What To Expect From The Changing Of The Teamsters Guard

by | Mar 3, 2022 | IBT

When James P. Hoffa retired as International President of the Teamsters Union after a quarter-century run, we predicted plenty of housekeeping to come. That’s exactly what’s happening while incoming president Sean O’Brien (the youngest person to ever hold the position) prepares to take office on March 22. It’s worth noting that O’Brien won the office through an election with a historically low turnout, and Teamsters membership numbers dropped in 2020 despite the U.S. electing a union-friendly president (who even plugged the PRO Act during this week’s State of the Union address).

O’Brien’s surely got an abundance of agenda items aimed at rejuvenating the deep-pocketed union. Although many plans probably remain close to the sleeve, here are a few out-of-the-gate developments:

  • In a particularly telling move, O’Brien campaigned on the reversal of a Teamsters policy that didn’t trigger strike pay and benefits until workers had been on the picket line for over a week. Those days are over, and strike pay now applies on day one. The change could allow the Teamsters to use strikes more widely and effectively as bargaining leverage against employers.
  • Clearly, part of O’Brien’s membership-growing plan is to organize workers at Amazon, and he’s made no secret of his plans to make the online-retailing giant his top priority, beginning at the warehouse level with developments to come.
  • O’Brien’s slew of appointments point toward his desire to overhaul strategy for freight and warehouse targets while emphasizing a rigorous training program for local officials. That goal includes hiring a few key full-timers, including a “Czar” devoted to grievances and a contract-campaign coordinator, all in a concerted effort to renew and enforce existing contracts.

As the Teamsters make adjustments in the United States, a north-of-the-border situation presents difficulties for the international union. Currently, the union represents at least 1.4 million truck drivers and logistics employees. This presents awkwardness when one considers that the “People’s Convoy” of truckers (who are protesting vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 rules) aim to shut down a solid chunk of U.S.-Canada trade.

At issue is how the Teamsters have publicly chastised these truckers as “a disruption” to the economy and a hindrance to working Americans. But within the ranks of the Teamsters, some members do support the convoy, which could leave O’Brien with a public relations mess, or at the very least, jeopardize some contract renewals down the line. This might signal a rockier road ahead for one of the largest unions in the world.

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