UPS Teamsters mood is strong

OAKLAND, Calif. – The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) is mobilizing members and community allies in a campaign to gain a decent contract at United Parcel Service (UPS). The union is striving to stem the loss of union jobs through forced overtime and subcontracting, drastically increase starting wages for part-timers and move more of them to full-time positions, and preserve health care benefits.

With the economy still in a slump and unemployment high, Teamsters at UPS are focusing on preserving and expanding good union jobs in current negotiations on a contract due to expire July 31.

“Despite the current recession,” IBT General President James P. Hoffa recently said, “UPS continues to report healthy margins as it retains the title as the most profitable package delivery company.” Since the last contract five years ago, UPS net income jumped 216.5 percent in 2000, while workers’ wages increased 2.8 percent.

Union demands call for wage increases for both full-timers and part-timers narrowed wage differentials for part-timers and improved pensions. The union is also expected to fight any effort by UPS to undercut health care benefits by, among other things, getting the employees to share the cost of health coverage.

In a successful strike in 1997, UPS committed to 10,000 new full-time jobs during the life of the five-year contract. But after the company backtracked on its promise, it took an arbitrators’ ruling in 2000 to force UPS to agree to create the jobs by this summer. The union wants a three-year contract this time and even more new full-time jobs – 3,000 per year.

In addition to expanding full-time jobs, the union is fighting to reclaim inside work lost over the past decade to management and non-union temporary workers, restrict subcontracting and limit excessive mandatory overtime and time off. Fueling the strong membershp support for the negotiating demands is the issue of dignity on the job, including improving the grievance procedure to protect workers from management retaliation and favoritism.

Describing the mood of the membership as “strong,” Chuck Mack, secretary-treasurer of Oakland-based Teamsters Local 70 and IBT international vice president, recently said the union’s atttitude in negotiations is that “we hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

As the union entered negotiations with UPS, an overwhelming 93 percent of the membership at the company voted in May to authorize a strike if the need arises.

In a “Day of Action” June 4, thousands of UPS union members rallied at more than 200 UPS facilities across the country to press the company on their demands and to kick off a one-week national petition drive. As with the strike authorization vote, the response to the petition by the membership has been overwhelming.

In addition, labor-community solidarity actions are springing up in various parts of the country. In Oakland, for example, the Teamsters union has come together with other unions whose contracts expire this summer. Together with the central labor council and community groups, they were organizing a labor-community-interfaith town hall meeting June 19 to discuss how contract issues will impact the community, including opening more liveable wage jobs.

The union is leaving no stone unturned in preparing for the current contract battle. At a special convention on April 30, Teamster delegates overwhelmingly approved a dues increase equivalent to an extra half-hour’s pay per month to create a solid strike fund, finance new organizing campaigns and rebuild the union’s net assets. Additionally, the union secured a $100 million line of credit to be used in the event of a strike.

The outcome of negotiations at UPS, the largest private-sector contract in the country that will be negotiated this year, will set the tone for other labor battles. Five years ago the Teamsters won important concessions from UPS after a successful 16-day strike that won wide public support and cost the company $750 million dollars. Also, with the renewed emphasis on organizing, the Teamsters are expected to more energetically go after nonunion FedEx, UPS’ main competitor.

For the union and the current leadership these are critical negotiations because UPS is the largest Teamsters’ employer and the union’s fastest growing sector. Some 210,000 Teamsters are covered by the master contract now being negotiated.

An additional 20,000 Teamsters at UPS include air workers, mechanics and related classifications, who work on the company’s planes. The air workers are negotiating separately for a new contract with the company because they are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act and bargain separately under the more restrictive Railway Labor Act.

Additionally, UPS is an important player in a global economy in which air cargo now makes up some 20 percent of all goods transported internationally, making the workers who’ve made this company a success an important contingent in the struggle to curb the power of global transnational corporations.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org