Teamsters overwhelmingly OK new pact with UPS; one stumbling block left
UPS workers have approved their new contract which includes raises for both full and part time workers. | Damian Dovarganes/AP

WASHINGTON—By an 86%-14% margin in a record turnout, Teamsters members working for United Parcel Service ratified what union President Sean O’Brien called “an historic contract” with the big freight firm. It’s the largest private-sector contract in the U.S.

But there’s one stumbling block. For the national pact to take effect, UPS Teamster members must ratify all 44 supplemental agreements, each covering specific local or regional issues, and the 174 UPS workers in Local 769 in South Florida had rejected their supplemental pact.

The Teamsters national bargaining committee promptly said it would meet with UPS to work out a revised pact “to resolve any outstanding issues with the supplement” for the Florida local. Then those local members will vote on the revision.

Two Teamsters locals with UPS workers, #705 in Chicago and #710 covering the rest of Illinois and parts of adjacent states, have their own contracts completely separate from the national pact. They have tentative agreements and their voting deadlines are later. Their “white paper” pacts are similar, but not identical, to the national pact, Local 710 said.

New Teamsters President Sean O’Brien again indicated the UPS pact would be a marker the union uses as it tackles an even bigger task: Organizing Amazon, which has double the number of workers as UPS, but carries less than half of the freight volume UPS does.

Amazon is also under control of Jeff Bezos, the second-richest person in the U.S., according to Forbes’ latest standings, and a virulent union-hater whose warehouses are rife with job safety and health hazards.

Bezos combats the Teamsters, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and the independent Amazon Labor Union. ALU won a recognition election at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island. N.Y. The National Labor Relations Board is still digging through contested ballots from workers at Amazon’s big warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., which RWDSU is trying to organize.

O’Brien called the five-year UPS pact “the most lucrative agreement the Teamsters ever negotiated” with the big freight package firm. “Teamsters set a new standard and raised the bar for pay, benefits, and working conditions in the package delivery industry. This is the template for how workers should be paid and protected nationwide, and nonunion companies like Amazon better pay attention.”

“This is the richest national contract I’ve seen in my more than 40 years of representing Teamsters at UPS,” said Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman, whose insurgent presidential candidacy seven years ago almost unseated Hoffa.

“There are more gains in this contract than in any other UPS agreement and with no givebacks to the company. But the hard work doesn’t end here. We will continue to fight like hell to enforce this contract and make sure UPS lives up to every word of it over the next five years.”

Contract highlights include large across-the-board raises and the elimination of the two-tier wage system by reclassifying the second-tier “22.4” workers as full-time regular package car drivers at full first-tier pay.

Part timers also get a raise

Full-time and part-time UPS Teamsters will see $2.75 more per hour in 2023 and $7.50 per hour over the full contract. The part-timers, who are approximately half the UPS workers, including both drivers and warehouse workers, also get longevity wage increases of up to $1.50 per hour.

The part-timers also now start at $16.20 hourly. That immediately rises to at least $21 per hour, followed by $23 next year. “Part-time seniority workers earning more under a market rate adjustment will still receive all new general wage increases,” a Teamsters fact sheet adds.

The company also committed to raising 7,500 part-timers to full-time jobs and filling another 22,500 open but contract-covered positions over the next five years. The old pact, under Hoffa, had a company promise to promote part-timers, too, but it wasn’t fulfilled.

The union also won air conditioning in all vehicles UPS buys starting Jan. 1, and fans in current vehicles. Combating excess heat in the vehicles was a key union demand.

The contract also commits UPS to more reasonable scheduling, no forced overtime, and adds Martin Luther King’s birthday as a paid holiday.

O’Brien, Zuckerman, and local officers conducted a year-long Teamster mobilization at UPS. It included a contract unity pledge, parking lot rallies, a strike authorization vote of 97%, and practice picketing.

The union also garnered key support from other unions. That included the AFL-CIO—though the Teamsters are not in the federation—and the independent union representing UPS’s 3,400 pilots. Their president wrote O’Brien that if UPS forced a strike, the pilots would honor the picket lines, thus completely grounding the company.

“We showed UPS we were ready to strike if we had to. That’s how we ended a generation of givebacks under Hoffa and put our union back on the offense against UPS,” said Eugene Braswell, co-chair of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, and a Local 804 shop steward. TDU prompted the rank-and-file revolt against Hoffa almost a decade ago.

Braswell said the new contract also “boosted substandard pensions for over 60,000 members, stopped driver-facing cameras, tightened restrictions on subcontracting, increased part-time wages, and more.

“Now, UPSers are looking to the future—from contract enforcement to organizing Amazon.”

“The best contract in the world isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you don’t enforce it,” added TDU Steering Committee member and Local 25 shop steward Greg Kerwood.

The overwhelming approval of the national master pact, the first negotiated by O’Brien’s reform team, is a direct contrast to the last UPS contract under former President Jim Hoffa.

Then, the workers rejected the contract in a turnout below 50%, and the Hoffa-led union board, using a now-dead constitutional provision, imposed the pact on them. That sequence led directly to the rank-and-file revolt which forced Hoffa to retire and led to the landslide win by O’Brien and his reform slate.

This time the UPS turnout was 58%.

O’Brien made getting a new and much better contract from UPS his top campaign promise against a Hoffa-picked foe, whom O’Brien clobbered in a one Teamster-one vote election.

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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.