Divide Over Controversial UPS Contract Defines Teamsters Presidential Election


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Divide Over Controversial UPS Contract Defines Teamsters Presidential Election - The Intercept

The 1.2 million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters is one of the largest and most powerful unions in the U.S., with a vast marble headquarters and billions in pension fund assets. But there have been internal conflicts with the union, including over a controversial 2018 contract with UPS that was implemented despite the membership’s majority “no” vote. Now, in the lead-up to the November election to determine the next Teamsters president, that UPS contract is once again taking center stage.

While the two candidates vying for the presidency have pledged to remove a rule that allows union leadership to implement contracts in certain circumstances against the will of the membership, only one of the candidates, Boston Teamster leader Sean O’Brien, has the track record of opposing the 2018 UPS contract that is the case study for those seeking the rule change. The other candidate, Colorado Teamster leader Steve Vairma, is seen as more closely aligned with outgoing President James Hoffa and was notably silent as a majority of voting UPS members opposed the 2018 contract.

That UPS contract, which 54 percent of UPS Teamsters voted against, will loom large over the election. To successfully win union representation elections, unions need to show that they are able to provide more than the status quo. If the union’s largest contract in the country — in this case, UPS — has starting wages 13 percent below what its non-union rival Amazon offers, the union’s ability to convince Amazon workers that they need to unionize to improve their position diminishes. (Overall, though, UPS offers workers a much better deal.) And given that UPS Teamsters perform very similar work to many Amazon workers — sorting, tracking, and delivering packages — the union needs rank-and-file UPS Teamsters to get involved in the organizing campaign to have any possibility of success. If Teamster members at UPS are too angry at the union for implementing an agreement a majority didn’t want, they’re less likely to become involved in a new organizing campaign at Amazon.