Sean O’Brien: A Look At The Self-Proclaimed ‘Militant’ Teamsters Leader

by | Jun 1, 2023 | Bargaining/Negotiations, IBT, Strikes

In March 2022, the Hoffa era ended for the Teamsters with the entrance of International President Sean O’Brien. Like UAW’s Shawn Fain, he is a claimed reformer, but there’s an even more telling label that O’Brien, a fourth-generation Teamster, affixes to himself at every opportunity: “militant.”

That word, presumably, means to appease the rank-and-file, for the Teamsters fear further membership losses after falling from 1.4 million in 2000 to 1 million in 2021. That loss in dues already led to substantial benefits cuts for pensions, which portends a vicious cycle that isn’t good news for recruitment.

Nearly two decades ago, O’Brien reportedly increased Local 25’s membership by over 30 percent while president, despite a somewhat checkered tenure for that local. Clearly, he’s hustling to replicate those gains.

You may have also noticed that O’Brien is brash and outspoken, which recently led to these dubious gems:

  • Clashing with Sen. Markwayne Mullin, who told O’Brien to “shut your mouth” during a recent Senate hearing. Mullin, who owns a plumbing company, described experiencing Teamsters harassment and noted O’Brien’s nearly $200,000 salary with “tough guy” accusations flying in response.
  • Vowing to “fight like hell” during negotiations with TForce Freight and ABF Freight ahead of summer expiration dates. ABF truckers are already poised to strike.
  • Boasting that he’s “not afraid” to strike 340,000 employees and promising to “pulverize” UPS during ongoing contract renewal negotiations while pointing towards his $350 million strike fund.
  • Resolving to “fight every single day” to “organize Amazon.” Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman added that the Teamsters would “kick the sh*t out of” Amazon.

On that last note, O’Brien craves access to Amazon’s 550,000 U.S. warehouse workers. Heck, the Teamsters allegedly took credit for a false victory in which they claimed to unionize Amazon drivers from a third-party delivery firm. Amazon maintains that it already chose to terminate the company’s contract.

O’Brien’s First Priority: High-stakes UPS negotiations are underway amid O’Brien’s threat for an immediate strike, which could crush supply chains if the Teamsters and union don’t reach a deal before the current July 31 expiration date.

The last UPS strike (1997) saw 185,000 Teamsters walk out for 15 days, costing at least $850 million. In 2023, consumers are even more reliant on the company, from dog food to toilet paper to furniture deliveries, amounting to a daily haul of 6% of the U.S. GDP. These current UPS negotiations involve 340,000+ workers.

The Teamsters’ core UPS demands include higher overall pay, disbanding the two-tier pay system, moving more part-timers to full-time, and a focus on heat safety. Teamsters claimed early success in regional supplemental negotiations and moved on with national talks despite pledging to hold off until supplemental deals were forged.

Looking towards the future: O’Brien has made multiple key appointments. These include Kaitlyn Long to a trucking industry task force to influence federal policy; Bob Fisher as Airline Division Deputy Director to influence Delta negotiations and to further organize aviation; and Chief Tinseltown Teamster Lindsay Dougherty, who has a Jimmy Hoffa tattoo and joined with O’Brien to express the solidarity with WGA striking writers.

O’Brien is a fourth-generation Teamster, and if there’s one common thread through his recent actions, that would be his proclaimed eagerness to strike. Stay tuned to see whether the Teamsters throw good-faith bargaining out the window and head to the picket lines.

Late breaking news: O’Brien is not pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Glacier Northwest v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174. The court determined that unions can be sued for the intentional destruction of company property during a strike. In response, O’Brien swiftly labeled the court as “political hacks” who “should be ashamed of themselves.” He added that this does not deter any Teamsters plans to strike “any employer, when necessary.”

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