Teamsters get papal blessing for their UPS contract campaign
Teamsters President Sean O'Brien (back to camera) shakes hands with Pope Francis I after an August 10 discussion between International Transport Workers Federation delegates and Catholic officials about unions and the Catholic Church joining forces for social justice. O’Brien, AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson and Machinists Vice President Richard Johnsen were part of the ITF delegation. The three had met the ITF in Buenos Aires to marshal international support for the Teamsters’ UPS contract campaign. Photo from the Machinists web site via PAI Photo Service.

WASHINGTON (PAI)—With less than a year to go before their current contract with United Parcel Service (UPS), their largest, expires, the Teamsters are stepping up their contract campaign, their internal organizing, and reaching out for national and international allies. They even went to the Vatican to do so—and met the Pope—the union reports.

All of this is needed because the UPS contract covers almost 30% of the Teamsters’1.2 million members and because the current pact, which expires next July 31, was particularly contentious among the workers. It’s also the largest single private-sector contract in the U.S.

The current pact rubbed the workers raw because former union President James Hoffa and his executive board used a now-deleted provision in the union constitution to approve that four-year deal after a majority of the union’s voting UPS members had rejected it—in a turnout of less than 50% overall.

The rejection became a key cause in new union President Sean O’Brien’s successful insurgent campaign in 2020. O’Brien’s forces, and Hoffa’s allies, too, subsequently axed the constitutional provision.

More importantly, during the Teamsters presidential campaign debates, O’Brien vowed to produce a much better pact, taking all steps needed to do so. He heads the union bargaining team, heavily tilted towards rank and file members. Negotiations will start early next year.

Wages will be a key issue. UPS, like other package delivery services, has seen its business boom and its profits rise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The modern-day plague forced millions of consumer purchases out of brick-and-mortar retail stores and onto the Internet—with UPS and the other services delivering goods bought online.

UPS projects total revenues will top $100 billion in 2022. Its own financial report showed revenue increased 15% to $97.3 billion last year, and adjusted operating profits, including worldwide profits, totaled $13.1 billion, up 50.8%.

The AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch lists total compensation for UPS CEO Carol Tome at $27.62 million for the firm’s fiscal 2021, 548 times the median pay of UPS workers that year. Of her sum, $1.34 million was in straight salary and $23.67 million was in stock options.

The union believes, rightly, that the workers—not the bosses—earned the profits, and deserve a greater share of the proceeds, starting with a higher base wage.

Another issue will be how many UPS workers, and who will be full-timers the new pact covers. Overtime is part of that, the union says. UPS has been forcing workers to toil extra hours rather than hiring more drivers and warehouse workers to handle and deliver the freight.

The Teamsters kicked off their contract campaign on August 1. It includes a drive to sign up UPS workers who are not union members yet. Many of them were drivers relegated to a second-class, second-tier status by the current pact—a status O’Brien and the union demand to end.

UPS also hires “personal vehicle deliverers,” drivers whom UPS hires on a temporary or seasonal basis to deliver packages and who use their own vehicles, not UPS ones, to do so. O’Brien calls that outsourcing and the Teamsters want those drivers to be regular UPS workers, covered by the contract and union members.

And when the UPS drivers are in UPS trucks, increasing numbers are monitored by company-installed dashboard cameras. O’Brien told Business Insider the cameras “are an invasion of privacy.”

There were other negative provisions in the current pact, which may make reaching a new contract tough, he added in that interview. “Walking backwards is difficult,” from that pact. But the one thing we have, we have leverage. We have the ability to strike.”

One new big deal in this bargaining will be heat—or rather exposure to it in UPS warehouses and trucks in the summer. On July 27, the union sent a strong letter to Marty Urquhart, the UPS vice president for safety and health and its central region labor relations VP, about that issue.

Enjoli DeGrasse, the union’s deputy safety and health director, reminded Urquhart the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s “general duty clause” requires firms have the “general duty” to protect the health and safety of their workers at all times.

His letter cited OSHA’s seven citations against UPS starting in 2011, plus nine OSHA “hazard alert letters” since then, for not protecting drivers and warehouse workers from the excessive summer heat. The letter listed specifics it seeks on UPS protection plans—everything from company responses when drivers report heat stroke symptoms to availability of personal protective equipment and first aid kits at UPS warehouses, and more.

The union also has already enlisted Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sarah Nelson and Machinists VP Richard Johnsen in solidarity with the contract campaign.

And they went to the Vatican, too—with a stop in Argentina to gain support from the International Transport Workers Federation, a worldwide union coalition. They got it, and ITF leaders Steve Cotton and Paddy Crumlin pledged to work with the union on international strategies, enlisting unions abroad which represent UPS workers.

Then the ITF group, including O’Brien, Nelson, and Johnsen, continued on to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences to meet Pope Francis I and discuss unifying their forces in the fight for global justice, Johnsen reported. Pope Francis, an Argentinian, is a strong and outspoken supporter of workers’ rights. The meeting occurred August 10.


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.