February 1, 2017

Leaders of Teamsters freight division announce their retirements, union says

Johnson, Sweeton, losers of elections in their regions, depart union as of Tuesday.

By Mark B. Solomon

The two top officials at the Teamsters union's freight division, Tyson Johnson and Gordon Sweeton, have retired, effective yesterday, the union confirmed.

In an internal memo dated yesterday, Teamster General President James P. Hoffa said both men retired from all Teamster positions as of January 31. Johnson was national freight director, and Sweeton the assistant national freight director. Johnson was international vice president in charge of the southern region, and Sweeton held the same position in the union's central region. Both were with the Teamsters for decades.

In the memo, Hoffa made no mention of the reasons behind their retirements. Replacements have not been named.

Both men were voted out of office during the November 2016 election that saw Hoffa re-elected for a fifth time. Johnson finished third in the balloting for his position, while Sweeton finished eighth, according to results from the union's election supervisor. As neither had local positions to return to, they departed the Teamsters, according to a union source.

In a statement today, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a dissident group that has bitterly clashed with leadership for years, said Johnson and Sweeton had resigned but not before doing severe damage to the freight division. Both men, in TDU's words, "oversaw the dismantling" of the National Master Freight Agreement, a landmark 1964 compact that would eventually bring 400,000 truck freight employees into the union fold, but that would be eviscerated over the years by motor carrier deregulation, a spate of trucker bankruptcies and consolidations, and the rise of non-union competition. The union said the division represents the interests of 75,000 Teamsters, though membership in the division is believed to be less than that.

TDU also accused both of "gutting" the pensions of union workers at less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier YRC Worldwide, Inc., whose severe financial struggles from 2009-2011 required workers to agree to significant wage and benefit concessions to save the company and their jobs.

Separately, the Teamsters have met with the Trump administration to discuss a possible ban on Mexican truckers entering U.S. commerce beyond a 25-mile commercial zone at the southern border. The provision, called for under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), can be reversed by the Trump administration because the operational standards of Mexican trucks do not meet those of the U.S., which is required under NAFTA, according to Kara Deniz, a union spokeswoman. The administration could also alter this provision during any renegotiations, she added.

Under NAFTA, the U.S. was to have phased out all access restrictions on Mexican truck operations by January 1, 2000, when the U.S. market would be open to qualified Mexican entrants. Through most of the decade, however, the U.S. government, lobbied hard by the Teamsters and the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) that represents owner-operators, blocked implementation of the provision, citing environmental and safety concerns.

In early 2009, Congress and the Obama administration ended funding for a two-year program that had allowed 100 Mexican trucking firms to operate in the United States beyond the commercial zone. In retaliation, Mexico immediately slapped $2.3 billion in penalty duties on 89 U.S. import products. The dispute dragged on for two years, costing U.S. exporters billions of dollars of lost sales before it was resolved in March 2011.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Executive Editor - News
Mark Solomon joined DC VELOCITY as senior editor in August 2008, and was promoted to his current position on January 1, 2015. He has spent more than 30 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. He graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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