Teamsters committee frees delegates to vote on key constitutional amendments

A committee of the Teamsters union agreed Tuesday to allow delegates to vote on eliminating language that requires a contract to be ratified even if the majority of rank-and-file have voted against it.

The Teamsters Constitution Committee also voted to recommend that delegates convening online at the two-day Teamsters national convention, which begins Wednesday, vote on whether bargaining committees at the local and national levels should be required to have rank-and-file members. 

In addition, delegates will be allowed to vote on whether to ban the international union, which is composed of high-level Teamsters executives, from imposing contract supplements and riders that have already been rejected by members.

Each measure, which takes the form of amendments to the Teamster constitution, must be approved by a simple majority. Approved amendments would take effect after the convention closes on Thursday. The convention convenes every five years.

The three amendments augur a profound shift in relations between labor and management, and particularly with UPS Inc. (NYSE:UPS), the largest Teamsters employer with about 240,000-250,000 union members. UPS workers account for slightly less than 20% of total Teamsters membership.

Arguably the most significant change would be the gutting of the so-called two-thirds rule, under which a contract is ratified if less than 50% of eligible voters cast ballots, unless at least two-thirds of voting members reject it. The provision was critical to ratifying the 2018 “master” contract governing UPS-Teamsters relations for the subsequent five years. The contract was rejected by 54% of the UPS Teamsters who voted. However, only 44% of about 209,000 eligible UPS Teamsters voted, and the final tally fell well short of the two-thirds rejection threshold needed for a revote.

In 1987, delegates voted to partially end the two-thirds rule. However, a loophole remained that allowed the rule to be invoked if less than half the members voted on a contract. The loophole, which enabled the UPS contract to gain ratification without a revote, would be closed should the majority of delegates approve the amendment. Voting outcomes would then be decided by majority rule. 

Dissident Teamsters factions, led by the firebrand Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), have been pushing for constitutional changes for decades. In 1991, Teamsters delegates voted to give the rank-and-file a separate vote on local supplements and riders which are attached to national contracts and which generally impact workers in specific regions. 

According to TDU, however, Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa amended the constitution to allow for the members’ votes to be overruled. The international union overruled members on some supplements and riders in the 2013 and 2018 UPS contracts. Hoffa came in for much criticism in 2018 for pushing for ratification of the UPS contract against the rank-and-file’s wishes.

Dissident factions have fought for more than 20 years to gain rank-and-file representation on all bargaining committees. Many Teamsters locals have long adopted this practice, but it was never extended to the national level.

In a communique issued Monday, TDU said the three amendments were proposed by a slate of officials headed by Sean O’Brien, head of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston, and Fred Zuckerman, head of Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville, Kentucky, home of UPS Worldport global air hub. Both locals carry a lot of clout within the Teamsters, and both men have histories with Hoffa. O’Brien was fired by Hoffa in 2017 as head of the union’s small-package committee. Zuckerman ran against Hoffa for general president in 2016 and came within a whisker of unseating him.

The O’Brien-Zuckerman slate, known as Teamsters United, is running in the upcoming Teamsters general election scheduled for November. They will likely be opposed by the Hoffa-supported slate headed by Steve Vairma, secretary-treasurer of Local 455 in Denver, and Ron Herrera, secretary-treasurer of Local 396 in Southern California.

Hoffa, 80, has served as general president for 23 years and has won four consecutive elections. He announced some time ago that he will not seek reelection.

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