DENVER – By a nearly three-to-one margin, Teamsters Local 751 members here chose Sean O’Brien to become the second leader of their union in as many months, a union spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The Local 751 members – about 12,000 out of roughly 18,000 – had voted at a dinner reception and in hallways and lobby areas, where they waved signs and chanted cheers as members left a more subdued, more civil meeting that members have with a new national president every two years, Laurie A. Osberg, the spokeswoman said.
“It was unanimous, and I think that’s great. We’re a family, and that makes us stronger as a family,” said O’Brien, who was elected Wednesday night as Teamsters President-elect, the biggest union vote in about a year.
O’Brien, 45, is new to union politics. But after working in human resources in Denver for eight years, he has focused his time – and money – on behalf of unions.
O’Brien said he knows the state is challenging, and he pledged to “assess the state of the union before I put any kind of action plans forward.”
O’Brien, who won the presidency after former leader James Hoffa Jr. stepped down, is the son of James O’Brien Sr., a Teamsters and now-deceased former Teamsters leader. He will take over July 1.
But Sean O’Brien’s exit from the family has some union officials concerned about who he will appoint to the labor board.
O’Brien was picked over the top vote-getter, Jorge Mireles, an 11-year veteran of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Mireles has questioned the federal investigations surrounding Hoffa Jr. Since Hoffa Jr. did not seek re-election, the federal investigation remains open.
O’Brien has called on the Teamsters to “end the stonewalling and delays” in the case.
Mireles wasn’t available for comment.
Former Teamsters presidential candidate Lee Saunders, also a close friend of Hoffa Jr., criticized the Teamsters’ approach to the investigation. He said the Teamsters need a full investigation, and whoever becomes the Teamsters’ top leader needs to take a proactive position.
“People on the inside have to step forward and stand up and do the right thing,” he said.
O’Brien, in a May article published by the New American, said he thinks the investigation is “a waste of money and a waste of resources.”
In his time as a union activist in Colorado, O’Brien has criticized the Hoffa family for its role in the Teamsters.
O’Brien told the New American that while he is supportive of Hoffa Jr.’s goal of getting the Teamsters union out of the courtroom and into the unions, “continuing to fight with him on the legal front is not a good long-term strategy for Teamsters to pursue.”
O’Brien has repeatedly said he does not want to get into a legal battle with the Teamsters. He has also said he is supporting efforts by O’Brien to take over the Las Vegas-based Teamsters locals.
His criticism of the Teamsters “appeared in the context of supporting efforts to boost unity and rebuild the union,” he said, adding that one of his hopes is to change the very nature of the union.
O’Brien has said he wants to turn the union into an organization that focuses on collective bargaining with employers.
O’Brien says the Teamsters “disengaged from the labor movement” after Hoffa Jr. was elected in 2012. But, he said, the unions have been rallying for and lobbying Congress.
O’Brien is working to rebuild the union, and overhaul the labor movement, O’Brien told the New American. O’Brien has said unions have gone from fighting “for a few million more jobs to losing millions of members” because unions were fighting leadership within their own ranks, he said.