Teamsters Vote for Sean O'Brien, a Hoffa Critic, as President – The New York Instances

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Sean O’Brien scored a decisive victory amongst union members after criticizing the present management as too timid in UPS talks and Amazon organizing.
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Sean O’Brien was a rising star within the Worldwide Brotherhood of Teamsters in 2017 when the union’s longtime president, James P. Hoffa, successfully forged him apart.
However that transfer seems to have set Mr. O’Brien, a fourth-generation Teamster and head of a Boston native, on a course to succeed Mr. Hoffa because the union’s president and probably the most highly effective labor leaders within the nation.
A Teamsters vp who urged a extra assertive stand towards employers just like the United Parcel Service — in addition to an aggressive drive to prepare staff at Amazon — Mr. O’Brien has declared victory in his bid to guide the practically 1.4 million-member union.
In line with a tally reported late Thursday on an election supervisor’s web site, he received about two-thirds of the votes forged in a race in opposition to the Hoffa-endorsed candidate, Steve Vairma, one other vp. He’ll assume the presidency in March.
The outcome seems to mirror frustration over the latest UPS contract and rising dissatisfaction with Mr. Hoffa, who has headed the union for greater than twenty years and whose father did from 1957 to 1971. The youthful Mr. Hoffa didn’t search one other five-year time period.
In an interview, Mr. O’Brien stated success in organizing Amazon staff — a said purpose of the Teamsters — would require the union to point out the fruits of its efforts elsewhere.
“We’ve obtained to barter the strongest contracts attainable in order that we are able to take it to staff at Amazon and level to it and say that is the profit you get of being in a union,” he stated.
David Witwer, an skilled on the Teamsters at Pennsylvania State College at Harrisburg, stated it was very uncommon for the Teamsters to elect a president who was not an incumbent or backed by the incumbent and who was sharply crucial of his predecessor, as Mr. O’Brien was of Mr. Hoffa.
Because the union’s official founding in 1903, Dr. Witwer stated in an e mail, “there have been solely two nationwide union elections which have seen an out of doors reformer candidate win election as president.”
Throughout the marketing campaign, Mr. O’Brien, 49, railed in opposition to the contract that the union negotiated with UPS for permitting the corporate to create a class of workers who work on weekends and prime out at a decrease wage, amongst different perceived flaws.
“If we’re negotiating concessionary contracts and we’re negotiating substandard agreements, why would any member, why would any individual need to be a part of the Teamsters union?” Mr. O’Brien stated at a candidate discussion board in September during which he steadily tied his opponent to Mr. Hoffa.
Mr. O’Brien has additionally criticized his predecessor’s strategy to Amazon, which many within the labor motion regard as an existential menace. Though the union permitted a decision at its latest conference pledging to “provide all assets vital” to unionize Amazon staff and ultimately create a division overseeing that organizing, Mr. O’Brien stated the efforts have been too late in coming.
“That plan ought to have been in place underneath our warehouse director 10 years in the past,” he stated within the interview, alluding to the place of warehouse division director that his opponent, Mr. Vairma, has held since 2012.
In an interview, Mr. Hoffa stated that the union was broke and divided when he took over and that he was leaving it “financially sturdy and powerful in each which manner.”
He stated he was happy with the latest UPS contract, calling it “the richest contract ever negotiated” and stating that it permits many full-time drivers to make practically $40 an hour.
He stated Mr. O’Brien’s critique of the union’s efforts on Amazon was unfair. “Nobody was doing it a decade in the past,” Mr. Hoffa stated. “It’s extra advanced than simply going out and organizing 20 individuals at a grocery retailer. He sounds prefer it’s so easy.”
Mr. O’Brien didn’t elaborate on his personal plans for organizing Amazon, saying he needed to solicit extra enter from Teamsters locals, however instructed that they would come with bringing political and financial stress to bear on the corporate in cities and cities across the nation. The union has taken half in efforts to disclaim Amazon a tax abatement in Indiana and to reject a supply station in Colorado.
Mr. O’Brien, who as soon as labored as a rigger, transporting heavy gear to development websites, was elected president of a giant Boston native in 2006. Inside a number of years, he seemed to be ensconced within the union’s institution wing.
In a 2013 incident that led to a 14-day unpaid suspension, Mr. O’Brien threatened members of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform group, who have been taking up an ally of his in Rhode Island. “They’ll by no means be our associates,” he stated of the challengers. “They have to be punished.”
Mr. O’Brien has apologized for the feedback and factors out that the reform advocate who led the problem in Rhode Island, Matt Taibi, is now a supporter who ran on his slate within the latest election.
The break with Mr. Hoffa got here in 2017. Early that 12 months, the longtime Teamsters president appointed Mr. O’Brien to a place whose obligations included overseeing the union’s contract negotiation with UPS, the place greater than 300,000 Teamsters now work.
A glance inside Amazon. An examination by The New York Instances into how the pandemic unfolded inside Amazon’s solely success middle in New York Metropolis, generally known as JFK8, discovered that the Covid disaster uncovered the ability and peril of Amazon’s employment system. Listed here are our main takeaways:
Worker churn is excessive. The corporate carried out a hiring surge in 2020, signing up 350,000 staff in three months providing a minimal wage of $15 an hour and good advantages. However even earlier than the pandemic, Amazon was shedding about 3 % of its hourly associates every week — which means its turnover was roughly 150 % a 12 months.
Buggy techniques induced terrible errors. Amazon’s incapacity and depart system was a supply of frustration and panic.  Staff who had utilized for leaves have been penalized for lacking work, triggering job-abandonment notices after which terminations.
Strict monitoring has created a tradition of concern. The corporate tracks staff’ each motion inside its warehouses. Workers who work too slowly, or are idle for too lengthy, threat being fired. The system was designed to determine impediments for staff. Although such firings are uncommon, some executives fear that the metrics are creating an anxious, damaging surroundings.
There’s rising concern over racial inequity. The retail large is basically powered by workers of coloration. In line with inner information from 2019, greater than 60 % of associates at JFK8 are Black or Latino. The information present Black associates on the warehouse have been virtually 50 % extra more likely to be fired than their white friends.
Learn extra: The Amazon That Clients Don’t See.
However the union relieved Mr. O’Brien of his place a number of months later, after he had sought to incorporate critics of Mr. Hoffa on the bargaining crew, together with the pinnacle of a giant Louisville native who had narrowly misplaced the Teamsters presidency to Mr. Hoffa within the earlier election regardless of being thought-about a protracted shot.
“I obtained great pushback,” Mr. O’Brien stated within the interview. “I wouldn’t step away from my purpose of getting the precise individuals on the desk.”
Mr. Hoffa stated he didn’t assume it might be productive to have the Louisville chief on the crew. “I didn’t need to eliminate Sean O’Brien,” he stated. “Sean O’Brien was insistent.”
Two years later, Mr. O’Brien appeared on the conference of Teamsters for a Democratic Union and mentioned his help for a lot of initiatives lengthy backed by the group, like ending a rule that required a two-thirds vote to reject a contract when fewer than half of eligible members forged ballots.
The union permitted its 2018 UPS contract underneath the two-thirds rule although it was opposed by a majority of the members who forged a vote.
Mr. Hoffa stated that his fingers have been tied by the rule however that it additionally served a goal: “We’re going to see how they’re going to have the ability to ratify contracts with out the two-thirds rule,” he stated. “It’s going to be definitely difficult to him.”
Ken Paff, a longtime chief of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, stated Mr. O’Brien constructed credibility with the group by pushing for these reforms on the Teamsters conference this 12 months, the place lots of them have been adopted, together with abolition of the two-thirds rule.
“T.D.U. might have by no means received on our personal,” Mr. Paff stated. “We’ve put them ahead prior to now and obtained creamed, however the O’Brien crew backed them.” That crew included Fred Zuckerman, the Teamsters chief from Louisville, Ky., who ran in opposition to Mr. Hoffa in 2016 and can now be the union’s No. 2 official, its secretary-treasurer.
Mr. Vairma, the Hoffa-backed candidate for president, supported among the reform measures as nicely, together with ending the two-thirds rule, and appeared to attempt to seize the reformist mantle himself at occasions throughout the marketing campaign.
He portrayed a vote for his slate as a vote to diversify the union; his candidate for secretary-treasurer, Ron Herrera, a vp, is likely one of the few Hispanic officers to have served within the union’s prime ranks. He additionally tried to implicate Mr. O’Brien within the union’s slow-footed strategy to Amazon. “Sean, you sat on the chief board, and I didn’t see you doing something throughout your previous 9 years of making an attempt to undertaking a proactive program with Amazon,” Mr. Vairma stated at one debate.
The 2 candidates agreed on a number of points: that self-driving vehicles characterize a possible hazard to the general public and their members; that the union should struggle employers’ efforts to improperly classify staff as impartial contractors; and that Covid-19 vaccine mandates shouldn’t be imposed by employers with out first bargaining with unions.
However the variations turned obvious throughout sparring on the UPS contract, which Mr. Vairma accused Mr. O’Brien of “demonizing,” and of their total posture towards employers.
Mr. Vairma warned that Mr. O’Brien was reckless, whereas Mr. O’Brien criticized his opponent for being overly timid. “Steve, you already conceded that in your 25-year profession, you solely struck six occasions, so UPS is aware of you’re not going to strike,” he stated.


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