Sean M. O’Brien widened his lead Wednesday in the race for the Teamsters union’s general-presidency as he captured the lion’s share of votes tabulated by midafternoon across the union’s eastern region.
As of 3 p.m. ET, O’Brien had garnered 13,593 of the 19,620 votes that had been counted in the east, according to results posted by the Teamsters’ Office of Election Supervisor. O’Brien’s opponent, Steve Vairma, received 6,027 votes.
O’Brien, 49, began Wednesday with a commanding lead after handily winning the Teamsters’ central and southern regions. In both regions, O’Brien received two and a half times the votes of Vairma.
O’Brien, who heads Teamsters Local 25 in Boston, was expected to do well in the east. Results from the western region and Canada have yet to be posted on the election supervisor’s site. Vairma, who is secretary-treasurer of Local 455 in Denver, will need to win by overwhelming margins in the west and in Canada to maintain the slightest hope of prevailing.
As of midafternoon, 88,000 of the approximately 190,000 votes had been counted, according to the election supervisor. The Teamsters, the most famous labor union in American history, has more than 1.3 million members spread across multiple industries. UPS Inc. (NYSE: UPS) is the largest individual Teamster employer with roughly 318,000 members.
O’Brien and Vairma are vying for the position held for the past 23 years by James P. Hoffa. Hoffa announced in early 2020 that he would not seek reelection for a sixth term when his current term expired in March 2022. A general-president’s term is five years.
O’Brien is considered an aggressive, confrontational leader and has publicly said he will leverage that style in dealings with Teamsters employers. His base of support is composed of insurgent members and others dissatisfied with the evolution of Hoffa’s leadership and eager for a change. Vairma is backed by pro-Hoffa supporters and is perceived as a leader who will continue Hoffa’s policies.
The two big tests for the next general-president will be negotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement with UPS — the current compact expires on July 31, 2023 — and pushing to organize workers at Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), which is a nonunion company. Earlier this year, the Teamsters approved the creation of a division dedicated to organizing workers at the Seattle-based e-tailer.
Overhanging those efforts is the dramatic change in U.S. commerce, fulfillment and physical distribution triggered by the secular surge in e-commerce demand.