Minnesota’s Erickson part of change coming to Teamsters’ international leadership

Teamsters Local 120 President Tom Erickson spoke at a rally against wage theft at Finish Line Express in 2018.

Tom Erickson won’t be sworn in as Teamsters Central Region vice president until March 22, but the principal officer of Minnesota-based Local 120 intends to hit the ground running.

He and other local activists were up well before dawn on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, supporting a nationwide campaign to push some of the union’s large, nationwide employers – like UPS, Sysco and U.S. Foods – to recognize the holiday.

“When you believe in something, it’s easy to get out of bed at 1 a.m.” said Erickson, Local 120’s president since 2014. “I’m a lucky person in that I get to wake up every single day and represent the best workers on the planet.”

That fighting spirit and grassroots energy, according to Erickson, is what separated his slate of candidates, led by President-elect Sean O’Brien and Secretary-Treasurer-elect Fred Zuckerman, from its rivals. Their victory will give the union of 1.4 million workers new leadership for the first time in 23 years, with Erickson becoming the first Minnesota Teamster to take international office in over a decade.

He looked back on the campaign and ahead to the challenges that await in this interview, edited for length.

UA: What drew you to the O’Brien slate?

TE: There were three different slates, and I can honestly say for the first time as a Teamster that all three candidates were viable, good candidates and on the right side of fighting for workers. But talking through it with my team at Local 120, we came to the conclusion Sean O’Brien and the team he was assembling was the future, and we were one of the early ones to jump on.

Sean and Fred built this thing from the members up, instead of saying here’s the guy and forcing it down to the members. All of our team, every one of us on the slate, worked in the craft. That was important to me.

UA: What was the campaign like?

TE: It was a (expletive) ton of work. We outworked the other teams, hands down. Sean just won’t accept anything less than working your ass off. I was lucky to have my wife there by my side, telling me to get going, and guys from Local 120 like Bill Wedebrand, Grant Bendix, Paul Slattery, Ladell Roberts and Karlan Bean showing up at 2 or 3 a.m., sacrificing their own personal time to go campaign.

But if I could describe it in one word, it was a blast. I got to meet so many great members who asked great questions, and our whole campaign was to stay positive and put the Teamsters back on the map.

UA: You first joined the Teamsters in 1983. Where did this journey start?

TE: I graduated from high school on a Friday night and started on the night shift at SuperValu that Sunday. I started out on the warehouse floor as an order selector and then a forklift operator and truck loader. When I started out, Tom Keegel was my principal officer at Local 544. (Local 544 merged into Local 120 in 1998.) Now, I’ll be a part of the General Executive Board, where Local 120 has not had a voice since the late, great Tom Keegel left.

UA: O’Brien-Zuckerman has been described as the “reform-minded slate.” What does that mean to you?

TE: It’s about the members first, having rank and file members participate in national negotiations like UPS. That’s a new idea. It’s about changing the union and uniting it, not fighting about it. It’s about member engagement like I’ve never seen before in my life.

UA: What does the margin of victory – the largest in your union’s history – say about the opportunities and expectations ahead?

TE: People are ready for a fighter, and Sean’s a fighter. He’s a south Boston guy who’s tough, but levelheaded and keeps his cool. The companies that are bullies out there, they need to know that if they go to war with the Teamsters, they better buckle up.

It’s also about growing the labor movement and being there for each other. At Local 120, we show up where we can – for the Laborers, the Operating Engineers, SEIU, AFSCME, the Nurses. Sean believes that, too. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to debate from time to time, but our focus is on making things better for working people.

UA: What will your new role be?

TE: Uniting this union again is going to be Sean’s task and my task and everyone else that’s part of this movement, right down to the member that just signed his card to become a Teamster. There’s going to be a learning curve, but at the end of the day I get to do what I love. And that’s represent good people. I’m fired up. I can’t wait.

This interview appeared in The Union Advocate’s February 2022 issue. Click here to browse recent issues.

%d bloggers like this: