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September 12, 2017 10:45 AM, EDT
O’Brien Fired as Top Teamsters Negotiator in UPS Contract Talks
Current Deal Covering 250,000 Employees Expires in August 2018
UPS driver delivers packages David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

Teamsters President James Hoffa has fired Sean O’Brien as the top negotiator on behalf of UPS Inc. and its UPS Freight employees after only six months, prompting the ousted director to write a blistering rebuke to the union leader.

In a letter Sept. 6, O’Brien wrote that Hoffa’s secretary e-mailed him a signed termination letter, rather than receiving the termination face to face, or via a phone call, from Hoffa. O’Brien further alleged that Hoffa vowed to let him represent UPS workers without any bureaucratic roadblocks — a promise Hoffa broke, he said.

O'Brien

“It has become painfully obvious that I would never be able to achieve that goal. Every time I reached out to a local that opposed you in the last election, I was taken to the woodshed by you or one of your minions,” O’Brien wrote. “My desire to include representatives from locals that opposed you in the last election were blocked and considered treasonous.”

O’Brien was to lead the negotiation on a contract expiring Aug. 31, 2018, that covers more than 250,000 employees.

Hoffa

His reference to opposition is a clear reference to Fred Zuckerman, head of Local 89 in Louisville, Ky., and the group Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which teamed up to campaign against the 72-year-old Hoffa in the 2016 general elections. Hoffa did earn a fifth term but won only by a 51.5% to 48.5% margin.

TDU national organizer Ken Paff told Transport Topics that Hoffa couldn’t stand that O’Brien was warming up to the Zuckerman camp while representing workers in the UPS less-than-truckload and small-package divisions. Zuckerman’s Local 89 represents workers at the UPS Worldport hub, which processes an average of 1.6 million packages a day using 155 miles of conveyors, according to the parcel and freight carrier.

“I don’t care what side of the fence you were on in the last election. This is deplorable when you remove the lead negotiator because he is willing to stand up for the members and against the company,” Zuckerman said in a statement.

O’Brien said that his letter wasn’t an indictment of all Teamsters, praising Local 25 in Boston and Joint Council 10, which covers all of New England, which he led.

“But at the International, certain members of the staff have turned the UPS Division and the entire Teamsters Union into their personal playground,” O’Brien wrote. “It is a situation which you tolerate, and I don’t have the confidence that you have the will to change. I will not tolerate working in a bureaucracy geared for failure.”

He singled out Todd Thompson, a special assistant to the president, as one of the “full-time political hacks” meddling and interfering into policy decisions.

In a statement, Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell insisted that O’Brien’s dismissal wasn’t political in nature.

“General President Jim Hoffa made the decision to replace Mr. O’Brien in the best interest of the members at UPS and to move forward to achieve the best contract possible in 2018,” he wrote. “This was not a political decision, as it is being inaccurately portrayed. Mr. O’Brien was elected Eastern Region vice president on the Hoffa slate in November 2016 and continues to serve in that role. Our focus has been and remains on the day to day work on behalf of the members.”

Denis Taylor, leader of the Baltimore Local 355, was named as O’Brien’s replacement.

Caldwell called Taylor a “tremendous” labor leader who began his Teamsters career as a UPS driver.

O’Brien was tapped in April to succeed General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, who said at the time: “Sean O’Brien’s extensive knowledge of the small-package industry and his tireless commitment to the membership are just two reasons that I wholeheartedly endorse his appointment.