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NewsParcelTop Stories

O’Brien holds commanding lead in race for Teamsters president

Early tally has O’Brien ahead of Steve Vairma by nearly 24,000 votes; 2 US regions, Canada yet to report

Sean M. O’Brien is moving inexorably closer to being elected the next general president of the Teamsters union.

In the second day of vote tallying, O’Brien held a commanding lead over his opponent, Steve Vairma, according to results posted Tuesday afternoon by the Teamsters’ Office of the Election Supervisor. With the union’s central and southern regions partially reporting, O’Brien had received more than 34,798 votes, compared to Vairma’s 11,103 votes. Ballots were currently being counted in the central region, where O’Brien holds an overwhelming lead. 

O’Brien’s running mate, Fred Zuckerman, held an equally sizable advantage over his opponent, Ron Herrera. Zuckerman had received 34,254 votes as of midday Tuesday, compared to 11,592 votes for Herrera. Zuckerman and Herrera are vying for the post of general secretary-treasurer, the second-highest office in the 1.3 million-member union.

The eastern and western U.S. regions have yet to be reported, as well as Canada. O’Brien, head of Local 25 in Boston, could capture sizable blocs of votes in the east. Vairma, secretary-treasurer of Local 455 in Denver, is pinning his hopes on a strong and favorable turnout in the west.

About 190,000 Teamsters members cast ballots, according to the Office of Election Supervisor. That is down from 210,000 in the 2016 general election, when James P. Hoffa, the current president, narrowly defeated Zuckerman. About 250,000 members voted in the 2011 general election, which featured a three-way race among Hoffa, Sandy Pope and Fred Gegare that Hoffa ended up winning rather easily.

O’Brien and Vairma are heading their respective slates of officers vying for top roles in the union. In theory, a voter could cast a ballot for one presidential candidate but choose slate members of the other candidate. In practice, however, voters select the slate headed by their choice for general president.

Hoffa, who has headed the union since 1998, announced in February 2020 that he would step down when his current term expires in March 2022. In many ways, the election is a referendum on Hoffa’s legacy. O’Brien is seen as an aggressive and confrontational leader. He has also made no secret of his displeasure with Hoffa’s leadership. Vairma is the favorite of the Hoffa faction and is perceived to represent a continuation of the current leader’s policies.

O’Brien has warred with Hoffa ever since he was replaced in 2017 as head of the powerful small-package division, which negotiates collective bargaining agreements with UPS Inc. (NYSE:UPS), the union’s largest individual employer with between 310,000 and 320,000 members. O’Brien charged that he was dismissed because Hoffa opposed his plan to involve Zuckerman in upcoming UPS contract talks. 

Zuckerman is head of Local 89 in Louisville, Kentucky, the largest UPS Teamsters local. Louisville is home to UPS global air hub known as Worldport. No local has been more of a thorn in UPS’ side during contract cycles.

Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.

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