O’Brien, a fourth-generation member of the union, has been a harsh critic of Hoffa and the contract negotiated with UPS by his administration in 2018. That contract was opposed by 54% of rank-and-file members of the union. But because less than two-thirds of eligible union members at the trucking giant participated in the ratification vote, Hoffa was able to put the contract into effect despite opposition.
“We’re going to make UPS an example,” he told CNN Business in an interview earlier this week. “Striking is a last resort, but if a company is not negotiating in good faith, we’re going to get what our members deserve.”
UPS is by far the largest trucking company in the country and the largest employer of Teamster members, with 327,000 on its payroll as of the start of this year. If there is a strike it would be the union’s first national strike since it struck UPS for 17 days in 1997. And it would be a much larger strike, since UPS employed only 180,000 Teamsters at that time.
The Teamsters once represented a large proportion of long-haul US truckers, but today most of that industry is nonunion, other than UPS. Still, with 1.4 million members the Teamsters are remain one of the nation’s largest and most powerful unions.
The election ended Monday and votes were being counted by an election monitor since then. The vote was not complete early Thursday evening, but O’Brien was ahead by nearly 58,000 votes with only 35,000 ballots left to count, according to totals from the election monitor.
O’Brien thanked his supporters in a statement posted on the campaign’s web site.
“You chose a team dedicated to rebuilding the Teamsters as a militant, fighting union from bottom to top. You are the reason we achieved victory. Thank you. Employers and politicians are on notice — the Teamsters union is back,” he said. “Fighting for workers is a full contact sport. We call on every Teamster to put your helmet on and buckle your chinstraps because the fight begins today.”
His father Jimmy Hoffa led the union from 1957 to 1967, negotiating a groundbreaking labor contract in 1964 with most of the nation’s long-haul trucking companies at that time. It was the height of the union’s powers, and it made Jimmy Hoffa among the most famous union leaders in the nation’s history.
But the union was also dogged at that time by allegations about ties to organized crime. The union eventually had to agree to operate under federal oversight because of those ties. That oversight did not end until 2020. Ending that process marked one of the significant accomplishments of James Hoffa’s tenure.
Jimmy Hoffa gave up the duties but not the title of Teamsters president when he went to federal prison in 1967. He was released early from prison with President Richard Nixon commuting his sentence in 1971 in return for giving up his office.