OAKLAND, Calif. – Interviews by the People’s Weekly World with two UPS drivers at the company’s Oakland terminal brought out an accumulation of grievances that lie behind the union’s fight to get a new contract.

Jerome Otis has worked 13-and-a-half years at UPS and is the chairman of the Northern California Teamster Black Caucus. Milton Lewis is vice president of East Bay Local 70 International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and has put in 18 years at UPS. Both are African American.

Both workers were highly critical of what they referred to as “the integrity” of the company, its policy of “manipulating” the grievance machinery in such a way as to stall, obstruct and otherwise delay the settlement of grievances, to the point where workers wonder if it’s worth filing a grievance.

“There’s no respect for the worker on the job,” said Otis. “Workers are fired for insubordination, for trying to defend their rights.” Lewis told of being fired four times over a six-month period, including for “intoxication,” though he passed the company’s tests for sobriety.

Health and safety are also a cause for concern. Trucks are overloaded with packages and drivers have to make 75 stops a day. That is a lot of wear and tear on the body; injuries from lifting and sprained ankles are some of the results from the fast pace of deliveries. “And it’s always ‘your fault,’ something you did ‘wrong,’ according to the company,” said Otis.

Lewis told of getting a sprained ankle and being sent to the company doctor, who said he was fit to go back to work. “The ankle was swollen and painful,” Lewis recalled, “but they wouldn’t assign me to work that wouldn’t have me on my feet.”

Lewis felt there was a pattern at the company that meted out disciplines to Black drivers in a much greater proportion than to white drivers. “There are at least eight court cases now being processed,” said Lewis, “and many of them involve charges of discrimination based on race.”

Both workers are looking to a new contract with stronger provisions to prevent or counter the company’s efforts to stall or obstruct the implementation of the contract. This is a company that more than doubled its profits – from $3.9 billion for the period up to 1997, when the last contract was negotiated, to over $9.2 billion for 1997-2001. As Otis said, “They can well afford to increase the number of permanent jobs, cut down on the speed-up and treat their workers with more dignity.”