UPS negotiations collapse ahead of contract expiration, strike looms

Photo: UPS workers practice picketing for looming strike. Teamsters.

After marathon bargaining sessions lasting until 4 a.m. on July 5, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters walked out of negotiations with United Parcel Service. The National Negotiating Committee of the union unanimously rejected the inadequate proposals from UPS. With no more bargaining sessions scheduled ahead of the contract’s expiration date on July 31, the stage is set for the Teamsters to launch a nationwide strike of 340,000 UPS workers. This would be the largest strike at a single employer in U.S. history, and would be felt throughout the country and around the world.

Victories on safety and cooling

Prior to the breakdown in negotiations this past week, the union had scored concessions from UPS on some of their core issues through their clear and growing commitment to strike if the company leaves them no other option. On June 20, the Teamsters secured historic victories on the remaining non-economic issues in the contract, including addressing intolerable heat in the trucks.

Drivers have long raised the insufferable heat they can face when out for a day of deliveries, especially in the hotter parts of the country. The fleet of UPS trucks doesn’t have any air conditioning to keep the drivers safe and comfortable during their long hours on the job. During the summer months, package cars can reach upwards of 130 F. This has led to far too many UPS drivers suffering from heat stroke on the job, and some have even died due to the excessive heat. With worsening global warming, these issues will only become more severe. 

With the mounting strike threat by the workers and growing pressure from the public against UPS’s inhumane working conditions, the employer finally caved. The union won much-needed air conditioning and heat shields for the fleet of UPS delivery vehicles for the first time.

Eliminating two-tier

After clearing the remaining non-economic issues, the Teamsters put forward their economic package, which includes 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 “combo” job category. The two-tier system was introduced in the 2018 contract, and is widely seen as an existential threat to the stability of the workforce and all of their other hard fought gains.

The 22.4 two-tier system imposed by UPS in the 2018 contract introduced a new category of lower-paid drivers. This allows the employer to cut their costs by moving more of the work from the higher paid full time drivers to 22.4’s, which in turn leaves full time drivers with less bargaining power and even cuts to their hours. Additionally, two-tier systems are aimed at pitting groups of workers against each other by creating resentment and misdirecting their frustrations towards each other instead of the boss who imposes lower wages and cuts their hours.

The same day the Teamsters introduced their economic package at the table, they launched practice pickets on the ground across the country. These public actions serve as a warm-up for the fighting capacity of the massive workforce, ensuring the membership is ready to do what is needed to get UPS to cave to their demands. This practice also sends a very clear message to the employer that if they don’t cave before the contract expires, that there will be severe consequences to pay come August 1.

Within one week, the Teamsters then reached a tentative agreement with UPS to eliminate the two-tier system going forward. This is a huge victory that can not be understated, and demonstrates the workers won’t allow UPS to divide them. This is not just a victory for UPS drivers and Teamsters alone, but is a broader victory for the entire labor movement as more major employers attempt to push a two-tier concessionary regime on workforces around the country. This victory was only made possible through the coordinated, nation-wide actions of  thousands of UPS Teamsters. 

Threat looms large

The threat of the strike remains strong after the breakdown in negotiations. On June 16, union members voted 97% in favor of authorizing a strike, showing they are ready and willing to strike if needed. The nation is now preparing for this epic showdown set to start on August 1. 

Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien spoke at a press conference after the end of the final bargaining session about the company’s decision to fail to meet their demands: “This multibillion-dollar corporation has plenty to give American workers — they just don’t want to. UPS had a choice to make, and they have clearly chosen to go down the wrong road.”

The entire nation is now set on that road that UPS chose. The success of the Teamsters in their struggle for a fair contract will rely on the support and solidarity of working people across the country if it comes to a strike. If the American people stand with the Teamsters for dignity and respect for UPS drivers and all working people, they will win.

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