The Teamsters union said today it has named Sean O'Brien, an international vice president, to succeed Ken Hall as head of the union's small-package division, which represents more than 250,000 UPS Inc. employees in all-important contract talks.
O'Brien, who was recently re-elected to the international role, will oversee negotiations on behalf of about 240,000 workers at UPS and an additional 10,000 to 12,000 workers at UPS Freight, the Atlanta-based company's less-than-truckload (LTL) unit. Both contracts expire in June 2018. It is the largest collective-bargaining agreement in North America.
O'Brien currently serves in dual roles as president of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston, and president of the Teamsters' Joint Council 10, which covers all of New England. He was responsible for negotiating the regional and local supplemental agreements to the 2013 UPS contract that were not covered in the master compact. Three Teamsters locals, including the 9,300-member Local 89 in Louisville, the largest in the UPS' system, rejected their respective supplements, leading union leadership in April 2014 to take the extraordinary step of imposing the national contract on all members, including those in the locals. The master contract, which had already been ratified by most of the Teamster rank and file, sat in limbo for nearly a year until the leadership's action.
Fred Zuckerman, who heads Local 89, which represents workers at UPS' giant Worldport air hub, was narrowly defeated for the General-Presidency by James P. Hoffa in last November's elections. Hoffa won re-election for a fifth time.
Hall, who held the package division post since 2002 during which time he oversaw four UPS contract negotiations, will remain as the union's secretary-treasurer, a position in the union second only to Hoffa's. Hall became embroiled in legal controversy shortly before the election when Joseph Di Genova, an independent investigations officer (IIO), issued a report alleging that Hall obstructed corruption investigations by hiding and destroying thousands of union documents and emails. The Teamsters blasted the report as a politically motivated effort to interfere with the election.
Galen Munroe, a Teamsters spokesman, said the shift in leadership in the package division was unrelated to the legal issues that have swirled around Hall.
In a statement, O'Brien said he will meet with members nationwide to "hear their concerns" about working for UPS, and about the upcoming contract. "There are many challenges facing our members that work at UPS, one of the most profitable companies in America," he said. "Only by having a unified and involved membership can we achieve a contract that rewards our members for their role in making this company so successful."
The Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a dissident group that often clashes with union leadership, criticized the choice of O'Brien and laid the blame for the selection at Hoffa's feet. In picking O'Brien, Hoffa "has chosen one of the chief architects of the UPS deals that were roundly rejected by the members in 2013," TDU said.
The group added that "harassment is out of control at UPS and management is walking all over the members. UPSers can't afford more of the same, but that's just what O'Brien is promising." A UPS spokesman declined comment.
The two former leaders of the Teamsters' once-mighty freight division, Tyson Johnson and Gordon Sweeton, retired earlier this month after losing their respective election races in November. At its peak, shortly before trucking deregulation in 1980, the freight division consisted of about 400,000 members. In the decades to follow, decimated by trucking bankruptcies, consolidations, and the rise of non-union truckers, the freight division would shrink to between 30,000 and 75,000, depending on the source of the estimates.