UPS workers reject health care concessions

By DAVID BERNT

The grassroots rank-and-file Vote No movement against the proposed UPS contract won a major victory when the contract was rejected in several regions of the U.S. The tentative agreement, which covers 235,000 Teamsters nationally, passed by a narrow margin, 53 to 47 percent. However, the Teamster (IBT) constitution requires all supplemental agreements to be approved for a national contract to go into effect. An unprecedented 18 regional and local supplements were rejected, including the largest supplement covering the Central Region.

While members voted “no” for several reasons, including the contract’s failure to deal with harassment, forced overtime for drivers, and low wages for part-time workers, the most important one by far was health-care concessions. Despite promises that he would hold the line on health care, lead Teamster negotiator Ken Hall ultimately agreed to concessions that would affect 140,000 members covered by a company-run health plan. Under the agreement, those members would be moved to a union-administered plan with reduced benefit levels.

The contract was rejected in regions affected by the health-care changes—mainly the Central and Western regions. The contract passed nationally because of wide “yes” margins in the Southern region and most of the East Coast, where members were unaffected by the proposed health-care concessions.

After the proposed contract was released, rank-and-file activists immediately began organizing for a “no” vote. Members leafleted outside of hubs across the country. A Vote No Facebook page has attracted over 3000 members.  Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a nationwide reform caucus, helped coordinate “vote no” campaigning and was critical to publishing information and analysis of the proposed agreement.

Local 89 in Louisville, Ky., which represents 10,000 UPS members, called for a “no” vote on the national contract. Local 89 officers campaigned for a “no” vote and the local’s steward council endorsed the same position. When the local was unable to come to agreement on its local supplement with the company, the IBT sent out UPS’s final offer for a vote with a special enticement: a $1000 bonus just for Local 89 members. Despite the attempt to bribe the local’s combative rank and file, however, Local 89 members rejected the contract and their supplement by an 8 to 1 margin.

The IBT was forced, after the resounding rejection of the negotiated health care concessions, to admit that their health-care givebacks were the most important reason why the contract failed to pass. The “no” votes have forced Ken Hall and Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa back to the table to negotiate a better deal.

UPS is now feeling the heat of the rank and file, who have upset the company’s efforts, along with its willing partners in the IBT, to appease its major customers who wanted an early deal to ease strike fears. The company, in a press release, tried to head off speculation of a strike by saying they expected to reach agreement with the IBT soon on a re-negotiated contract.

Teamster negotiators need to be reminded that it is the company that is on the defensive. Rank-and-file workers intend to do just that. Demands include first and foremost a health-care plan that maintains current standards. Additionally, many members are calling for more full-time jobs, better contract language, and higher part-time wages. These are demands that a company that made $4.5 billion in profits last year can easily afford.

No Vote activists fully intend to keep the pressure on the IBT to negotiate the best contract possible. As TDU put it, “We’ll Keep Voting No Until UPS Gets It Right.”

Teamsters at UPS stand to get a better deal than initially negotiated only because the rank and file stood up and voted no. How much better of a deal depends on how much pressure the ranks continue to put on the leadership.