A pugnacious union president is setting up a little-noticed showdown with United Parcel Service (UPS), in what would be the largest labor strike in American history, potentially complicating President Joe Biden’s rollout of “Bidenomics.”
At issue is mainly wage increases for part-time Teamsters, who earn roughly $20 an hour; Teamsters want that increased by around 30 percent. Earlier this month, both sides made significant progress on core issues like ending forced overtime on drivers’ days off and establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday.
However, talks soured earlier this month and both sides are barreling towards the July 31 deadline; if no deal is reached by the end of the month, the Teamsters will fully strike. In July, 97 percent of their employees voted to authorize the strike, which the union says “sends a clear message to UPS that our members are damned and determined to take necessary action to secure a historic contract that respects their dedication and sacrifice.”
The Teamsters Union has a storied history, one filled with corruption and mystery — chiefly over who killed their former president, the legendary Jimmy Hoffa. The current Teamsters boss, Sean O’Brien, is charging headfirst into a historic fight against UPS, threatening to shut down the global economy, which relies on Teamsters to deliver everything from food to clothes to medicine, at the end of the month.
O’Brien’s demands are pitting House Democrats against the White House and some swing-district Republicans against others in their conference; presiding over it all is an acting labor secretary too polarizing to be confirmed in a Democratic-controlled Senate.
A total strike by the Teamsters would be without precedent; the powerful union, closely aligned with the Democratic Party, has over 300,000 members. In the House, Democrats are fully backing their union allies, but some pro-labor Republicans such as Representative Lori Chavez-DeRemer and Don Bacon have signed onto a letter, obtained by The Spectator, from the House’s Labor Caucus addressed to both Teamsters and UPS leadership, putting their finger on the scale for the workers’ “statutory and constitutional rights to withhold their labor and participate in a strike.”
Bacon echoed Republican president Teddy Roosevelt’s push for a “square deal,” while also praising UPS for providing “an invaluable service for our local area,” hoping that “both sides sit at the table and work out a win-win deal for all.” For years, Bacon has rolled out extensive labor union endorsements in his closely-contested reelection bids.
While many currently-striking unions look at President Biden, who recently said that “labor will always be welcome” in his White House, as an ally, it’s possible that he’ll leave House Democrats, once again, twisting in the wind.
Even O’Brien isn’t necessarily counting on Biden’s support. In fact, he’s repeatedly told Biden to stay out of his way. “We don’t need anybody getting involved in this fight,” he said. A warning sign for O’Brien is how Biden stepped in to resolve a possible railroad strike last year on terms that weren’t universally favorable to labor, pleasing some Republicans but giving labor cause for concern.
Beyond Biden’s potential to step in and weaken O’Brien’s negotiating position, the current acting labor secretary, Julie Su, already tied her own hands and repeatedly said that she won’t get involved. Su confirmed to a reporter that she is “standing back at this point [and] not intervening.”
The White House recently announced that Su won’t be able to overcome bipartisan opposition, and will not be able to win a confirmation vote. Further complicating Su’s calculations is how Biden undercut her by bringing in a previous Democratic labor secretary, Tom Perez, as a senior advisor. “We don’t need a labor secretary who has to outsource her own job,” a spokesman for the Senate Republicans’ Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, quipped.
It’s not just a fight over the economy that O’Brien is spoiling for; he and Senator Markwayne Mullin, an undefeated professional fighter in a previous career, are public foes. Recently, Mullin challenged O’Brien to a cage match; to date, no fight has been scheduled.
Beyond the pay-per-view-worthy potential fight, some of O’Brien’s more traditional foes are taking a similarly combative stance. The Job Creators Network, for example, launched an ad campaign called Cryin’ O’Brien, which calls the union boss out for his “pattern of unhinged rhetoric,” and takes issue with how his potential strike would devastate small businesses.
“If O’Brien doesn’t stop his tantrum and start acting his age, the American supply chain will come screeching to a halt,” Job Creators Network warns. “Small businesses will get the short end of the stick. Unlike larger companies that can operate their own logistics and shipping operations, small businesses depend on trucking and logistics companies to reach their customers.” The group recently rolled out a mobile billboard as well that was spotted driving around Washington, DC.
While most involved in calming tempers don’t seem to think a strike will actually happen, every day that goes by without an agreement takes the American economy one step closer to the edge.