Teamsters claim big win with 5-year tentative pact with UPS
Members of the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee celebrate their win on Tuesday. | Teamsters via Twitter

WASHINGTON—The Teamsters claimed a big win on July 25 when, within hours of bargaining restarting for the first time in three weeks, UPS agreed to a five-year tentative contract with the union.

The pact gives workers substantial raises, eliminates many part-time jobs by raising the positions, and the workers in them, to full-time, and effectively kills the hated two-tier wage system at the nation’s largest package delivery company, which employs 340,000 Teamsters.

“We’ve changed the game,” union President Sean O’Brien exulted.

Had bosses not settled, they would have forced the workers to strike and cost their own company hundreds of millions of dollars a day. Had the union been forced to walk, it would have been the largest private-sector strike against a single company in U.S. history.

The current contract expires at midnight July 31. Before the July 25 session, UPS honchos had walked out of bargaining at 4:15 am on July 5 after presenting what O’Brien called “an insulting” wage offer.

“Rank-and-file UPS Teamsters sacrificed everything to get this country through a pandemic and enabled UPS to reap record-setting profits,” O’Brien declared in the union’s extensive press release.

“The union went into this fight committed to winning for our members. We demanded the best contract in the history of UPS, and we got it. UPS has put $30 billion in new money on the table as a direct result of these negotiations. It will go into the pockets of our members, full-time and part-time.”

“We’ve changed the game, battling it out day and night to make sure our members won an agreement that pays strong wages, rewards their labor, and doesn’t require a single concession. This contract sets a new standard in the labor movement and raises the bar for all workers.”

O’Brien previously said the Teamsters would also promote the new UPS pact, assuming it’s ratified in the one-Teamster-one-vote election from August 3-22, as a reason Amazon warehouse workers and truckers should organize with the union, too.

In apparently winning, O’Brien and his running mate, Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman, kept the key campaign promise which carried their reform slate to victory in the 2020 one-Teamster-one-vote presidential race: UPS workers, who had their last contract imposed by then-President Jim Hoffa, would get a new and generous pact.

The union’s large bargaining committee, which included rank-and-file reps from the 176 Teamster locals with UPS members, unanimously endorsed the tentative agreement. Rank-and-file analysis and discussion of it will precede the balloting.

The union credited strong solidarity and strike preparation, plus increased militancy from rank-and-file members as factors prompting the firm’s honchos to yield.

“Our hard work has paid off from those members and leaders negotiating for more at the table to my sisters and brothers building a credible strike threat around the country,” negotiating committee member Brandy Harris of Local  174 in Seattle, a part-timer, told the union.

“Our union was organized and we were relentless. We’ve hit every goal that UPS Teamster members wanted and asked for.”

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander added another factor: Wall Street. A Teamster-published analysis shows institutional investment firms, such as JPMorgan Chase and Black Rock, own 72% of UPS stock, and Lander told Reuters they didn’t want a forced strike.

“The vast, vast, vast majority of shareholders are eager to see a strike averted,” he said. Lander is the official investment adviser for city workers’ retirement systems, which hold $191.1 million in UPS stock.

UPS, he said, should “put a good deal on the table addressing the issue the Teamsters have made quite clear is the remaining sticking point.” That, says O’Brien, is what UPS did the morning of July 25. The issue was pay for all Teamsters members and promotions for thousands of part-timers—who are half of UPS workers—to full-time slots.

Teamsters President Sean M. O’Brien meets with members of the union’s National Negotiating Committee on Tuesday morning. | Teamsters via Twitter

“UPS came dangerously close to putting itself on strike, but we kept firm on our demands. In my more than 40 years in Louisville representing members at Worldport—the largest UPS hub in the country—I have never seen a national contract that levels the playing field for workers so dramatically,” Zuckerman added. Not only are there substantial raises, but “a full range of new protections for them on the job.”

One protection, previously announced: Air conditioning in all new UPS vehicles starting Jan. 1, gradually replacing each car and truck in the fleet. All current vehicles get two fans and air vents in their cargo compartments. Other contract details include:

  • Raises of $2.75 more per hour in 2023, and $7.50 more per hour over the five years. The average top rate for full-time drivers will top out at an average of $49 hourly, up seven dollars.
  • Current part-timers get an immediate hike from $16.20 hourly to $21, plus longevity increases of $1.50 per hour. New part-timers will start at the $21 rate, followed by a two-dollar hike and “market rate adjustments.”
  • So-called 22.4 drivers, all part-timers, would be immediately reclassified as full-time package car drivers, ending the two-tier wage system which saw them start at much lower rates. Their years as part-timers will be included in seniority rankings.
  • “No more forced overtime on Teamster drivers’ days off. Drivers would keep one of two workweek schedules and could not be forced into overtime on scheduled off days.
  • “UPS Teamster part-timers will have priority to perform all seasonal support work using their own vehicles with a locked-in eight-hour guarantee. For the first time, seasonal work will be contained to five weeks only from November-December.”
  • 7,500 new full-time Teamster jobs and company commitment to fill 22,500 open positions, many of them to be taken by current part-timers.

Joe Henry, a veteran of the last long strike UPS forced on the Teamsters, in 1997, said this settlement builds on the gains made then. Intervening pacts, negotiated by then-Teamsters President Jim Hoffa, did not. And this time, he noted, there was Wall Street pressure to settle, too. In 1997, investors owned 37% of UPS. Now they own double that.

“We were able to build upon what was done that year” in planning, organizing, mobilizing, and laying out goals, Henry said. “This contract will determine, in a positive way, the trend in the future.”

Congratulations poured in from other unions and pro-worker politicians.

“This contract creates new jobs, secures essential protections, & raises wages for ALL workers, including part-time,” the AFL-CIO tweeted. “@Teamsters secured this TA through relentless organizing and a credible strike threat that woke @UPS UP! When we fight together, we make history together!”

“This is an incredible victory in the fight for working people across our country,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. “There’s power in solidarity. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, solidarity is key in taking on corporate greed and delivering for the working class.”

And the California Labor Federation kept its tweet short and sweet: “This is called delivering for your members!”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.