July 24, 2023 (WASHINGTON) – The Central States Health and Welfare Fund agreed Sunday to extend health care benefits for workers at Yellow Corp. operating companies YRC Freight and Holland, under intense pressure from Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien and General Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman.
The extension of health care benefits for Teamsters and their families averts a strike at the freight companies, which could have begun on Monday after Yellow failed to make contractually obligated benefit payments of $50 million to the Central States on July 15.
Industry experts continue to speculate on why Sean O’Brien seems so determined to see Yellow sink on his watch. Given the “intense pressure” O’Brien placed on his Central States golf buddies on Sunday, Yellow is still doomed unless the company can show some hope of a deal with the IBT on consolidating parts of the cobbled-together Yellow network. For eight months now, O’Brien has refused to consider the company’s “One Yellow” plan, eliminating many network redundancies while directly impacting the job descriptions of just 3% of Yellow’s represented drivers. And to be clear, while Hoffa made hefty concessions on pay and benefits to Yellow for two decades, he only allowed the consolidation of Roadway in 2009 under duress. He was otherwise just as resistant as O’Brien to the full integration of other Yellow acquisitions. We’ll never know if full consolidation could have saved the troubled company, but it would undoubtedly have made it more competitive. (For a thoughtful examination of the Teamsters role in killing Yellow, see this piece in FreightWaves.)
For the past eight months, while current Yellow executives publicly scrambled to prevent the biggest bankruptcy in American trucking, O’Brien has not said or done much to reassure Yellow drivers that their livelihoods matter to their union. In a June 12 video, he said as much: “Sometimes a bad job isn’t worth it anymore.” (Worth it to whom, one might ask.) Even as he asserts “the members have spoken,” O’Brien wasn’t quoting Yellow drivers about the worth of their jobs; he was telling them what he had decided for them. (And for those new to the labor movement and still unfamiliar with how unions work… that’s how unions work.) Two weeks later, on his Twitter feed, O’Brien posted a headstone showing Yellow’s death in 2023, which must have been hilarious to those 22,000 Teamsters whose jobs will soon be buried with it. For his part, O’Brien has stated that from now on, any company that hires a Teamster driver is going to have to pay heartily for that privilege, or else.
The company has repeatedly called on the IBT to let drivers vote on the “One Yellow” plan, and the IBT has said no for good reason; historically, rank-and-file voting has been somewhat problematic for IBT leaders. And right now, the IBT needs a united front behind O’Brien and what matters most to him – ratification of the new UPS tentative agreement, flicking spitballs at Amazon, and the O’Brien Legacy. If message boards are any indication, Yellow drivers are split down the middle on whom to despise more – O’Brien or Yellow executives. However, they seem universally peeved about being left out of the “One Yellow” discussion and none too happy about losing their jobs.
IBT faithful are quick to say there are plenty of union truck driving jobs out there right now for these drivers, and with better pay and benefits than Yellow. However, industry experts clap back that the three unionized shops most likely to hire these drivers – ArcBest, TForce, and UPS – won’t be hiring that many drivers anytime soon and may soon slow their hiring indefinitely. And if there are so many great union driving opportunities out there, why did these 22,000 skilled, experienced drivers choose to keep driving for Yellow? Is it possible that some work rule concessions might be palatable to most of them to save a job they seem to value?
Most of these Yellow drivers will end up in non-union shops like Walmart where (gasp!) they won’t have “a voice,” “a seat at the table,” “a binding contract,” “respect,” or a fist-pumping, fast-cussing, corporate-busting, self-proclaimed SOB like Sean O’Brien intensely pressuring his cronies on their behalf. The good news is those union-free shops will likely pay Yellow drivers “union wages” anyway, unlike their prior Teamster job at Yellow, and they will be saving well over a thousand dollars annually in dues.
Yellow may find some path forward with O’Brien’s help. It’s more likely he’ll spend the next month basking in the glory of his “game-changing” UPS agreement while Yellow goes under. The Central States payment on Sunday happened as it did, so the loss of 22,000 Teamster jobs wouldn’t cloud the UPS announcement on Tuesday. Going into his showdown with UPS, O’Brien needed to look like he’d kill the hostages. He couldn’t appear to go soft on Yellow or, more importantly, show any compassion for Yellow drivers. Consider them collateral damage in O’Brien’s war on corporate America. Let’s see if he steps up for them now.