 when longtime union president James P. Hoffa effect...

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

But the move appears to have put Mr. O’Brien, a fourth-generation Teamster and Boston local leader, on track to succeed Mr. Hoffa as union president and one of the union leaders. the most powerful in the country.

A Teamsters vice president who urged a more assertive stance towards employers like United Parcel Service – as well as an aggressive campaign to organize workers at Amazon – Mr. O’Brien said declared victory in his attempt to lead the union of nearly 1.4 million members.

According to a count published Thursday evening on an election supervisor’s website, he won about two-thirds of the votes cast in a race against Hoffa-backed candidate Steve Vairma, another vice president. He will assume the presidency in March.

The result appears to reflect the frustration over the most recent UPS contract and growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Hoffa, who has led the union for more than two decades, and his father did so from 1957 to 1971. Young Mr. Hoffa did not seek another five-year term.

In an interview, Mr. O’Brien said the success of Amazon’s workers’ organization – a stated goal of the Teamsters – would require the union to show the fruits of its efforts elsewhere.

“We have to negotiate the strongest contracts possible so that we can present it to the Amazon workers and point it out and say that is the benefit you get from being in a union,” he said. .

David Witwer, an expert on the Teamsters at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, said it was very rare for the Teamsters to elect a president who was not an incumbent or supported by the incumbent and who was very critical of his predecessor, as Mr. O – Brien was of 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 reform candidate win the presidential election.”

During the campaign, Mr. O’Brien, 49, spoke out against the contract the union negotiated with UPS to allow the company to create a class of employees who work weekends and whose wages is lower, among other perceived flaws.

“If we negotiate concession contracts and negotiate substandard deals, why would a member, why would anyone want to join the Teamsters Union?” Mr. O’Brien said during a candidates forum in September when he frequently linked his opponent to Mr. Hoffa.

Mr O’Brien also criticized his predecessor’s approach to Amazon, which many members of the labor movement see as an existential threat. Although the union approved a resolution at his recent agreement pledging to “provide all necessary resources” to organize Amazon workers and possibly create a division overseeing the organization, O’Brien said efforts were too late.

“This plan should have been in place under our warehouse manager 10 years ago,” he said in the interview, alluding to the warehouse division manager position that his opponent, Mr. Vairma , held since 2012.

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

He said he was proud of the recent UPS contract, calling it “the richest contract ever negotiated” and noting that it allows many full-time drivers to earn nearly $ 40 an hour.

He said Mr. O’Brien’s criticism of the union’s efforts on Amazon was unfair. “No one was doing it ten years ago,” Hoffa said. “It’s more complex than just going out and organizing 20 people in a grocery store. It seems to be so simple.

Mr O’Brien did not detail his own plans to organize Amazon, saying he wanted to solicit more contributions from the inhabitants of the Teamsters, but suggested they would include putting political and economic pressure on the company. in towns and cities across the country. . The union has participated in the efforts deny Amazon a tax abatement in Indiana and deny a delivery station in Colorado.

Mr. O’Brien, who once worked as a rigger, hauling heavy equipment to construction sites, was elected president of a large Boston local in 2006. Within a few years he seemed to be well established in the establishment wing of the union.

In an incident in 2013 that led to a 14-day unpaid suspension, Mr O’Brien threatened members of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform group, which was clashing with one of its allies in Rhode Island . “They will never be our friends,” he said. said challengers. “They must be punished.”

Mr O’Brien apologized for the comments and pointed out that the reform advocate who led the challenge in Rhode Island, Matt Taibi, is now a supporter who ran on his list in the recent election .

The breakup with Mr. Hoffa came in 2017. Earlier this year, the longtime President of the Teamsters appointed Mr. O’Brien is in a position whose responsibilities included overseeing the union’s contract negotiation with UPS, where over 300,000 Teamsters are now working.

But the union relieved Mr. O’Brien from his post several months later, after he sought to include critics of Mr. Hoffa in the bargaining team, including the leader of a large Louisville local. who narrowly lost the Teamsters presidency to Mr. Hoffa in the previous election, though he was seen as a long shot.

“I had a huge setback,” Mr. O’Brien said in the interview. “I wouldn’t stray from my goal of having the right people at the table. “

Mr Hoffa said he didn’t think it would be productive to have the Louisville leader on the team. “I didn’t want to get rid of Sean O’Brien,” he said. “Sean O’Brien insisted.

Two years later, Mr O’Brien appeared at the Teamsters for a Democratic Union convention and discussed his support for many initiatives long backed by the group, such as ending a rule that required a vote from both third party to reject a contract when less than half of the eligible members have voted.

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

Mr Hoffa said the rule tied his hands but also served a purpose: “We’re going to see how they’re going to be able to ratify contracts without the two-thirds rule,” he said. “It will certainly be a challenge for him.”

Ken Paff, a longtime Teamsters leader for a democratic union, said Mr O’Brien had bolstered his credibility with the group by pushing for these reforms at this year’s Teamsters convention, where many between them were adopted, including the abolition of two-thirds reign.

“TDU could never have won on his own,” Paff said. “We’ve featured them in the past and been creamy, but the O’Brien team backed them up.” That team included Fred Zuckerman, the leader of the Louisville, Ky., Teamsters, who ran against Mr. Hoffa in 2016 and will now be the union’s No.2, its secretary-treasurer.

Mr Vairma, the Hoffa-backed presidential candidate, also backed some of the reform measures, including ending the two-thirds rule, and appeared to try to grab the reform mantle himself at times during the countryside.

He portrayed a vote for his slate as a vote to diversify the union; its candidate for secretary-treasurer, Ron Herrera, vice-president, is one of the few Hispanic officials to have held the top positions in the union. He also attempted to involve Mr. O’Brien in the union’s slow approach to Amazon. “Sean, you’ve been on the board, and I haven’t seen you do anything in your last nine years trying to project a proactive agenda with Amazon,” Vairma said during a debate.

The two candidates agreed on several points: that autonomous trucks represent a potential danger for the public and their members; that the union should fight employers’ efforts to improperly classify workers as independent contractors; and that Covid-19 vaccination mandates should not be imposed by employers without first negotiating with unions.

But the differences became apparent in the sparring on the UPS contract, which Mr. Vairma accused Mr. O’Brien of “demonizing”, and in their overall attitude towards employers.

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

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Newsrust - US Top News: Teamsters vote for Hoffa critic Sean O'Brien as president
Teamsters vote for Hoffa critic Sean O'Brien as president
Newsrust - US Top News
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