Photo: Members of Teamsters Local 804 in New York City hold a practice picket. Credit: Liberation News
The Teamsters National Bargaining Committee reached a Tentative Agreement with UPS this morning, which will now go to the 350,000 UPS workers for a ratification vote. This is a major victory. The Teamsters won on all of their core demands, including eliminating the 22.4 “second-tier” job category, the creation of new full-time jobs, AC & fans for drivers, elimination of forced overtime, and historic wage increases, especially for part-timers. In total, the Teamsters estimate it will cost the company $30 billion in new money. This is a huge victory for UPS workers and for the entire working class as it sets a new standard in the logistics industry and beyond and will propel new organizing campaigns at nonunion companies.
The Teamsters have delivered a powerful lesson for all workers: For organized labor to have real power, the most essential thing is to be prepared to strike — and that means full-timers and part-timers together.
PSL members have been organizing all across the country to support UPS Teamsters in their historic struggle for a fair contract — attending practice pickets, producing media, hosting forums and more. The PSL salutes the Teamsters on their victory, and for being the tip of the spear in an increasingly militant U.S. labor movement.
Organization and unity made UPS cave
On June 16, UPS Teamsters voted 97% to authorize a strike. Four days later, the Teamsters secured tentative agreements on all non-economic issues of the contract. Notably, the union won air conditioning and heat shields for the fleet of UPS delivery vehicles — a long-standing issue for drivers.
The Teamsters then put forward their economic proposal. This included aggressive demands around raises, additional holidays and paid-time off, pension increases, protection and enhancement of existing health benefits, the creation of more full-time jobs and more rapid advancement for part-timers, and the complete elimination of the second tier “22.4” job category. The same day the Teamsters introduced their economic package at the bargaining table, they launched practice pickets on the ground across the country.
Within one week, the Teamsters reached a tentative agreement with UPS to eliminate the two-tier system. UPS chose to stall on other key issues, including part-time wages, but workers responded by doubling down — expanding practice pickets and organizing impressive rallies. As actions mounted and progressive organizations began mobilizing community support, UPS could feel that it was losing ground in the battle for public opinion. With just under a week left before the contract would have expired, and a strike that would have brought the shipping giant to a screeching halt, UPS caved.
These victories were made possible only through the many months of coordinated action of Teamsters all across the country in the lead-up to contract expiration, expanding membership participation, holding practice pickets, and thus applying serious pressure on the company through a credible strike threat.
The ultra rich across the country were so terrified of how a potential UPS strike could impact their profits that their flagship organization the U.S. Chamber of Commerce circulated a letter pleading that Biden intervene in negotiations. As this struggle has been heating up, more and more workers across the country began to take notice — looking to the UPS Teamsters fight as a fight not just at one company, but a struggle of all workers against corporate America.
The struggle ahead
This sudden victory may feel anticlimactic to some workers who have been steeling themselves for a strike. Even with the huge gains made in the tentative agreement, the built-up frustrations of years of exploitation and disrespect remain for many. A union contract is incredibly important, but we also have to remember what it essentially is — a temporary peace treaty between us as workers and the bosses who live off of our labor. Workers have landed a powerful blow against UPS. The company will, of course, try to find ways to fight back and claw back what has been won. The profit motive of this capitalist system demands that they do so. That reality does not lessen the scale of this historic victory. It just means that the struggle must continue.
A contract victory at UPS shows the power that workers have when they are organized in a fighting union. The task now is to spread this organization to the nonunion corporations in the shipping and logistics industry. Sean O’Brien and the rest of the Teamsters leadership have spoken on many occasions about the importance of organizing Amazon. With a powerful and high-profile demonstration of the gains that workers can win through organizing in the form of the new UPS contract, the prospects for success organizing Amazon is even greater.
Building the ranks of organized labor grows the strength, leadership, and overall fighting capacity of the working class as a whole. Doing so puts us in a better position to fight for the things that no union contract or other type of reform can satisfy. It puts us in a better position to fight against the capitalist system that values profits over human needs and to replace it with socialism — a system in which the workers who make the world run actually run the world. Today, we celebrate the victory of Teamsters at UPS. Tomorrow, we continue the fight for that larger victory.