With 85% of Members Not Voting, Teamsters Pick A New Union Leader

Photo credit: Nancy Lane, Boston Herald

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters have chosen a new President…despite the vast majority of union members not bothering to vote at all.

Last week, the membership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters elected a new president to lead their union for the next five years.

Boston Teamster leader Sean O’Brien will replace the 80-year old James Hoffa, son of legendary labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, who, as CNN notes, held the top job at the union less than half as long as his son.

While O’Brien’s win is being heralded as huge news in much of the media—and “historic” by some—as it does mark a substantial change in the direction of the union’s leadership, what is not being covered is the fact that over 85% of the Teamsters’ membership did not actually vote in the election.

In fact, less than 14.5% percent (14.45%b to be precise) of the Teamsters’ members voted at all.

In 2020, according to Teamster reports on file with the Department of Labor, the union had 1,201,139 members—down substantially from the pre-pandemic level of 1,324,501 in 2019.

According to the Teamsters election page, a total of 173,556 Teamsters (out of 1,324,501 eligible members) cast their ballots for Mr. O’Brien and his opponent Steve Vairma.

Out of the ballots case, although Mr. O’Brien won overwhelmingly, the total turnout of less than 14.5 percent is shocking.

Source: Office of the Election Supervisor for the IBT

Although the fact that over 85% of the eligible members did not vote in the election, it does not negate Mr. O’Brien’s victory.

However, it does suggest that there is a general apathy within the union that Mr. O’Brien and his fellow leaders will need to address in the coming years–especially as Mr. O’Brien faces a tough battle in 2023 with its largest single account, United Parcel Service (UPS).

One of the key drivers of Mr. O’Brien’s campaign was the criticism that Hoffa was too timid against UPS in 2018.

As the Wall Street Journal notes:

Mr. O’Brien said the union gave concessions it didn’t need to in the Teamsters’ last negotiation with the company.

The last UPS agreement was reached in 2018. While roughly 54% of votes cast were against the contract, union leadership—under a union rule that said two-thirds of membership had to vote a contract down when voter turnout is less than half of all members—implemented it. The union has since changed its constitution.

“That’s a signal to every employer that, ‘Hey, the Teamsters aren’t willing to strike,’ ” Mr. O’Brien said.

Although O’Brien won’t take office until 2022, his victory is already being touted by the Teamsters for a Democratic Union as “a mandate to fight in carhaul, freight, UPS and more.”


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