Teamsters presidential debate whips boy of self-driving trucks

If reality matches the rhetoric of the two candidates vying to lead the Teamsters union for the next five years, self-driving trucks will only run on the collective corpse of the union.

In the first presidential debate since the Teamsters began holding a full election in 1991, Steve Vairma and Sean O’Brien voiced their opposition to self-driving trucks, calling them dangerous, reckless and a threat to union jobs. O’Brien, president of Boston Local 25, said he feared the scenario of a four-truck platoon suddenly colliding with a computer glitch that could lead to a disaster on the freeway.

O’Brien acknowledged that technology would eventually displace some union jobs and said his administration would look for ways to organize or negotiate with IT makers to protect members from potential fallout.

Vairma, secretary-treasurer of Local 455 in Denver, took an equally tough line on VAs. “There is no place to put these self-driving trucks on the road,” Vairma said, adding that too many obstacles must be overcome before driverless utility vehicles become a reality. Vairma added that he “would oppose anything that takes away good jobs from the Teamsters.”

The candidates, who both appeared in person Wednesday night in Washington, DC on Wednesday night, said the organization of online retail giant Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) would be a top priority in their administrations.

At their international convention in June, Teamsters delegates approved a resolution to form a division dedicated to organizing Amazon. The action came weeks after Amazon decisively defeated a challenge by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU) to organize warehouse workers of the company in Bessemer, Alabama. The effort was the most serious threat to Amazon’s non-union status in its 27-year history. The 56,000-member RWDSU has only a fraction of the strength and resources of the 1.4 million Teamsters members.

Both candidates said Amazon’s organization is essential for Amazon workers and Teamster members at UPS Inc. (NYSE: UPS), which, with approximately 340,000 employees represented by Teamster in the United States, is Teamster’s largest employer by far. If Amazon, which is UPS’s biggest customer in terms of revenue, resumes its stalled efforts to create a delivery network to continue traffic that is not sold on its site, it could result in a loss of UPS revenues and Teamster jobs, they said. Neither man would comment on their organizing strategy.

The current five-year UPS contract expires on July 31, 2023 and talks are expected to begin in the second half of 2022. O’Brien, who was sacked in 2017 by current General Chairman James P. Hoffa as head of the Teamsters division small packages just ahead of the 2018 contract negotiation cycle, said the current contract is full of concessions. These returns include a first-ever two-tier wage system, using non-union workers with their personal vehicles to make deliveries, and widespread outsourcing to non-Teamster workers.

O’Brien noted that the majority of UPS members rejected the contract, but the union leadership imposed it, citing a controversial rule that effectively ratifies a contract even though most grassroots people oppose it. . This language, known as the “two-thirds” rule, was removed from the Teamsters constitution in June.

Varima responded by accusing O’Brien and his allies of undermining the process from the start by urging the base to reject UPS’s contract proposals even before the company presented them. Telling members to “vote no” was like telling them not to vote, Vairma said. The result was low voter turnout which could have affected the outcome, he said.

“Demonizing” the UPS contract will not help the Teamsters organize workers at other companies, including Amazon, Vairma said.

O’Brien or Vairma will succeed Hoffa, who at 80 retires after 23 years as general president. Ballots will be mailed starting October 4 in the United States and Canada. The vote count will begin on November 15. Hoffa endorsed the list of leaders headed by Vairma, suggesting that a vote for Vairma would be a vote to continue Hoffa’s policies.

O’Brien, who is considered more militant, made this point several times during Wednesday night’s debate, telling members that if they supported the status quo, “he’s your man,” pointing to Vairma to his right. .

As a sign that Hoffa’s legacy will weigh heavily on the proceedings, O’Brien said that “my opponent has said Jim Hoffa is not showing up, but that doesn’t mean his values ​​and bad habits won’t continue” in a Vairma administration. O’Brien’s candidacy is built around the idea that members of the Teamsters are tired of more than two decades of united leadership and want the ardent hand of an insurgent like him at the helm.

The two will face off again on September 14 in Las Vegas. Fred Zuckerman, O’Brien’s nominee for secretary-treasurer, and Ron Herrera, Vairma’s number 2, will debate on September 29 in Chicago. Zuckerman, chief of Local 89 in Louisville, Ky., Home of UPS’s global air hub at Worldport, narrowly lost to Hoffa in 2016.

The Teamsters instituted the direct election of their leaders in 1989 as part of a landmark consent decree that called for government oversight of the union. Although no longer under federal supervision, the union has incorporated a system of direct election, including supervision by an independent election supervisor, into its constitution.

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