In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the new general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of America’s largest unions, signaled a more aggressive approach to negotiations going forward. Allison Prang reports:
WSJ: You’re taking over for one of the country’s biggest unions amid a worker shortage. What do you make of the current environment?
Mr. O’Brien: I definitely think it’s encouraging to say the least because we’ve been fighting our entire lives as leaders, as rank-and-file members, to grow our organizations and I think it’s our time. I think there’s a thirst for or an appetite for change. I think more people are seeing the values of organized labor.
WSJ: How do you capitalize on this moment as a union?
Mr. O’Brien: You have to get out there and you got to have conversations with the workers. You got to actually show them the value of being in a union, what it’s all about. You got to actually educate a lot of these workers on why we have great healthcare, why we have pensions, why we have these working conditions. No one has given us anything for 118 years. Anything we’ve ever achieved it’s been through rank-and-file power, it’s been through fight, it’s been through strikes. So we have to 1) Tell our story to these new workers. 2) We have to use our contracts when we go into negotiations. We have to use that as a template to show these unorganized workers what it’s all about. If we’re not out there negotiating [the] strongest contracts, if we’re not out there fighting for our members, then why would someone want to join our organization?
WSJ: The 35-day worker strike at Deere & Co. resulted in an immediate 10% raise for workers, with each employee receiving an $8,500 bonus. What does this deal mean for future negotiations between other unions and companies?
Mr. O’Brien: There’s definitely an appetite to take on employers, big and small, nationally and locally. You do have to give these workers tremendous credit. I think this is the way that unions should negotiate. I’ve stated publicly that people shouldn’t be afraid to strike. It should be a last resort.
WSJ: Does the Deere deal represent a new benchmark for union wage demands?
Mr. O’Brien: It represents a new era. Every benchmark is different depending on what industries you’re representing and who you’re negotiating with. The significance is it shows when rank-and-file collaborate and the power of collaboration to effectuate change. This is a template of success when a group is united and willing to fight.
WSJ: How can unions use the developments of a Deere as part of their negotiating strategies?
Mr. O’Brien: We’ve got to look at not individual accomplishments and gains, but we’ve got to look at it as a whole as a labor movement. I think we can use this situation as a template to gauge and inspire the direction of labor. I think it’s going in the right direction. When you see people standing up for their own rights uniting for a cause I think that’s positive.
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