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Why Are the Teamsters Playing Footsie with Donald Trump in 2024?

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The Sean O’Brien administration was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the Teamsters. And its victory of UPS in getting a sweet contract without a strike was a good sign. But now O’Brien is meeting with Donald Trump and….why would a labor leader do this in 2024? Most certainly, many of his supporters within the organization, those who fought to get rid of the old leadership, are quite confused and disappointed.

But Teamsters leaders on the left say they were caught off guard by the meeting. When O’Brien was elected in 2021 to lead the union, it was in part due to the support of a progressive labor coalition that viewed O’Brien as a hopeful alternative to the union’s old guard, affiliates of the famed Hoffa family, whose control of the union, once known for its militancy, had ushered in an era of corruption and scandal. The O’Brien slate promised to restore the Teamsters as a fighting union.

“I still can’t believe it,” said Richard Hooker Jr, the secretary treasurer of Teamsters local 623 and vice-president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO board. “As leaders, we have to do a better job of explaining to our members that a vote for Trump is a vote against your pension, a vote for Trump is a vote against organizing workers, a vote for Trump is another vote against the working class.”

On a special Martin Luther King Jr Day podcast this week, Hooker and Chris Silvera, the secretary-treasurer of local 808 in New York, chatted about the photo. “They’re not Republicans any more – they should just throw that name out,” Silvera said of the former Trump administration. “They’re Confederates.”

Jess Lister, a shop steward in Georgia and member of the Teamsters LGBTQ caucus, who has helped lead a campaign to organize part-time UPS workers, called the meeting “a slap in the face”. Lister added that she did not support any of the frontrunner candidates or Biden, but said she viewed the Trump meeting as especially galling given his record of stacking the courts with anti-union judges and overseeing a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that issued rulings making it harder for workers to organize.

“He has a longstanding history of racism, of hate towards women, towards minorities, towards the LGTBQ community – he is not accepting of other people,” Lister said. “Our union president shouldn’t even entertain the idea of a meeting. That shouldn’t have even been on the table.”

What I suspect is happening here–or at least I hope to God that it is–is that O’Brien recognizes that his union has a lot of Republican voters and it wants to at least tell them he met with Trump before endorsing Biden. Maybe that’s true. I can see where a union leader would be willing to take the heat from the left if he (inevitably) thought this would work with his more conservative members. But really, all this is doing is telling union members that Trump is within the bounds of who they can vote for. Moreover, part of what a union should be doing is direct political education of members, not that any of them really do enough on that front at this point. The Teamsters have effectively never done it. You can see what that leads to here. Just shaking my head on this one.

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