Sean M. O’Brien, the general president of the Teamsters union, sat down with former President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday at Mr. Trump’s seaside mansion, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Kara Deniz, a spokeswoman for the union, said the meeting was simply one of a series of meetings the Teamsters plan to have with all the presidential candidates.
But this particular meeting, which the union detailed in a lengthy post on social media that was accompanied by a picture of Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Trump, came at a remarkable moment. At a public hearing in November, Senator Markwayne Mullin, a staunchly pro-Trump Republican from Oklahoma, called Mr. O’Brien a “thug,” a “bully” and a coward, and challenged him to a fight.
President Biden has called himself the most pro-union president in history, as have several leaders of organized labor, and the Teamsters endorsed his candidacy in 2020. In December, Mr. Biden issued an executive order mandating what are known as project labor agreements — which establish fixed work, wage and labor standards at construction sites — for all federal contracts exceeding $35 million. That order was a potential boon to the Teamsters union, which is likely to control transportation at many of those sites and would have to be brought into contract talks as funds from Mr. Biden’s signature domestic achievements start to flow.
Just last week, the Biden administration named Cole Scandaglia, the Teamsters’ senior legislative representative, to a high-profile advisory board at the Transportation Department. And in 2022, the administration moved to shore up a pension fund that affected 350,000 Teamster retirees.
Yet there was Mr. O’Brien next to a beaming Mr. Trump, whose appeal to working-class voters will be key to his re-election bid. Mr. O’Brien promised the former president a seat at another meeting later this month in Washington, this time with rank-and-file members.
Serious issues need to be addressed “to improve the lives of working people across the country, and the Teamsters union is making sure our members’ voices are heard as we head into a critical election year,” Mr. O’Brien said in a statement. “We thank the former president for taking time during this private meeting to listen to the Teamsters’ top priorities.”
Teamsters leaders have met with other candidates, mainly on the margins of the 2024 election and none with Mr. Trump’s profile. The first two meetings came last month, with former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, whose presidential campaign has barely registered with voters, and with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the anti-vaccine independent who qualified this week for the presidential ballot in Utah. The union has also met with Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips, Democratic candidates, as well as Cornel West, who is running as a left-wing independent.
A spokesman for the Biden campaign, Ammar Moussa, said the president “looks forward to continuing to work with the Teamsters and workers across America to ensure working Americans get a fair share of the wealth they’re helping to create.”
In September, Mr. Biden became the first sitting president to join a picket line when he stood with members of the United Auto Workers striking in Michigan. Pressure from the administration helped resolve the strike, and has helped other unions expand their organizing.
Still, while the U.A.W.’s brash new president, Shawn Fain, has praised Mr. Biden and castigated Mr. Trump, the U.A.W. has so far not endorsed the president’s re-election bid, and Mr. O’Brien may have added to the White House’s frustration. As the Teamsters line up meetings with each presidential candidate, the union’s leadership appears intent on maintaining its leverage, just as Mr. Fain has.
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