Several union members ‘embarrassed’ after Teamsters President O’Brien discusses endorsement with Trump
Teamsters President Sean O'Brien with former White House occupant Donald Trump. | Photo via Teamsters

PALM BEACH, Fla.—Teamsters President Sean O’Brien discussed the union’s priorities for a presidential endorsement this year in a one-on-one meeting Jan. 3 with former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination against Democratic President Joe Biden.

Treating Trump like any other presidential candidate, however, is not earning O’Brien praise from many rank-and-file Teamsters.

“I am a proud Teamster, and I am against this in every conceivable way. Shame for giving that man any time at all,” union member Raymond Tanner said on X, the former Twitter.

O’Brien didn’t reveal details of his discussions with Trump, and there could have been some big omissions.

Like the relationship between preserving democracy and the U.S. Constitution—which Trump wants to trash—and preserving and enhancing worker economic and political rights—which Trump tried to kill in his prior term.

The meeting, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion in Florida, is being portrayed by union leaders as a Teamsters tradition, voiced by O’Brien’s predecessor, James Hoffa, that labor has no permanent political friends and no permanent political enemies.

O’Brien treated his meeting with Trump as par for the course, along with his meetings with other presidential hopefuls, including independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Rep. Dean Phillips, DFL-Minn., who’s giving up his U.S. House seat to run as a “moderate” presidential primary challenger to Biden.

Not a candidate like any other

But O’Brien’s explanation puzzles outside analysts—because Trump isn’t like the others. He’s a former White House denizen, for four years, with a worker record so bad the AFL-CIO went out of its way to compile it.

And then, to keep himself in power, Trump schemed to trash the Constitution, even before ordering and encouraging the Jan. 6, 2021, invasion and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Even the AFL-CIO has said, in 2022 convention resolutions, that worker economic and political rights and freedoms depend on constitutional rights and freedoms.

“As the largest democratic force in global civil society, unions play a critical role to promote and defend democracy. Together, we must make sure that every person has dignity, economic security and the right to participate democratically—in the workplace, in our communities and in our countries,” one said.

But if past is prologue when it comes to Teamsters presidents, and other union presidents, talking one-on-one with presidential hopefuls, neither the hopeful’s overall worker record nor the ties between worker rights and constitutional rights will come up. In all likelihood, that includes the Trump-O’Brien talk.

When running the government from 2017-21, Trump consistently attacked labor.

He began by appointing Peter Robb as National Labor Relations Board General Counsel, its top enforcement officer. As a young Justice Department lawyer, Robb wrote the legal memo letting Ronald Reagan fire the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981. In a 2017 memo as GC, Robb vowed to try to repeal not just the pro-worker measures of the Great Society, but those of the New Deal.

Trump’s record with workers went downhill from there. His appointees even schemed to eradicate one small union sector, representing immigration judges, on a trumped-up excuse they “made policy.”

Trump consistently tried to wreck federal worker unions, throwing them out of offices, confiscating their phones and computers, and forcing union shop stewards to represent workers on their own time and on their own dime. The Government Employees (AFGE) challenged Trump’s moves in court. It won before then-U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, but lost in U.S. appeals court.

Trump ideologues in the White House made clear then—and still do in “Project 2025”—that they favor the same destruction of workers’ rights in the private sector. Just like their boss wants to set aside the U.S. Constitution and democracy itself, as he said on live TV.

Trump also pushed anti-worker rules and legislation. The bills, such as a pro-corporate alternative to the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, went nowhere. But so did pro-worker legislation—the PRO Act again plus paid family leave and more—in the Senate, stymied by corporate-backed and Trump-endorsed GOP filibusters.

Trump had more success in imposing anti-worker rules, though courts later cancelled many of his “wins.” All the rules were pro-corporate and right-wing, designed to increase profits and decrease regulation of business. Trump would impose them—as he tried with misclassification and joint employer rules, both tilted towards capitalist interests—only to see the courts veto his versions.

But sometimes he won. In the most outstanding case, Trump-named U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration overreached when it tried to extend anti-pandemic actions in the workplace—masking, physical distancing and the like—to protect a firm’s customers as well as its workers.

The justices said “no,” and behind closed doors Trump appointees chortled with glee at the AFL-CIO, whose lawsuit for the pandemic rules sided with OSHA.


Past Teamster one-on-one meetings with presidential hopefuls stuck to Teamsters-specific priorities, and O’Brien didn’t say what they were in his Trump tete-a-tete, but it won’t be their last get-together. In a posting on social media, O’Brien explained the union will also host a rank-and-file “important and necessary roundtable” with Trump later in January.

Explaining the Trump meeting in a posting on X, O’Brien said it was “in-depth and productive on worker issues most important” to the Teamsters. Neither O’Brien nor the union website listed them.

Many responders to O’Brien critical. Several identified themselves as present or former Teamsters.

“It’s cute that you think he didn’t lie to your face during your conversation and that he won’t lie to your face in any future discussion to get what he wants, which has nothing to do with helping Teamsters, rather, he wants to get back in office to avoid jail and to be a dictator,” tweeted Kimberly, identified as @klr_reno.

“You should be ashamed of yourself because Trump doesn’t give a damn about union workers. Have some self-respect,” tweeted Maxine Baptiste.

X user @GreatGreyUnchecked tweeted, referring to the photo of the two posted in the Teamsters tweet: “This you with the thumbs up Sean? He’s using you as an endorsement. In 41 years of Union membership I’ve never been as embarrassed by the leadership. And that includes Hank Duffy time with ALPA. Resign.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.