Not your founding fathers' perfect union

Cannon Mug Headshot

"Social media made y'all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it." – Mike Tyson 

Last week a small group of union leaders went before a Senate committee for some reason; supposedly to discuss the gains made by UAW members by grinding automotive production to a near-halt, and the likelihood of future labor organization. We're certainly seeing an uptick of trucking fleet unionization. Ironic considering the role the union played in ushering Yellow Corp. to its grave

What that meeting turned into, however, was Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin nearly ushering Teamsters President Sean O’Brien into a grave of his own. 

As the turmoil at Yellow continued to devolve, O'Brien was the Teamsters' chief instigator: "Yellow bad. Yellow greedy," while 30,000 jobs hung in the balance. Much of this transpired on Twitter and in press releases. Lost in the bluster was that the entire freight business was facing economic and historically significant headwinds – a problem that wasn't specific to Yellow and one everyone knew was going to get worse later into the year. It was the absolute worst time to draw a line in the sand and everyone but O'Brien seemed to know it (or care). 

Yes, I'm sure the union's 22,000 members were sick of a decade of givebacks claiming to save their jobs. Wonder how they feel now, having been dumped into a job market where there's not a lot of opportunity for them? The irony is O'Brien still has a job. 

O’Brien played his hand in the Yellow negotiations artfully, managing to be both bully and victim. That's hard to do. In the end, it cost the Teamsters its largest LTL membership, yet somehow none of it was his fault. Yellow certainly shoulders its share of blame in its own demise, but the fact is Yellow probably didn't have to go out of business in August. But it did. 

Written attacks launched from behind the comforts of a keyboard is O'Brien's modus operandi.

Solid discourse there, Sean. That is, until "anyplace" turned out to be the Senate floor, and "anytime" was Nov. 14.

After narrowly dodging the beating of a lifetime, O'Brien was mostly silent on Twitter/X. Maybe he learned his lesson – at least until he's out of D.C. (and Oklahoma). 

Being a union boss is a lot like being a politician, I suppose. You have to show your members/voters how tough you are so they'll keep you in office, owning 100% of your wins and deferring 100% of your losses. Maybe the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing was an inevitable loggerhead between unstoppable force and immovable object. 

Now, I'm a grown man and a responsible adult, so I'm supposed to say fighting doesn't solve anything, but there was never going to be a fight on the Senate floor. This was your middle school lunchroom with two kids throwing up their hands and puffing out their chest, each asking the other, "Do you want some?" right in front of the math teacher, knowing none of this was ever going anywhere physically, and both were grateful for it. Rep. Mullin called O'Brien's bluff and Bernie Sanders called Mullin's. 

It was peacocking for the voters back home in Oklahoma, for the Teamsters who haven't lost their jobs, and a recruitment initiative for anyone else considering becoming a union member in any industry. Seemingly everyone won the fight that didn't happen. 

Unlike an O'Brien vs. Mullin pay-per-view card, this union uprising bears watching because these clashes could be filtered down off Capitol Hill and into a driver break room near you. 

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].