With Reformers Victorious, It’s a New Day for the Teamsters

The rank-and-file reform slate Teamsters United has secured victory in the union’s internal election. Its agenda is modest: bargain hard against UPS, organize Amazon, push the PRO Act, and revitalize the labor movement.

The Teamsters for a Democratic Union slate, headed by Sean O'Brien and Fred Zuckerman, have been elected to lead the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. (Photo: Teamsters for a Democratic Union)

The Teamsters United reform slate secured victory this morning in an election for new leadership in one of the nation’s largest unions. With 1.4 million members, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) election results have implications not just for the massive upcoming United Parcel Service (UPS) contract, but for organizing Amazon and pushing labor-friendly legislation like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

The election marks the first time that a coalition backed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a rank-and-file reform caucus, will head the union since former IBT president Ron Carey was removed from office on false corruption charges in 1997.

Incoming president Sean O’Brien and general secretary-treasurer Fred Zuckerman will be heading into negotiations for a new UPS contract — the largest private collective bargaining agreement in the United States — when they take office in March.

“This has been a long time coming,” says Anthony Rosario, a UPS returns clerk and shop steward with Local 804 in New York. Rosario had been working for the company for three years when Carey led a fifteen-day strike against UPS that saw 185,000 workers withhold their labor and bring the world’s largest package delivery company to a standstill. Under Carey’s leadership, the union saw wage increases and greater job security.

Ratification of the last UPS contract was pushed through despite the majority of the union’s members voting it down. “That was the last straw for a lot of people,” Rosario says.

The Teamsters United slate won 67 percent of the vote against their incumbent-backed opponents. At Local 804, 96 percent of members voted in favor of the Teamsters United slate.

“It sends a clear message to these big companies that people are really tired of the last twenty years of concessionary contracts and givebacks,” says Vinnie Perrone, a trustee candidate on the reform slate and president of Local 804, Carey’s home local. Between 1991 and 1997, Carey served as the first member-elected IBT president and was known as a reformer who fought mob corruption and concessionary contracts.

After twenty-three years with President James P. Hoffa at the helm, reformers say many union members have lost faith in leadership. The new administration is now tasked with leading a campaign they hope will activate members at the grassroots level in order to accomplish their organizing goals within UPS, Amazon, and Congress.

“You chose a team dedicated to rebuilding the Teamsters as a militant, fighting union from bottom to top,” incoming president Sean O’Brien said in a statement on the campaign website.

New leadership will be leading a campaign to take on Amazon, which represents an existential threat to unionized logistics industry workers. With nearly 1.5 million employees, the company is also the nation’s second-largest employer. Unionizing Amazon workers, which has so far proven difficult, would have huge ramifications within and beyond the labor movement.

A successful union drive at Amazon holds the potential to improve wages and working conditions across the company, rein in its corporate power, and better position the entire working class for broader economic gains.

Rosario, the Local 804 shop steward, says that under Hoffa, the international union was taking “precautionary steps” against Amazon. “With new leadership, I feel those precautions are out the window,” he says. “We’re going to start taking giant leaps.”

In furtherance of building a strong labor movement, the IBT is now well-positioned to throw its support behind the PRO Act, which would strengthen workers’ rights to join a union, ban right-to-work laws, permit secondary strikes, and stiffen financial penalties against companies in violation of labor law.

“We’re essential,” Rosario says. “In the pandemic, we’ve been out there making sure people have all their necessities. You’ve got people that work in warehouses, grocery stores, freight, UPS package delivery. If we withhold that even just a little bit, there’s so much power in that.”