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O’Brien, Zuckerman announce run for leadership of the Teamsters

By Dave Schneider

Both leaders will run on the Teamsters United reform ticket

Sean O’Brien announcing his candidacy for General President of the IBT.

Jacksonville, FL – Standing in front of more than 100 Teamsters gathered in a Boston, Massachusetts park, May 29, two Teamster leaders announced plans to run together for the leadership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) in 2021.

Sean O’Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25 out of Boston, announced he will join the Teamsters United movement as candidate for general president. Fred Zuckerman, president of Teamsters Local 89 out of Louisville, Kentucky, will run with O’Brien for general secretary-treasurer.

“Fred and I started this journey together a year ago, when we decided it was best to try and unify our membership,” said O’Brien, speaking before the crowd. “We are 1.4 million strong. 1.4 million strong. There’s no reason we shouldn’t exercise our strength to make sure our members are taken care of, because it’s not a top-down organization.”

Announcing the joint ticket, O’Brien said he decided to join the Teamsters United movement to bring “together Teamster officers and members to stand up to employers and save our union.”

The Teamsters United slate will challenge the current leadership of the IBT under Jim Hoffa Jr., who has presided over the union for nearly two decades. Ken Hall, the current secretary-treasurer of the IBT who won re-election last year on Hoffa’s slate, has announced his own candidacy.

“He [Hoffa] wants to be friends with corporate America,” said O’Brien in his announcement speech. “He doesn’t understand who put him there – that is you, the members. And we’re never going to lose sight of that fact.”

The Teamsters United platform: Fight employers, resist concessions, revive the strike

The 2016 Teamsters international election brought together fighters, leaders and activists from across the union committed to challenging the current IBT leadership under Jim Hoffa Jr. Out of this effort came the Teamsters United movement, which put forward a militant platform around fighting employers for better contracts, resisting concessions, reviving the strike weapon, organizing the unorganized in core Teamster industries, and more.

Zuckerman ran as the Teamsters United candidate for general president in 2016, coming within 6024 votes of defeating current IBT president Jim Hoffa Jr. The Teamsters United slate won the vote total in the U.S. and among the nearly 240,000 UPS Teamsters, 70% of whom voted for Zuckerman. In the Central and Southern Regions, Teamsters United defeated Hoffa and elected six of its candidates as international vice presidents.

“We supported Fred Zuckerman in 2016 because he ran on the Teamsters United platform of fighting for better contracts, opposing concessions, reviving the strike weapon, organizing in core industries and protecting our pensions,” said Dustin Ponder, a UPS shop steward in Teamsters Local 512 out of Jacksonville, Florida. “That platform is key to making a stronger union and winning a better life for our members. I hope O’Brien and Zuckerman take up the same platform in 2021.”

Ponder was part of the Teamsters United campaign in the Southern Region, which defeated the Hoffa-Hall ticket handily in 2016. Teamsters United won the south by a vote of 10,789 to 8227 in 2016, electing John Palmer and Kimberley Schultz as the new Southern Region Vice Presidents – a sharp reversal from the previous election, when Hoffa easily won against a divided opposition slate.

Since that time, Teamsters United has continued on-the-ground organizing around the country to win better contracts and fight back against contract concessions. They are currently pushing for a strong ‘yes’ vote for strike authorization among UPS and UPS Freight Teamsters.

The main event: Fighting for a better contract at UPS

“The main fight right now is the battle for better contracts at UPS and UPS Freight,” said Gabriella Killpack, a UPS package car driver in Teamsters Local 222 out of Salt Lake City, Utah who campaigned heavily for Teamsters United in 2016.

Killpack refers to the ongoing contract negotiations between the Teamsters, UPS and UPS Freight, which began earlier this year. The union raised a set of contract proposals brought forward by members to address the problems they face on the job. These included an end to forced overtime for package car drivers, monetary penalties for harassment, protections from automation and driverless vehicles, and higher wages for part-timers, among many others.

Since that time, Teamster lead negotiator Denis Taylor has reportedly backed off most of the union’s major proposals and embraced many of the concessions demanded by UPS. After purging half of the negotiating committee opposed to concessions, Taylor called a strike authorization vote for UPS and UPS Freight Teamsters, which began on May 16 and will continue through June 3. The union will announce the results on June 5, a little under two months before both collective bargaining agreements are set to expire.

Speaking to the news, Killpack said, “This announcement by two important Teamster leaders comes at a time when our members are mad as hell and ready to fight the company, up to and including a strike if necessary. O’Brien and Zuckerman have a real opportunity to help lead the fight for an end to forced overtime; $15 per hour starting wages and $5 per hour bump raises for part-timers, monetary penalties for harassment, and protecting our job standards at UPS. That’s what Teamsters want to see right now from our leaders.”

O’Brien and Zuckerman’s history

O’Brien made national news in September 2017 when Hoffa removed him as the package division director in charge of negotiating the UPS contract. While he ran on Hoffa’s slate in the 2016 election, O’Brien reached out to Zuckerman and other Teamsters United leaders after the campaign and pushed for their inclusion on the UPS negotiating team.

“Hoffa refused,” said O’Brien. “When I tried to hold him to his word about unifying the union, I was fired. That’s Hoffa’s way of dealing with differing opinions. You can’t build a strong union that way.”

O’Brien’s removal as package division director puts him in good company with another Teamsters United leader. In 2012, Hoffa removed Zuckerman as carhaul director for fighting against contract concessions and challenging his slate in the 2011 international election.

“I believe Hoffa removed O’Brien because of his aggressive stance with the company,” said Zuckerman in a statement last year. “I have seen him be aggressive with the company, deadlock grievances to arbitration that would normally be lost, meet with the members assuring them that he would deliver a good contract and suggest a possible strike against UPS if the contract was not satisfactory. This was not talk – he demonstrated these things by his actions.”

Teamsters react to the news

The news came as a surprise to Teamsters activists across the country, many of whom are working to turn out a strong ‘yes’ vote in the UPS and UPS Freight strike authorization poll currently underway. Members and activists flocked to social media, like the popular ‘Vote NO on the UPS Contract’ Facebook group, and discussed the announcement – and what it means moving forward.

“We want to support leaders who are willing to fight employers and not take concessions from corporate America,” said Jared Hamil, a UPS cover driver out of Teamsters Local 396 in Los Angeles, who is active in the Teamsters United movement. “That’s the problem with Hoffa’s leadership – there’s a rat line between the corruption at the top of the IBT and the sellout contracts that Teamsters get year after year.”

Corey Uhl, a UPS combo worker out of Teamsters Local 804 in New York, agreed, adding, “Teamsters United is a movement built by members who want to make our union fight – not sell us out to employers, like we’ve seen from Hoffa. We welcome leaders committed to the same platform.”

Moving forward: Militant platform, united action

With the next international election more than three years away, Teamsters United has more immediate fights on its plate, like the UPS and UPS Freight contracts.

But continuing to build the Teamsters United coalition for the 2021 election remains crucial.

Recent Teamster history shows the importance of united action from union fighters and activists. In 2011, the opposition movement to Hoffa divided into two separate slates with different platforms. Hoffa easily defeated both and won re-election, allowing him and Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall to push deep concessions like the UPS contract of 2013.

“The Teamsters United movement succeeded in 2016 because it brought together fighters around a militant platform,” said Bob Kolstad, a shop steward in the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office out of Teamsters Local 320 in Minneapolis. “As we campaigned across the country for Fred, we saw how the Teamsters United platform resonated with members who are tired of seeing our jobs and our lives get worse. We stood united, even with Teamsters we disagreed with, to make historic change. We’ll need to do that again to beat Hoffa in 2021, and we need that same militant Teamsters United platform to get it done.”

Dave Schneider is a UPS Teamster shop steward out of Jacksonville, FL. Richard Blake provided research for the article.

Fred Zuckerman speaking to a crowd of Boston Teamsters.

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