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Teamsters to meet with Trump, some members are furious

An upcoming meeting between former president Donald Trump and the Teamsters has rankled some of the union’s leaders and members, as Trump and President Biden compete for union support heading into the 2024 election season.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents about 1.3 million members including UPS and other transportation workers, said in a statement that union leadership and members will hold a “roundtable discussion” with Trump in Washington on Wednesday and invited Biden for a separate one the same day.

The meeting with Trump is the second this month for Teamsters President Sean O’Brien and comes a week after Biden secured a much-sought-after endorsement from the United Auto Workers.

The decision to meet again with Trump has drawn backlash from some left-leaning Teamsters members and leaders, though the union held talks with a presidential candidates across the political spectrum this December.

John Palmer, a Teamsters executive board member who received an invitation to the meeting, wrote a scathing letter Thursday to the union’s president, saying that he refused to attend and calling Trump a “known union buster, scab, and insurrectionist.”

“This private back door decision will divide the union and weaken it at a time when we need to fight corporate America,” Palmer wrote.

Reached by phone, Palmer said that in past internal surveys, about half of Teamsters union members identify as Republicans, and that O’Brien “is appeasing them and convincing them he’s a viable choice. As a leader, your job is to tell members this person isn’t in their interest. … The idea that we would even talk to this man is offensive and repulsive.”

Chris Silvera, a leader of Teamsters Local 808 in New York City, said of the invitation to meet with Trump that he “does not support it because it is a meeting with the confederates.”

“There is nothing in Trump’s behavior that has indicated to anyone that he would be supportive of the labor movement,” Silvera said. “Let me put it this way, it’s as if I would travel to Rome to convince the Pope he should become a Muslim.”

Earlier this month, O’Brien met privately with the former president at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and posted a photo of the two posing together on social media.

The Teamsters endorsed Biden in August before the general election in 2020.

Some labor experts say that O’Brien could feel it’s important to get to know both candidates, because he was democratically elected by union membership in 2021 by running as a reform candidate who bucked traditions. He has taken his time to endorse, because he is aware that many of his members are Republicans and he promised them more involvement in union decision-making, they said.

“Our members want to hear from all candidates of all parties about what they plan to do for working people as President,” O’Brien wrote in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the union wants every candidate to understand that their “votes will not be taken for granted.”

Damian Kungle, a part-time UPS employee in Canton, Ohio, said while he’s “anything but a Trump guy,” he thinks it’s wise for the union to meet with any candidate who has a shot at winning. “Whoever wins at least we’ve had a conversation with everyone involved.”

Biden has received a stream of earlier-than-typical union endorsements this election cycle, including a June endorsement from the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, and more than a dozen other unions. But a handful of influential unions, including the Teamsters, the American Postal Workers Union and the International Association of Fire Fighters, have chosen to continue to wield their endorsement as influence in Washington.

Biden has frequently touted his record with labor unions, while struggling at times to make inroads with working-class union members. His biggest wins for the labor movement include approving trillions of dollars in spending on infrastructure, semiconductor and climate packages that incentivize companies to hire union workers, as well as installing a labor advocate to lead the National Labor Relations Board, who has made it easier for workers to join unions.

Trump has also called himself “pro-worker,” positioning himself as an ally of the working class, while also supporting numerous policies that narrowed labor’s power. For example, he installed a leader at the National Labor Relations Board, widely opposed by unions, who weakened worker protections. Trump’s visit to Michigan during the UAW strike this fall featured a rally with autoworkers at a nonunion shop, while Biden joined striking workers on a picket line, becoming the first sitting president to do so.

Barry Anderson, a Teamsters union shop steward and machine operator in Yuba City, Calif., said he “understand[s] union leaders interviewing Democrats and Republicans, but if you’re going to vet someone from the conservative side, entertain those who have a history of being in a favor of labor. Donald Trump has showed consistently over his career that he’s against unions and the working class.”

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment about whether the president had accepted the invitation to meet next week. The Teamsters also said it had extended an invitation to meet with Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

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