The Teamsters union replaced its lead negotiator representing United Parcel Service Inc. workers ahead of contract talks to begin in October, exposing a rift within the powerful labor group.
Its general president, James P. Hoffa, removed Sean O'Brien, who as director of the Teamsters package division represented more than 250,000 UPS workers and led negotiations on what the union calls the largest collective bargaining agreement in the U.S.
Continue Reading Below
Mr. O'Brien was replaced by Denis Taylor, an elected Teamsters trustee who the union said "has the experience, commitment and knowledge to lead the upcoming negotiations."
The switch comes as the two sides are putting together their proposals for the next contract, which is set to expire July 31.
Mr. O'Brien, a Teamsters regional vice president who has held the position since February, said he would continue to support the negotiations but criticized the abrupt change. "By making this bold decision on the eve of the biggest collective bargaining agreement sends a bad message to our members but also puts the person in charge at a disadvantage," he said.
Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell said the leadership change was made in the best interest of members.
"This is not a political decision, as it is being inaccurately portrayed, " Mr. Caldwell said. "Our focus has been and remains on the day-to-day work on behalf of our members."
Mr. Hoffa, the son of the famous labor leader with the same name, narrowly secured re-election as the Teamsters general president last year. Mr. O'Brien ran on Mr. Hoffa's slate and won a regional vice president position. But during his preparations for the UPS negotiations, he sought support from local union leaders who opposed Mr. Hoffa, including seeking a role on the negotiating committee for Fred Zuckerman, Mr. Hoffa's re-election opponent.
Mr. O'Brien had signaled that he would take an aggressive stance with UPS in contract talks. In a letter earlier this month, he said the union was strongly opposed to a plan to hire more seasonal drivers who would use their own cars instead of UPS vehicles to make deliveries.
In response, UPS President Alan Gudim said in a letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that the company never made a formal proposal for such a role. A UPS spokesman added that the company has hired seasonal drivers during the holidays who occasionally used personal vehicles and were reimbursed. It was too early to predict how many such workers would be hired this holiday season, he said.
In a statement Thursday, UPS said it looks forward to working with Mr. Taylor "toward the shared interest of continuing to make UPS successful by providing reliable customer service, rewarding our employees for their contributions, while also recognizing the competitive dynamics of our industry."
Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 07, 2017 17:15 ET (21:15 GMT)