Metro Teamster #9

This is the online edition of the print newsletter we circulate at Metro.

Teamsters 695 Election: Ballots NEXT WEEK

Elections for our union’s officers are this fall. Ballot are being mailed Friday, 9/30 and will start arriving the first week of October. This is a critical election: our local’s officers choose and direct our Business Agents, decide on union policy, decide if and when to hold meetings, and set the tone of how our union acts.

This election is your chance as a Teamster member to choose: your vote is your voice. The choice is between status quo with Larry Wedan, Rick Roeth, and the current administration, OR a democratic union with REBUILD695.

Rebuild695 has put together these newsletters for the last three years, something that the union should have been doing. We ran for election in 2019 and got just under half the vote of the union’s 3800 members at 60+ worksites. We fought for COVID relief & bathrooms. We put together videos for the last two contracts. If that’s the stuff you think the union should be doing, vote REBUILD695.

Ballots will be counted Wednesday, 10/26/22. Your last day to mail your ballot and sure its counted is 10/21/22.

Open Enrollment on Health/Dental/Vision 9/26 -10/21

Open enrollment for insurance benefits started 9/26/22 and will go through Friday, 10/21/22. Flex Spending enrollment will be 10/31/2 to 11/18/22.

GHC is the lowest bidder in the plan again this year, so GHC is the free plan for Teamsters. Rates for the other plans are listed in the table below. (The contract says that the employer will pay 100% of the lowest bidder—employee pays the remainder if they select another plan, so if you want Quartz, Dean, or something else you have to pay the difference.

DENTAL RATES (monthly):

  • Employee Only: $36.60
  • Employee + Spouse: $83.73
  • Employee + Child(ren): $84.42
  • Family: $127.10

Mayor Giving Everyone $1,000 Jan 1

The Mayor announced last week that due to a budget surplus, she will be giving every City employee $1,000 at the start of 2023. (That is, if the council approves it…)

Its not a “retention bonus”, and its not “hazard pay”. They have extra money and they’re giving a one-time payment. As far as its been explained, there’s no stipulation on how long you had to have been here, whether you worked through COVID, how long you have to be here after you receive it.

Mayor is up for reelection in 2023. Coincidence?

LABOR BEAT: UW Nurses; Rail; UPS

UW Nurses
Nurses at UW hospital were set to strike September 13 to 16th for recognition of their union and to start bargaining. Nurses there were represented by the union SEIU before 2011 and the hospital stopped dealing with them. The hospital is weird because its not “public” or “private”, it’s a joint-authority so there’s not a clear place in the law.

UW nurses have been organizing for the past five years and decided they would strike to get the hospital to recognize them. At the last minute on 9/12/22, the hospital and union agreed to take the case to the WERC to see what they say. If the WERC gives them the thumbs up, they will have a union vote and bargain.

Rail unions have been in dispute with the rail employers conference for about three years now. Biden intervened to try and come to an agreement: rail workers get no paid sick days and are on call 24/7. The Biden agreement got them some excused unpaid days. Rail workers, including Teamsters, vote on that and may still strike if they reject the offer.

The largest Teamster employer has their contract up next year. The union has been talking about striking over part-time jobs that have been replacing full-time benefitted positions as the company reports record profits. UPS workers have been pushing for air conditioning in delivery vehicles & facilities after drivers died in this summer’s heatwave. 

The UPS local near us is Teamsters 344, with facilities in Middleton and East Madison.

Metro Briefs

Metro Retirees

Leo Vargas (shop)

Vacation Carryover

Vacation carryover requests must be submitted by the end of September. Unless there’s an agreement with the City, they’re sticking to one week carryover. Any updates on that would come from Rick / 695.

EPL Rules Changed in July

Mayor changed the rules for EPL so that you can no longer get it while seeking a diagnosis. You have to have evidence of a positive test, like a picture. (At-home tests are acceptable.)

Management updates

New Ops Supervisor: Will Henthorn (was a driver)

New Shop Manager: DeAndre Newson. Newson comes from Traffic Engineering where he was a manager for radio comms.

No flu shots at Metro this year.
If you want one, you have to go to a pharmacy or your doctor.

Election Schedule

Nominations meeting: Tuesday, 9/20/22 @ 7pm. At Teamsters 695, 1314 N Stoughton Ave, Madison WI.

Ballots go out: Friday, September 30th ballots are mailed out to all union members. Ballots are sent via USPS, so they should begin to arrive in mailboxes Monday or Tuesday, the first week of October.

Last day to mail ballots to be counted: Ballots should be mailed by Saturday 10/22/22 to ensure they are counted. The absolute latest to return a ballot would be Monday 10/24/22, though there’s a chance that your ballot will not arrive in time.

Ballots Counted: Wednesday, 10/26/22. Actual count of ballots will be at the union hall beginning in the morning.

Campaign flyer for 2022

We’ve put together a flyer that we’ll be handing out explaining the information about the election, a brief on 2019, and then what we’re about and five reasons why you should vote for us in this election.

The incumbent slate has already started its attacks on us before we’ve even nominated, trying to scare people saying all kinds of things. They’ll say whatever they’re going to say, but we want to put forward a vision for a strong union that engages the membership and fights for what we need.

Teamster 101

Originally printed at Teamster Rebel. Written By Ryan Haney, Teamsters 745 – Dallas, TX. Reposted here as a useful explanation of the Teamsters union; not an endorsement.

You’re fortunate to be a member of an organization with over one million fellow Teamsters across North America — our “core industries” are parcel (UPS, DHL), trucking (Yellow, ABF, TForce), carhaul, warehouse, waste management, and beverage, though many other Teamsters work in a variety of other industries. It’s because you are a union member that you have rights not afforded to the millions of non-union workers in the United States, such as due process and collective bargaining.

The basic structure of our union starts at the most fundamental level, the Local. Well-operated Locals have monthly membership meetings where they discuss important matters like organizing campaigns, representational issues, and contract negotiations. All of these matters directly affect your ability to provide for your family, and it’s important to attend these meetings to stay informed. In many contracts, you can be relieved of work duties (if you are scheduled during the meeting) to attend, with the permission of your shop steward.

Above the Local are the Joint Councils, which adjudicate matters affecting issues between Locals in those are Joint Councils. The highest body of the Teamster organization is the International Union, or the IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters). Current IBT leaders are General President Sean O’Brien and General Secretary Fred Zuckerman, who were elected by the membership in 2021 on a platform to re-vitalize the union and bring a more aggressive stance against the employers — so it’s more important now than ever to go from simply being a dues-paying member to a union activist, because leaders can’t do anything without the strong backing of the rank and file membership.

Our union has a proud history going back to 1903, though many public misperceptions still exist about the Teamsters.

Ever wonder why our union logo is represented by two horses? That’s because it started out as an organization of horse-and-buggy delivery Teamsters. As trucking developed as an alternative mode of transportation, Teamsters fought tooth and nail to organize in the trucking industry — one of the most important and bloodiest battles to organized trucking took place in 1934 in Minneapolis. Teamsters, led by a group of socialists who had a grand vision to organize every driver and dockworker in the city, led a series of strikes that shut down the city until they won their demands. They persevered through violent repression by the police and “deputized” agents of the employers.

Teamsters combat police and employer henchmen to protect their picket lines and rallies during the 1934 “Teamster Rebellion.”

Following the historic success in Minneapolis, these Teamsters essentially laid the groundwork for organizing trucking throughout the Midwest, eventually reaching all areas of the country. Combined with the leadership of up-and-comer former grocery worker James R. (“Jimmy”) Hoffa, union membership soared by hundreds of thousands over the next two decades. By the 1960s, the Teamsters were considered one of the most powerful unions in the country, capable of shutting down the entire shipping industry with a national strike, if it came to that.

Because of that potential power, the Federal Government took great interest in breaking the back of the Teamsters Union. They identified various connections with organizing crime — essentially a “deal with the devil” made under elements of the Hoffa leadership, dating back to when striking locals had to hire their own muscle to protect their picket lines and members from violent agents of the employers and police. Sadly, that deal with the devil only entrenched organized crime within the union, allowing them to use our considerable financial resources to finance mob investments in real estate, providing “no show” jobs to career criminals, and leading to a shift in focus from serving the membership to serving mafia syndicates. This problem only deepened after the murder of popular leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975, as his replacements in leadership only deepened their ties to criminals.

But the rank and file began to get organized to stand up to corrupt leadership and the criminal syndicates beginning in the late 1970s. Members formed independent caucuses like Teamsters for a Decent Contract to push from below for desperately needed changes. Eventually this group combined with other caucuses to become Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), which still exists to this day. Facing a renewed assault from the Federal Government in the 1980s and efforts to “trustee” (take over) the entire union, TDU advocated an alternative — why not let the members themselves vote on all convention delegates and top officers? They believed the members, not the government, should be responsible for cleaning up the union and they won. That is why members have the right to elect convention delegates and top officers of the IBT, overseen by independent observers to guarantee the integrity of the voting process.

Rank and file reformers risked their lives and jobs to stand up to corruption and eventually won the right of all members to vote in free and fair elections.

Today, corruption and scandals no longer permeate the Teamsters Union. In fact, it is one of the cleanest and most democratic unions in the country, even if people tend to only remember the drama of the 1950s through 1980s. That is something to be extremely proud of, and participation in our democratic process should be considered our sacred right and duty. And nobody wants you to neglect this process more than your boss.

Teamsters and all unions are facing an existential struggle in the 21st century.

But the enemy is not internal — the enemy is a parasitic class of billionaires who want nothing more than to destroy every union, turning workers in decent jobs with health care benefits and pensions into slaves to a “gig economy” app without any legal rights to form unions and collectively bargain. Even though the number of union members has been stagnant or dropping for the last two decades, oligarchs like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and other modern “Robber Barons” are still willing to devote their virtually unlimited financial resources to revoke every last union card in America.

The billionaires of the world, which IBT General President O’Brien accurately calls a “white collar crime syndicate,” aren’t doing this just to make even more money. For the billionaire class, it is all about power — the power to determine the conditions of every working person’s life on and off the job, and the power to totally undermine the few shreds of democracy that still exist in our country. They don’t want to just rule the workplace. They want to ensure their rulership over the world, and to preserve the capitalist system that guarantees massive profits at the expense of the working class.

How do we stop them? The billionaire class is very conscious of their position in the world and highly organized to impact both major political parties in the US. Unfortunately, the working class is more disorganized than it has been since the 1920s. Union density, the measure of union members within the entire workforce, is so low that we have few sources of effective leverage against the power of millionaire and billionaire employers. The workers of America also largely lack class consciousness, which is a sense of belonging and solidarity with all fellow wage-earners against our common enemy.

Union activists who understand what we are up against follow the old slogan, “Agitate, Educate, and Organize.” We agitate against every violation of our rights in the workplace, bringing as many co-workers as possible into that struggle. We constantly educate co-workers on contractual work rules, the importance of belonging to their union, and about broader political issues facing working people as a whole. We aggressively organize wherever we can to bring more and more workers into our union, as well as supporting the organizing efforts of other unions.

The single-most effective “nuclear option” unionists have is the strike, or the refusal to work until an adequate compromise is met with the company, improving our standard of living and, equally important, involving every single member in a common struggle that strengthens our union for the next fight. It’s possible that UPS workers, the largest Teamster bargaining unit, could be facing a strike in 2023 and it’s incumbent on every member to support our brothers and sisters in that fight.

Local 705 Chicago UPS Teamsters rally to prepare for contract negotiations and strike-readiness in August 2022.

Unfortunately, not all locals have a realistic understanding of what it will take to build a more powerful union.

TDU conducting a regional educational conference in 2022, open to all members.

If you happen to be in one of these sleepy locals with officers who seem to do little more than passively collect a salary, it will be up to rank and file members to organize themselves and take matters into their own hands. While our potential has improved greatly with changes in our IBT leadership, not every officer or business agent is on board with the more aggressive position advocated by leaders like Sean O’Brien.

Fortunately, TDU exists to provide excellent education and advice to workplace militants looking to turn a bad local into a fighting local. Any Teamster, whether or not you are an official member of the TDU caucus, can contact them for advice via phone or e-mail. TDU regularly organizes educational and strategic meetings across the country wherever a group of rank and filers are in need of support. You can also be regularly informed about the work of TDU by becoming a member — and even better, attending the upcoming 2022 TDU Convention in Chicago, October 28-30 where you’ll meet hundreds of other Teamster militants with a vast collective knowledge of how to build union power.

Metro Teamster #8

Big Management Expansion: More $$ At the Top

New Metro General Manager Justin Stuehrenberg is giving Metro a management restructure — bumping up General Supervisors to Managers and creating a set of super-managers above them in each department. The reasoning is that Metro is gonna expand and have multiple sites and BRT.

Til now, each department has had one Manager (Chris in Ops, Butler and now Erica in the Shop, Mick in Marketing, and Jennifer in Finance). The restructure means they’re promoting every General Supervisor (Phil & Jennifer in Ops; Fink in the Shop; Jessy in Marketing) to full managers, and then hiring someone above them.

What kind of money are we talking? Base pay for a General Sup is $87k. Managers get a base of $105k. (That’s a $20,000 raise!) The category managers (or whatever they will be called) will have to live in Madison, but will have a max pay of approximately $150k. A lot of the existing managers are pissed that they’d have to live in Madison to get the big bump.

Doing some quick math: at least four general sups got moved up to manager, which will cost $80,000. Add in four category managers for $150k each, that’s another $600k (not counting benefits).

Meanwhile, the number of mechanics at Metro has not been increased in at least 20 years, but there are many more buses. Inflation is at a record 9%, but no movement on hazard pay or retention bonuses.


Here’s a brief what you need to know.


Our union is called Teamsters, Local 695. A union is a workers’ organization: workers are union members, the members vote on representatives (stewards, officers) and approve or reject contracts that have been bargained. If you vote NO on a contract, you are saying you don’t think its acceptable or the bargain didn’t get all you think it could. The union our organization — it has problems, but they are our problems.

At Metro, people in the union are all the drivers, mechanics and shop workers, the customer service reps, finance clerks/techs, and paratransit coordinators. Outside Metro, the union represents mainly private sector employers at warehouses, food processing plants, concrete companies, manufacturing places, stuff like that.


The contract is an agreement between the union (representing us) and the employer (City of Madison) that spells out wages, working conditions, benefits, work rules, and so on. It’s a legally binding agreement. If the employer violates the agreement, we can file grievances (talk to your steward) – essentially a complaint that they broke their end of the deal.

Every contract is different and has its history about why things are the way they are. For us, there was a strike in the early 1980’s of bus drivers that the union won. Jayme J (who was part of the strike) said before he retired that the Mayor at the time conceded and said, “Give them whatever they want.” That victory is what established some of the best stuff in our contract: spread time, 40 hour guarantee, overtime language, etc.

Collective action is what makes the big leaps for contracts. Labor lawyer Bob Schwartz’s book, “No Contract, No Peace” explains it like contract time is war time where both sides try to make their advances, and the settled contract is a temporary peace.


The union has bargained raises for every represented worker (see the wage tables in the back of the contract). These are currently set for Jan 1. The rest of the City got a 0.5% raise, our raises are 2—2.5% each year (and we have maintained 100% paid healthcare).

When you read the contract, you have to read the entire section.

-Long-time practices and MOU’s are also part of the contract, even though they are not written in the book. You can grieve changes to past practice.


  • Deb B (driver)
  • David J (driver)

New people starting

  • Metro is desperate for drivers. Every place is trying to hire, but they’re especially hurting for bus drivers.

DRIVERS: There are three classes of new drivers right now; more than 20 people. Over the last year, only about half of new people have stuck it out.

Management Blotter

Shop: Fink promoted to manager
Ops: Jen Wiegert and Phil promoted to managers, same level as Chris
Planning: New planning manager, Sean Hedgpeth. Replaced Drew. Julian is gone as a planner.
Marketing: Jessy promoted to manager, same level as Mick. Jeremy is the new CSC supervisor

Teamster Updates

  • Still waiting for the WERC to issue a ruling about the City trying to remove Finance workers from our union. (Booooo!)
  • New Teamster General President (guy in charge of the entire union across the country): Sean O’Brien of the Teamsters United slate won against Steve Vairma, more than 2-to-1. O’Brien’s big thing is targeting UPS (workers there are Teamster) and talking about organizing Amazon into the union.
  • Teamster rail (BLET) contract goes to federal “cool-off”. Biden intervenes to prevent strike between railroaders and employers.

LABOR BEAT: Worker News from the US

  • Union workers at CUNA Mutual on Madion’s west side have been negotiating their contract this year. CUNA (finance & retirement corporation) made record profits but is trying to cut their health insurance and outsource their work. Their union, OPEIU 39, has been having pickets many Saturdays. HONK if you pass to show some love.
  • Workers at Starbucks have been filing for union elections across the country—more than 150 shops have won elections to be repp’d by Workers United (SEIU). In Madison, the Starbucks downtown just voted up the union there.



2022 is an election year – we plan to run

Elections in Local 695 are every three years for officers of the union. In 2019, Rebuild695 ran and had the first contested election in the local in 20 years. The most common thing we heard during the election was, “We get to vote for these guys?” People had no idea that there could be elections for the officers.

In 2019 we ran a full slate for the union’s executive board, and took 47% of the votes cast; Schultz Slate (guys who have been running the union) of course got 53% and kept all the positions. Last year in 2021, we ran in the elections for delegates to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters convention and the margin was only 16 votes. Now in 2022, its time for another election. We intend to run a slate again this year for the union’s officer positions.

How does this work?

  • SEPTEMBER – nominations are opened, and candidates announce themselves for a position.
  • OCTOBER – ballots go out in the mail to all members
  • NOVEMBER – returned ballots are counted
  • JANUARY – new officer term begins. Whoever wins, starts January 1st.

What are the positions?

There are seven (7) officers of the union, who together form the executive board of Teamsters Local 695. The executive board meets regularly to conduct union business, and reviews the actions of the principal officer and business agents. Three positions are full-time paid, doing work as business agents (Sec-Treas, President, Recording Secretary), the other four are for working Teamster members.

  • Secretary-Treasurer (#1 position) – This is the principal officer of the union, runs the union hall, makes decisions on union staff, manages the financials of the union, and ultimately sets the day-to-day policy of the union. Also serves as a full-time business agent for the union.
  • President – Runs the monthly membership meetings and Executive Board meetings. Full-time business agent for the union.
  • Recording Secretary – Takes minutes of the membership and Executive Board meetings. Full-time business agent.
  • Vice President – Acts as president when needed, casts a vote on the Executive Board. (Working Teamster)
  • Trustees (3) – Audits the financials of the union that the Secretary-Treasurer keeps to make sure that they’re correct. Casts a vote on the Executive Board. (Working Teamster)

Please contact us if you have any thoughts or questions, are interested in being part of this election, or want to set up a meeting with our slate:

Two labor boards for 695 workers to watch

Union workers in 695 should know about two labor boards that have an impact on our union and contracts. The first is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — the federal government’s labor agency. The NLRB only governs private sector workers, but it sets the general standard. NLRB policy affects the rights of stewards to enforce the contract, determining the work rules that are legal according to the National Labor Relations Act (the federal law that recognizes the right to form a union and collective action), and it mediates complaints between unions and employers.

Unions (and individual union workers) can file “unfair labor practice” complaints, alleging that the employer is violating labor law, which the board investigates. Stewards especially should sign up to get the NLRB’s briefs.

Wisconsin also has its own state labor board, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC). Public sector union rights are determined by state law. The WERC is the state’s labor agency that does similar things to the NLRB but for public employees. It also is frequently used in the private sector for arbitration — so private sector workers should know who’s there and the developments in the WERC.

What we learned from the IBT Election

I wrote a longer article about what happened in the big Teamster election last year (linked below). Its a lot of looking at the vote counts and explaining what they mean. The long and short of it is that from what happened and the list of people running, it looks more like the old Hoffa administration had a split in two, and O’Brien’s section linked up with Teamsters United.

Teamsters United in 2016 was a scrappy slate for the International Union’s offices – most local officers were against them. They only got 8% of the Teamster Convention delegates (delegates are typically officers and staff), but they got half the rank and file vote. With O’Brien leading Teamsters United, they suddenly had more than half of local officers pledged to them for the convention. That’s what happened in our union (Local 695).

Wayne Schultz, who ran the union as Secretary-Treasurer until he retired in 2021, had historically allied the union to Hoffa. Last election, Schultz and the local leadership supported the Hoffa-Hall ticket against Teamsters United. When Hoffa said he wouldn’t run again and O’Brien joined Teamsters United, Schultz and the local suddenly switched to Teamsters United in 2021. Nothing about their politics or vision for the union changed, they just went with one side of the old team versus the other.

In 2016, 695 members voted for Teamsters United over Hoffa-Hall: 268 to 207. Members went against the endorsements of the local leadership to say they wanted something different. At that time, a vote for Teamsters United was a vote to buck the leadership, both locally and at the IBT.

This election, the local vote dropped from 475 ballots cast to 328. O’Brien-Teamsters United got 212 votes to Vairma’s 116. So 150 fewer votes, which is a 30% drop. Seems like less enthusiasm when the lines are blurry.

Hoffa’s House Divided: The 2021 Teamster Election, Explained

Andy wrote this article on the IBT election for the publication In These Times. All Teamster members will get ballots in the mail beginning October 4th to vote — hopefully this helps inform your vote.

An election this November will decide who will lead the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the North American union of 1.4 million members representing workers in nearly every sector, including logistics, package delivery, construction, film and television, manufacturing, and transportation. For more than 20 years, the union has been run by James P. Hoffa, son of the notorious Jimmy Hoffa, the historic Teamster president with connections to organized crime. This election marks the closing of a chapter in Teamster history: the end of the federal government’s oversight of the union, and the first election in 25 years without the younger Hoffa on the ballot. Whoever wins will direct the union as it wrestles with today’s difficult environment: the growth of Amazon, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the next United Parcel Service (UPS) contract, and increasingly hostile employers and politicians.

Two slates are running for control of the IBT’s top offices: Teamster Power, led by Steve Vairma and running mate Ron Herrera, and Teamsters United, led by Sean O’Brien and running mate Fred Zuckerman. Five years ago, Teamsters United, then headed by Zuckerman, came only a few thousand votes shy of defeating Hoffa and winning the office of General President, 45.6% to 48.4%.

Backed by the reform group Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), Teamsters United built a campaign that drew on growing anger over a number of issues like concessionary contracts forced at UPS, inaction over a crisis in the union’s pension fund, and the decline of core industries (trucking and logistics). TDU, a grassroots organization of Teamster members formed in 1976, has a long history of campaigns to democratize the union, fight corruption, and organize for strong contracts. TDU’s campaigns resulted in the right to directly vote for top officials in 1989, as well as the election of Ron Carey as Teamster General President in 1991, and played a significant role in the successful 1997 UPS strike.

In 2016, Zuckerman narrowly lost to Hoffa, but Teamsters United won seats on the union’s General Executive Board for the Central and Southern districts, while Hoffa was able to swing the Eastern and Western regions as well as Teamsters Canada. The election revealed the deep dissatisfaction of Teamster members, the distance between the ranks and the leadership, and the existence of a base of members who could potentially change the course of the union. 

The 2021 election has been billed as a rematch five years in the making. Vairma, a relatively unknown principal officer out of Teamsters Local 455 in Colorado and member of the Hoffa-Ken Hall slate (the establishment caucus that won in 2016) since 2011, is considered Hoffa’s successor. Hoffa has endorsed Vairma’s Teamster Power, and the slate features many loyalists. If that was all there was to it, this election could be viewed as another round of the reformers vs. the Hoffa ​“old guard.” Without Hoffa’s name and incumbency to tie the sitting administration’s coalition together, the challengers should have the advantage after coming so close to victory in the last election. It would be Teamsters United’s election to lose.

But this time around, Teamsters United has taken a turn with the introduction of new leadership. In 2016, Teamsters United was fronted by Zuckerman, principal officer of Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville, Ky. — home of the UPS headquarters hub. Zuckerman is a quiet and straightforward union officer who found himself allied with TDU in opposition to Hoffa’s direction of UPS negotiations. Despite Zuckerman’s success at the top of the ticket five years ago, Teamsters United is now being led by O’Brien of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston.

O’Brien, like Vairma, was until recently a member of the Hoffa-Hall slate, elected to the IBT’s General Executive Board in 2011 as an International Vice President for the Teamsters Eastern Region. At the end of 2017, Hoffa fired O’Brien as the chief negotiator for the union with UPS, ostensibly for taking too hard a position against the company. O’Brien broke ranks with Hoffa and reached across the aisle to Teamsters United. Zuckerman, already reluctant to lead the ticket in 2016, then handed Teamsters United over to O’Brien and slid down to the number two position. TDU endorsed O’Brien and Teamsters United at its 2019 Convention and began its campaign for the slate.

In defecting from the Hoffa camp, O’Brien brings connections to other local officers and votes in the Eastern Region — but he isn’t without baggage. O’Brien has earned a reputation among officers and the ranks as an ambitious, hotheaded figure, with several charges filed against him in the union. In 2013, O’Brien threatened members of Providence-based Teamsters Local 251 for running an election campaign to challenge the local’s leadership. The incident was captured on video, and led to his suspension. Charges were again filed against him for threats to opponents at Teamster conventions but were ultimately dismissed.

In 2014, O’Brien’s Local 25 made national news when the union’s picket for the TV show Top Chef was recorded making a series of racist and sexist slurs towards members of the filming crew. Five men involved with the picket were then brought up on criminal extortion charges for threats to the production. (Local 25 officer Mark Harrington pleaded guilty; the remaining four were eventually acquitted. O’Brien denied wrongdoing, calling the accusations ​“fiction at best”.)

The underdog character of Teamsters United has changed with the new leadership. O’Brien’s connections through the IBT have brought so many local officers into the fold that Teamsters United led the delegate race going into this summer’s 2021 convention. Zuckerman had to fight to get onto the ballot in 2016, just clearing the minimum requirement by getting 8% of delegates to support his nomination. This year, O’Brien got on the ballot with 52% of delegates supporting him.

This half of local Teamster functionaries who supported O’Brien’s nomination have not suddenly been won to the 2016 Teamsters United platform for democracy and militancy. Delegates who supported O’Brien agreed to reform the most egregious issues that have driven rank-and-file anger, like delays on strike pay and the dreaded Two-Thirds Rule, a policy that requires a supermajority of ​“no” votes to reject a contract if fewer than 50% of members participate in ratification, which allowed Hoffa to impose the 2018 UPS contract despite a majority ​“no” vote. But their commitment ended there. 

Proposals that confronted the privileges of Teamster officials were all defeated. These sought to (1) limit the number of salaries union officials could collect; (2) require top officers to have experience as working Teamsters; (3) preserve the rule that candidates for president only need the support of 5% of delegates to qualify; and (4) bar any officials who have been suspended from the office of General President. As if to bold the point, Teamster delegates at the convention voted overwhelmingly to enshrine Hoffa Jr. as ​“General President Emeritus for Life.” My own Local 695 leadership endorsed O’Brien and his slate, while at the same time getting a fresh order of ​“TDU Sucks” pins for the hall.

“There’s no reform slate in this election,” says Tom Leedham, the three-time candidate for Teamster General President from 1997 to 2006. Leedham, who maintains that he is proud of his record with TDU, explained at a debrief of a recent debate, ​“People say this is the reform slate with TDU. There’s essentially five candidates [on the Teamsters United slate] that proudly carry a TDU moniker. Two of them will be in non-voting positions. It is so difficult to make anything happen when you have three seats on a 25-person board.” 

Rather than a referendum on reform, this election reveals a split in the old leadership of the union. Two candidates from the Hoffa administration are competing for the top office, pulling together different sections of the membership to try and carry them over the finish line. O’Brien has focused on the union members who fall under national contracts at UPS, UPS Freight (now TForce), and Yellow Roadway Corporation (YRC) Freight, drawing on the prestige of the 2016 Teamsters United campaign while also bringing along local leaders previously aligned with Hoffa. It makes sense: 70% of UPS Teamsters voted for Zuckerman last time.

Vairma and Teamsters Power have focused their message on the need to have a racially diverse leadership to match the changing demographics in the union, bringing with them the backing of the Teamsters National Black Caucus. Vairma is following Hoffa’s winning election strategy of drawing on the majority of Teamsters under local ​“white paper” agreements (standalone contracts specific to local unions), using the connections of allied local officers to turn out votes. ​“United Parcel Service is extremely important in this union, we have 325,000 members,” said Vairma in the first Teamsters 2021 Presidential Debate, ​“but we also have another million members in the ​‘white paper’ industry that want to know that their voices are going to be heard in this administration.” Vairma plainly rejected members’ concerns over bargaining at UPS: ​“The ​‘Vote No’ campaign down at UPS was a farce.” Many members of Vairma’s slate are directors of the union’s various divisions: warehouse, port, rail, public service, healthcare, construction trades. Vairma has doubled down on this approach by criticizing the union’s preoccupation with UPS.

O’Brien’s campaign has capitalized on his aggressive approach. ​“It’s clear that I’m ambitious and I want to run this union to the fullest extent,” said O’Brien in the same debate. ​“When you’re out there and you’re being aggressive, you’re taking calculated risks for the betterment of your members, of course there’s going to be controversy.” O’Brien is calling for defense of contracts, organizing core industries that have been neglected, and using the strike weapon. Vairma has leaned heavily into attacks on O’Brien’s record, painting himself as the safe bet. (Though Vairma has some skeletons in the closet as well: In 2017, the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found his Local 455 guilty of discrimination against a group of Somali workers they represented.)

How this will play out is difficult to predict. The Teamsters are rare among North American unions in that elections for top union office are held by direct member vote. (Most international unions determine their leadership by delegate convention.) Participation in Teamster elections has been declining since the direct vote was won in 1989 with the Federal government’s ​“consent decree”; in 2016, an abysmally low 200,000 of 1.4 million members cast ballots — roughly 15%. Anger over the 2013 UPS contract made for a perfect storm in 2016, with a clear choice between the officialdom and the alternative. In 2021, the merger of a section of the Hoffa leadership with the reformers from TDU blurs the lines. 

The slates differ largely in who they think will elect them, and then how they intend to confront employers (or not). Teamsters United, with materials almost exclusively for UPS workers, advertises that it’s ready to fight. Teamster Power, stitching together the union’s various sector conferences, appeals to candidates’ good character and asks for faith in their integrity while they stay the course. Mark Solomon, writer with FreightWaves magazine, stated it plainly in a question submitted to the Teamster Presidential debate: ​“You represent the status quo and are considered less militant than Sean O’Brien and Fred Zuckerman.” Rank-and-file Teamsters will have to make the best of the situation, which starts with knowing who the candidates are and what they represent.

It’s the activity of union members on the shop floor that has pushed the IBT to adopt any changes. The reforms that were passed this year were the product of rank-and-file organizing over the past decade: the ​“Vote No” campaigns at UPS and YRC, the refusal of Teamster retirees to accept that their pensions could be lost, and the repeated challenges to local officers. With two disastrous debates for Vairma, O’Brien seems to have the lead. Regardless of who wins the election, members will need to be organized to keep the leadership accountable.

Andy Sernatinger is a member of Teamsters Local 695 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Metro Teamster #7

At Metro, we put together newsletters from time to time. There’s a long history of unions putting out their own information at the worksite — these are helpful in putting out workers’ news rather than the bosses. This edition takes up changes in our health insurance, Covid, and the IBT elections.