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Office of the Election Supervisor for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Teamster Power, 2021 ESD 141


for the



IN RE: TEAMSTER POWER ,                  )           Protest Decision 2021 ESD 141

                                                                        )           Issued: September 11, 2021

Protestor.                                           )           OES Case No. P-004-060320-NA



Teamster Power, a slate of candidates for International office, filed a pre-election protest pursuant to Article XIII, Section 2(a) of the Rules for the 2020-2021 IBT International Union Delegate and Officer Election (“Rules”).  The protest alleged that Sean O’Brien and Teamsters Local Union 25 violated the Rules by using union resources – a union-funded public relations firm – to advance O’Brien’s candidacy for IBT General President.


Election Supervisor representative Jeffrey Ellison investigated this protest.


Findings of Fact


            This “reach-back” protest was filed pursuant to Article XIII, Section 2(a) because each of the alleged violations occurred before the effective date of the Rules.  Under this provision, the Election Supervisor may consider only whether the conduct violated the LMRDA or the IBT constitution and may not consider whether the Rules have been violated.


            The protestor identified five instances it said showed that Local Union 25 expended union resources to support the candidacy of Sean O’Brien for IBT General President in violation of the LMRDA and the IBT constitution.  The protestor asserted in each instance that a union-paid public relations firm, Regan Communications, facilitated media reporting that promoted O’Brien’s candidacy.  Thus, the Boston Herald, a newspaper, published 2 articles about and an audio-recorded interview with O’Brien in September 2017 in which his possible candidacy for IBT General President was discussed.  The newspaper published an additional article in May 2018 when O’Brien formally announced his candidacy.  Finally, in April 2020[1], Boston magazine, a separate publication, listed O’Brien as one of its “100 Most Influential People In Boston Right Now,” reporting that O’Brien was a candidate for IBT General President.


In response to the protest, Local Union 25 acknowledged that Regan Communications has handled some public relations for it but denied that the firm provided any such service in relation to O’Brien’s potential or actual candidacy. 


Materials provided to us by Local Union 25 showed that Regan was hired in May 2017 on a monthly retainer.  The circumstance that prompted this engagement was a federal court trial, occurring that month, of 4 members of the local union who were charged with extortion in relation to a 2014 production of a Bravo TV Top Chef production.  The Top Chef production was filmed in suburban Boston.  It did not employ union members.  The allegations brought to trial were that 4 local union members engaged in coercive tactics to extort money from the TV production.  The 4 were acquitted.  Media reporting stated that the acquittals followed the admission at trial by a producer of the program that the defendants rejected his offer to pay them to quit their picket and leave the area.  Acceptance of that offer would have established the factual predicate for the charge of extortion.  Instead, the defendants sought to replace the non-union drivers for the production and work under a negotiated collective bargaining agreement, and their picket activity sought this lawful objective.


The nature of the charges against the defendants cast a shadow across the local union as well, and the union responded by hiring Regan to manage its public relations.  The local union provided us the billings it received from Regan for the latter’s work, which documented daily attendance at the trial, preparation of press releases, and otherwise managing the local union’s public response to the matter.


In the aftermath of the acquittals, the local union kept Regan on monthly retainer to handle its public relations.  Billing statements were provided for the entirety of Regan’s engagement, through the month this protest was filed.  Careful review of those billings, which document all activity Regan undertook on behalf of the union, showed press statements and related engagement to publicize organizing and collective bargaining activity of the union, and charitable work the union performed.  Principal in the charitable category was publicity for an annual event to raise funds for autism research.


None of the documentation obtained from the local union showed any work by Regan to support O’Brien’s candidacy for IBT General President or to facilitate media interviews or announcements in that regard.


O’Brien announced his candidacy for that office in May 2018.  Evidence provided by the O'Brien-Zuckerman 2021 slate showed that publicity surrounding the announcement and the announcement event itself were handled by the slate and the volunteer and paid staff it employed.  No evidence was uncovered showing Regan’s involvement in any aspect of this announcement.  The Boston Herald bylined article, titled “Boston Teamsters boss to take on James P. Hoffa” and published May 30, 2018, announced that “Teamsters Local 25 President Sean O’Brien is joining an insurgent Kentucky union leader in a bid to unseat the International’s head, James P. Hoffa, pledging a fight to return the union’s power to its 1.4 million workers.[2]  The article provided brief biographical information about O’Brien, announced his campaign theme “to take this union back,” and recited O’Brien’s criticism that Hoffa does not understand the conditions rank-and-file Teamsters endure because he has never driven a truck for a living.  According to the article, O’Brien made these statements at a campaign announcement made outside the local union’s hall in Charlestown.  The article also included a quote from an IBT spokesman, stating that Hoffa was focused on winning strong contracts, and that members have the right to seek office.  It also identified Fred Zuckerman as O’Brien’s running mate and included a quote from him as a self-identified “pissed-off Teamster.”  The article concluded with the following paragraphs:


O’Brien said his own quest to unseat Hoffa began a year ago, around the time Hoffa canned him from a committee negotiation on a new contract with UPS, the Teamsters’ largest work agreement.  He says Hoffa lost his way, hasn’t organized in the Teamsters’ core industries, is losing membership and has yet to stand up to President Trump or Congress when workers are threatened.

O’Brien’s local landed in the national spotlight when four of its members won acquittal in federal court on extortion charges related to protests of the TV show “Top Chef” when it was filming in Milton in 2014.

            The previous publications by the Boston Herald, 2 articles and 1 audio interview published on September 12 and 13, 2017, came in the immediate aftermath of Hoffa’s decision on September 6, 2017, to replace O’Brien as head of the IBT Package division and lead negotiator of the UPS contract.[3]  O’Brien responded to the dismissal with a 2-page letter to Hoffa, dated the same day, that criticized the decision, gave O’Brien’s perspective on the reasons Hoffa made it, and declared his intention to represent his local union and New England Teamsters to insure the best contract he could obtain for them. 


O’Brien’s letter to Hoffa did not announce his candidacy for IBT General President or otherwise refer to the election.  O’Brien had been elected East region vice president on the Hoffa-Hall slate and took office in early 2017, around the same time he was appointed Parcel division chief.  He had learned on September 6, 2017 that he lost the position as lead UPS negotiator and, investigation shows, did not address future candidacy issues in the letter because he had not considered them yet.


Local Union 25 tasked Regan Communications to aid in releasing O’Brien’s letter to Hoffa to public media.  It did so because Hoffa’s decision to remove O’Brien was of importance not only to Local Union 25 members but to Teamsters employed by UPS in the US and Canada, well beyond the reach of the local union’s in-house communications operation.  In response to publication of the letter, the Boston Herald contacted O’Brien for an interview.  A news article and an audio posting followed, both published on September 12, 2017.[4]  Regan was not involved in that interview.


The print article, titled “Taking on Hoffa: Teamsters Local 25 president exploring international run,” opened with the following:


Teamsters Local 25 president Sean O’Brien is weighing a challenge to the International’s head James P. Hoffa, whom O’Brien accused of playing politics to keep his rivals in check after Hoffa axed him from the committee negotiating a new contract with UPS.

O’Brien, 45, told the Herald he and many Teamsters are fed up with Hoffa for not taking stronger stances on pension and health care issues, and “putting his own agenda before our members.”

“I’m obviously seriously considering my options,” O’Brien said.  “The election won’t be for another four years.  I’m four generations of Teamster, and everything I’ve had in my entire life is because of the Teamsters Union.  And I’m not going to sit here and let our organization, under a weak leader, diminish our conditions that our forefathers fought long and hard for.”

The article summarized O’Brien’s letter to Hoffa, referenced the Top Chef trial, and recited the facts of O’Brien’s appointment and removal as UPS lead negotiator.  It included quotes from the IBT spokesman denying political considerations for O’Brien’s removal and touting the experience and approach of the person appointed to replace O’Brien in the negotiations.  The article also included speculation from Fred Zuckerman as to why Hoffa removed O’Brien.  The article concluded as follows:


O’Brien said he thinks Hoffa considers him a “threat,” because of his youth, vote totals and fundraising prowess.  O’Brien received the most votes of six candidates for three eastern region VP posts in November, and also topped the ticket in 2011.

“He’s got his staff people telling him, ‘You can’t give Sean all this power,’”  O’Brien said.  “For me, it’s not about politics, it’s not about exposure or power, it’s about doing the right thing for our 250,000 members that are at UPS.  We’re viewed as the strongest union in the country, and we should uphold our standards and uphold our reputation.”

As corroborated by its monthly summary of activities taken on Local Union 25’s behalf, Regan played no role in the Herald interview, even though it released the September 6, 2017, letter O’Brien sent to Hoffa.  The photos of O’Brien that accompanied the Herald news article were taken by Herald staff photographers and were not supplied by the local union or Regan.


            The Herald published a follow-up to the September 12, 2017, article the next day, titled “Sean O’Brien has company in Teamsters election.”[5]  It opened with the following:


Boston Teamsters President Sean O’Brien will have some competition if he decides to challenge International chieftain James P. Hoffa, as dissident Teamsters leader Fred Zuckerman of Kentucky continues to press his appeal for a do-over of his narrow November electoral loss to Hoffa.

Zuckerman, who helms Teamsters Local 89 of Louisville, told the Herald yesterday he plans to challenge Hoffa again whether or not his pending appeal is successful, but praised O’Brien for speaking out.

“We’re going to be looking to the future, for these young guys to step up, stand out, and take the union further, so I like what he’s doing right now,” Zuckerman said of O’Brien, 45, president of Local 25 in Charlestown, who ran on the Hoffa slate in November.

“I like the fact that he’s speaking out, because he was an insider and he’s seen from a different perspective what’s going on,” he said.

The quotes for this article were collected in the reporting that resulted in the September 12, 2017 article.  They were held for the follow-up article published the next day.  Regan played no role facilitating the interviews involved in the reporting.


            The final article the protest cited is the Boston magazine list of 100 influential people published in the April 2020 issue.  The article led with the following:


In times of crisis, a city naturally turns to its leaders. … As you’ll see throughout this year’s list, many of Boston’s most influential people are stepping up as the novel coronavirus ravages our health, our economy, and the very fabric of our society.

O’Brien appeared as No. 64 on the list of 100.  The entry beneath his name and photo stated the following:


From [then-Boston Mayor Marty] Walsh to [U.S. Senator Elizabeth] Warren, Boston’s political elite wouldn’t dare skip Local 25’s annual autism fundraising gala — after all, they know how instrumental O’Brien and his 12,000-member union have been in getting them elected.  But O’Brien’s reach continues to grow outside the region as well: He is running to succeed James Hoffa Jr. as president of the national Teamsters, putting him on track to become our most powerful labor leader in generations.


Listed as No. 65 in the article was George Regan, principal of Regan Communications.  Among other things, Regan was identified as the public relations representative for Boston magazine, the entity publishing the list.  The article’s author, David Bernstein, stated that O’Brien was placed on the list because he is an influential leader in Boston.  Bernstein denied that Regan facilitated or influenced the decision to list O’Brien.  The relevant statements of monthly activity Regan supplied to Local Union 25 stating the work it performed on its contract of engagement in the months leading up to publication of the Boston magazine piece reported no activity related to the magazine’s publication or Bernstein’s work on it.




With this reach-back protest, the protestor identified five instances it said showed impermissible use of local union resources, in the form of public relations services provided by Regan Communications, to support O’Brien’s candidacy in the International officer election.  This evidence is said to prove impermissible use of union funds to support a candidate, in violation of LMRDA Section 401(g) and the applicable provisions of the IBT constitution.[6] 


Investigation showed that the local union engaged Regan beginning in May 2017 to provide public relations services.  However, no evidence was found that it did so to facilitate media exposure for O’Brien in the period when he was considering candidacy or when he had become a candidate.  Although Regan released the letter O’Brien wrote Hoffa on the same day Hoffa replaced O’Brien as lead UPS negotiator, we find that the letter did not reference the election, explicitly or implicitly, and O’Brien was neither a declared candidate nor behaving as a candidate at that time.  The media coverage the Herald provided a week later was without Regan’s involvement.


For these reasons, we find no evidence that Regan, in the employ of Local Union 25, provided any service to O’Brien’s candidacy that would constitute a violation of LMRDA 401(g) or the IBT constitution.  Accordingly, we DENY the protest. 


Any interested party not satisfied with this determination may request a hearing before the Election Appeals Master within two (2) working days of receipt of this decision.  Any party requesting a hearing must comply with the requirements of Article XIII, Section 2(i).  All parties are reminded that, absent extraordinary circumstances, no party may rely in any such appeal upon evidence that was not presented to the Office of the Election Supervisor.  Requests for a hearing shall be made in writing, shall specify the basis for the appeal, and shall be served upon:


Barbara Jones

Election Appeals Master


Copies of the request for hearing must be served upon the parties, as well as upon the Election Supervisor for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, all within the time prescribed above.  Service may be accomplished by email, using the “reply all” function on the email by which the party received this decision.  A copy of the protest must accompany the request for hearing.


                                                                  Richard W. Mark

                                                                  Election Supervisor

cc:        Barbara Jones

            2021 ESD 141









Bradley T. Raymond, General Counsel

International Brotherhood of Teamsters


Edward Gleason


Patrick Szymanski


Will Bloom


Tom Geoghegan


Rob Colone


Barbara Harvey


Fred Zuckerman


Ken Paff

Teamsters for a Democratic Union


Scott Jenkins

[1] The protest misstates the date of publication as April 2019; it was April 2020.

[2] As this decision issued, the article remained posted at (paywall).

[3] Further detail on this decision is recounted in O'Brien-Zuckerman 2021, 2020 ESD 2 (June 29, 2020), p. 4.

[6] The protestor correctly does not allege that the Boston Herald and Boston magazine publications concerning O’Brien’s potential candidacy (as reported by the Herald in September 2017) and candidacy (Herald in May 2018; Boston in April 2020) themselves constitute impermissible employer contributions to a candidate.  Such an allegation would not be cognizable in a reach-back protest, which can consider allegations of LMRDA and constitution violations only and not those of the Rules.  Moreover, under the “media employer exception” to the prohibition on employer contributions, the Election Supervisor does not exercise jurisdiction over “newspaper or magazine articles published by entities which are not owned or whose editorial policies are not controlled by candidates or committees acting on behalf of candidates.”  Hoffa Unity Slate, 2001 EAD 78 (January 8, 2001).