No name has been more closely associated with the Teamsters Union than Hoffa. But the 80-year-old son of the infamous “Jimmy” Hoffa declined to run for re-election after losing support among U.S. members in 2016, although he narrowly won with Canadian voters. James Hoffa may have opted out on paper, but Teamster Union reformers effectively made his situation untenable.
Sean O’Brien, widely considered a reformer and rival of the Hoffa brand, won in a 115,573 to 57,983 landslide over Steve Vairma. The Teamsters General President-elect reportedly served as the head of Local 25 since 2005. His 5-year term begins in March 2022 as James Hoffa steps aside. But what is particularly telling of the shift in union power is that Hoffa endorsed Vairma as his successor. The rank-and-file overwhelmingly rejected a path that kept members on the same trajectory.
The Teamsters Union represents more than 1.4 million truckers, warehouse workers, and others across the U.S. and Canada. The largest union shop is currently UPS, with thousands of men and women employed by the outfit. In 2018, Hoffa fell short of expectations when negotiating a 5-year labor deal for UPS workers. Upwards of 54 percent of members refused to ratify the agreement. Hoffa snubbed the majority by employing a union rule that requires two-thirds of eligible Teamsters to participate in the UPS vote.
“We’re going to make UPS an example. Striking is a last resort, but if a company is not negotiating in good faith, we’re going to get what our members deserve,” O’Brien reportedly said. “Our members are thirsty for change in leadership, and they’re disappointed in the last contract. Everyone wants to get what was coming to them.”
That level of disfavor may have led to Hoffa’s decision to forgo another campaign. O’Brien plans to take proactive measures to grow membership by unionizing Amazon.
“Amazon is going to be our most formidable opponent, not just in the parcel delivery business, but in every portion of transportation, planes, trains, and automobiles,” O’Brien reportedly said. “Luckily we’ve got a secretary of labor who comes out of Boston who we know very well, who I’ve been in dialogue with.”
A recent Gallup poll indicates that labor unions are currently enjoying their highest approval levels since the late 1960s. Public support bodes well for the incoming Teamsters boss.
“Between 1936 and 1967, approval averaged 68 percent and included record-high 75 percent approval ratings in 1953 and 1957. Then, from 1972 through 2016, support eased, with few readings over 60 percent,” according to the Gallup poll findings. “This included the 48 percent all-time low recorded in 2009, the only time approval was below the majority level. Since 2016, approval has steadily increased and is now 20 percentage points above the historical low.”
Bringing a reformer headwind backed by positive public sentiment, O’Brien may be positioned to secure the first union shop at Amazon. To date, no union in America has succeeded.