What happened to the big UPS Strike? By Joe Allen

Joe Allen is a former longtime Teamster leader/activist, author of The Package King: A Rank and File History of UPS

[Editor’s introduction by Jeff Mackler: We reprint below two critical assessment of the Teamster-UPS Tentative Agreement (TA) negotiated by the team led by President Sean O’Brien. Some 340,000 Teamsters are to be covered by this TA, the largest collective bargaining unit in the country. They will now proceed to discuss and vote on the TA from August 3 to August 22. The initial vote of the Teamster locals was 161-1 in favor, with only the Louisville, Kentucky Local 89, among the largest in the country with some 60 percent of its membership part timers, voting “No.” Local 89 leaders cited the TA’s vague “market adjustment clause” allowing employers to pay part timers, largely warehouse workers, less than the negotiated final $23 hourly wage figure as the central  reason for rejection. The original Teamster demand for an hourly wage of $25 for part timers was scrapped. Local 89 reversed its “No” vote only after the local leadership negotiated a separate memorandum of understanding with employers affirming that the $23 TA figure, to be implemented in small annual incrementally over the five-year contract, would not be lowered. Some 60 percent of UPS Teamster members are part timers. The TA did not include any binding provisions that guaranteed full time jobs, a major sore point for many Teamsters. Other contract provisions open the door for Teamster drivers using their own cars for deliveries, a provision that TA critics warn could open the door to the partial “Uberization” of the industry. In our view the Teamsters today, from the present O’Brien/Zuckerman leadership to the much diminished Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), while an improvement over the corrupt Jimmy Hoffa Jr. bureaucrats of the past decades, operate as a “reform,” not “class struggle leftwing leadership.” That is, they accept and operate in the basic framework of capitalist property relations rather than aiming at unleashing the full power of the union ranks to fundamentally alter the relationship of class forces in their union and in the US today. The fact that virtually all the major corporate media, the Biden administration and the US Chamber of Commerce touted the TA tragically informs us once again that today’s drastically-diminished trade union movement, overwhelmingly subordinate to the capitalist bosses and the Democratic Party, is a far cry from its historic fighting origins. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark’s statement praising the UPS and Teamsters TA is a cruel reminder of this basic fact. Clark stated: “While the agreement is a win for the nation, this and other negotiations are a reminder that unnecessary brinksmanship can do lasting damage to our businesses, consumers, and the workforce critical to our nation’s success.”Clark’s aversion to “brinksmanship” was perhaps a reference to the 1997 victorious Ron Carey-led Teamster strike against UPS. That strike, explicitly focused on winning full time jobs; it defied court injunctions limiting the number of pickets. Company scab-herding efforts were met with militant and definitive mass union picketing. In short order the UPS and the US ruling class came to understand that the Carey leadership, elected for the first time by the entire Teamster ranks, posed a fundamental challenge to the “class peace” policies enforced by the Hoffa-boss collaborators. Carey and his team extracted a major victory, including 10,000 immediate full time jobs and other important contract victories. But the US ruling elite were far from accepting Carey as a potential class struggle leader of the US labor movement. They orchestrated a vicious government-led frame-up intervention into the Teamsters, falsely charging Carey with misappropriating union funds to finance various US mainstream election campaigns. At that critical moment in Teamster history Carey and his TDU-supporters faced a decisive choice: either capitulate to the government’s intervention and accept Carey’s removal from office or move toward organizing Teamster power to close down the entire country with the help of all labor allies that opposed government intervention into the nation’s unions. Tragically, the TDU and too many other Carey supporters refused to back Carey and challenge the government’s frame-up. He was removed from office with near-zero opposition. The fact that Carey’s subsequent court trial totally affirmed his innocence of all charges leveled against him was irrelevant. Carey’s victimization in the ever ongoing US class war, was a bludgeoning reminder that the concerted exercise of labor’s immense power to counter corporate and government union-busting and to advance labor’s cause more generally is a prerequisite to success. This entails the construction of democratically-organized class struggle unions armed with a program to challenge capitalist prerogatives at the point of production and in the political arena.] 

What happened to the big UPS Strike? By Joe Allen

Can a union achieve a “historic victory” a gamechanger in contract negotiations without an actual strike? The Teamsters claim they have achieved such a victory. On Tuesday, July 25th, contract negotiation resumed between the Teamsters and United Parcel Service (UPS) after a two-week hiatus. It was a short meeting before both sides posted statements to their websites and social media outlets. Many rank-and-file UPS Teamsters were caught off guard by the sudden announcement. Yet, two days before the Tentative Settlement (TA) was announced, Noam Scheiber of the New York Times, appeared to understand something that the broad U.S. and labor left had largely ignored about Teamster General President Sean O’Brien: For all his pugilistic statements, Mr. O’Brien remains an establishment figure who appears to prefer reaching a deal to going on strike, and he has subtly acted to make one less likely. Nevertheless, after more than two years of widespread talk of the potential biggest strike in U.S. history, it all ended with a whimper not a bang. Fred Zuckerman, General-Secretary Treasurer of the Teamsters, declared: The agreement puts more money in our members’ pockets and establishes a full range of new protections for them on the job. We stayed focused on our members and fought like hell to get everything that full-time and part-time UPS Teamsters deserve. Apparently, management also thought it won a victory. Carol Tomé, UPS chief executive officer (CEO), said: Together we reached a win-win-win agreement on the issues that are important to Teamsters leadership, our employees and to UPS and our customers. This agreement continues to reward UPS’s full- and part-time employees with industry-leading pay and benefits while retaining the flexibility we need to stay competitive, serve our customers and keep our business strong. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial (The Art of the Deal) assessed the Tentative Agreement (TA) as a victory for UPS: UPS was also willing to pay to achieve its goal of greater flexibility in work schedules and new technology. The company isn’t boasting about it, but we’re told the agreement will allow more warehouse and delivery shifts on Saturdays and Sundays, which are currently understaffed. Possibly the biggest victory for UPS was keeping the historically low pay for newly hired workers at poverty wage levels, despite the pledge of O’Brien to end “part time poverty.” The TA calls for part-timers who are hired or reach seniority after August 1, 2023 to start at $21 an hour. Within forty-eight months, they reach $23 an hour. The start pay is then raised for new hires to $23 an hour on August 1, 2027. This is roughly what the pay range was that UPS was paying new hires during the worst days of the pandemic. This is the Art of the Steal, not ending the two-tier wage structure that much of the media has been reporting uncritically. Even the much celebrated victory bringing air conditioning to long-suffering package delivery drivers is not the victory that it appears to be. While UPS agreed to purchase delivery vehicles with air conditioning starting on January 1, 2024, at the same time, the TA says: The Employer will replace at least 28,000 package cars and vans during the life of this Agreement [expires on July 31, 2028]. The Union will be notified if the Employer cannot meet this schedule because of volume downturns. So, only one-third of UPS’s package cars and delivery vans could potentially be installed with air conditioning over the next five years. And, the Teamsters have given UPS an out by agreeing if volume declines, the schedule can be delayed. Some living package car drivers may never see air conditioning. Given the ongoing catastrophe of climate change-driven long heat waves, this is a recipe for disaster. What would a historic victory have looked like? Well, among other demands, it would be ending two-tier wage structures between part-timers and full-timers and installing air conditioning for all delivery vehicles now. The current TA, despite threats from O’Brien and Zuckerman to “pulverize” UPS, has the feel of being underwhelming. But underwhelming gains in an era of growing threats to the livelihood and health of UPS Teamsters are actually major concessions. Given the historic moment of low unemployment, record profits, and public sympathy for UPS workers, it feels like a moment has been missed for real historic victories.

A long way from 1997

We are a long way from the summer of 1997, when the Teamsters, led by Ron Carey, the Teamsters’ first rank and file elected General President, called a nationwide strike that transfixed the country. It was a lightning bolt that lit up the sky, with over 185,000 workers on strike in every corner of the United States. The slogan of “Part-Time America Won’t Work” captured the imagination of the public, who supported the strikers two to one over UPS. The hands-down victory of the Teamsters, most prominently the creation of 10,000 new full time jobs, was the biggest victory in a generation. But the strike had a more widespread impact that there was a feeling that the labor movement had finally turned the corner. Historian Nelson Lichtenstein wrote that the strike ended “the PATCO syndrome, a sixteen-year period in which a strike was synonymous with defeat and demoralization.” UPS hated Ron Carey, a former UPS driver, and swore revenge. According to Carey, as recounted in Deepa Kumar’s Outside the Box, UPS chief negotiator David Murray made this very clear to him: One of the negotiators for UPS said, in the presence of then-Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, “Okay Carey, we agree on the union’s outstanding issues,” and he proceeded to leave the conference room. As he was leaving, he leaned over the conference table and said to me, “You’re dead, Carey, and you will pay for this, you s.o.b.” I looked at Ms. Herman, and asked, “Did you hear that?” She responded, “I heard nothing.” Eventually, Carey was witch-hunted out of the leadership of Teamsters, but later found not guilty in federal court. But the damage was done. Besides a handful of Republican knuckleheads, like Oklahoma Sen. Markwayne Mullin, is there any clamor for O’Brien [Editor: Like Ron Carey] to go? In fact, O’Brien has dutifully protected the Biden administration in both last year’s Rail and UPS negotiations. It is ironic in this “Summer of Strikes” that Hollywood actors who play Teamsters on film and TV are walking the picket line, while the real Teamsters remain on the job. [This article, originally published at Counterpunch, also appears in Tempest]

Vote “No” and Escalate the Fight to Win a Strong Contract!

By Phil Snyder, Shop Steward, Local 406*; Will Fitzgerald, Local 344*; Steve Capri, Local 249*; Nick Jones, Local 174*
*for identification purposes only
[Reprinted from UPS Teamsters and Workers Strike Back
Workers have been hit hard by inflation, and unions have their highest approval rating in decades. Millions have been looking to the Teamsters negotiations with UPS and the potential for a massive strike that could bring business as usual to a halt and help rebuild a fighting labor movement. For months now rank-and-file Teamsters have been organizing their co-workers, attending rallies and practice pickets, and talking to their community about the importance of this struggle. There is a basis for an all-out fight to win the contract UPS workers need, not a negotiated deal that’s acceptable to UPS executives.   On July 25th the Teamster leadership announced a tentative deal with UPS. This deal now goes to the membership for an up or down vote from August 3rd to the 22nd. While the tentative agreement is better than the sell-out contracts negotiated by the corrupt Hoffa leadership since 2002, it is insufficient to meet the needs of UPS workers in a time of increasing insecurity for working people. UPS made profits of $13 billion last year alone on top of handing $10 billion to stockholders while driving down workers’ living standards for decades. This contract fight is the chance to make up for the losses of the past 20+ years. We can make huge gains if we continue the struggle. This momentum needs to be carried forward and escalated, with a strike if necessary, in order to win the best possible contract.
During the pandemic, UPS workers were praised as working class heroes, essential workers who kept calm and carried on throughout the horrors of the pandemic. While the billionaires made super profits, we never saw a penny in hazard pay or any other form of compensation for this. Now we face historic levels of inflation in an ongoing cost-of-living crisis. The proposed contract is 5 years long, and it only offers us an average of $1.50/hour raise per year. This doesn’t make up for the skyrocketing prices of housing, gas, food, and everything else.   There is language in the contract for a COLA (Cost Of Living Allowance – automatic increases linked to the inflation rate) but it only applies to workers who have reached the end of their wage progression and it uses a convoluted formula that pays far below the actual rate of inflation. We need Cost of Living raises that are directly linked to the consumer price index but built into every step of every pay scale. That’s the only way to prevent any potential raises from being eaten up by inflation, and to effectively represent a pay cut for many workers.   Changes like ending the two-tier “22.4” job classification, as well as requiring newly purchased package cars to have air conditioning, prohibiting the use of inward-facing cameras, and recognizing Martin Luther King Day as a holiday for UPS workers are improvements over the status quo. But they do not add up to the game-changing, “historic contract” that Team OZ [O’Brien/Zuckerman] are claiming to have won.   While union leadership says this contract will end the hated two-tier system, multiple tiers are already baked into the massive wage differential between full-time and part-time workers and between drivers and inside workers. The TA does not create 10,000 new full-time jobs – a strategic victory for UPS executives. Additionally, the TA opens the door to creating a new low-paid tier of part-time workers forced to use their own vehicles to get more hours. [Editor: Perhaps the first step toward the Uberization of UPS] We should be fighting to end the “Personal Vehicle Driver” classification altogether, not allowing UPS to expand it. UPS wants to use more cheap labor to get billions in profits, and we need to fight together against this attack on part-time workers.
Working on Sundays?
At last year’s Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) convention, Sean O’Brien said that the union should agree to Sunday working in order to “keep up with the times.” He was wrong to say this publicly without any consultation with the membership, because this sent a signal to UPS that he was willing to make this concession months before negotiations began.   Now, despite the claim of Teamster leaders’ press release that they gave “zero concessions from the rank-and-file,” the TA would allow exactly that, giving UPS the right to implement 7 day deliveries anywhere it chooses with only 45 days’ notice to the employees. (Article 26, Section 1(e)) The new language gives up the union’s right to negotiate over this huge change, allowing only for it to meet and try to “resolve questions” while agreeing not to “unreasonably delay” the transition to 7-day working. This enormous concession explains why UPS CEO Carol Tome said that this agreement gives the company the “flexibility” it needs. Significantly, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “The company isn’t boasting about it, but we’re told the agreement will allow more warehouse and delivery shifts on Saturdays and Sundays, which are currently understaffed.”   It is said, correctly, that, “the labor movement brought you the weekend.” Now is not the time to give up this historic gain which was won through generations of working class struggle. Sunday working isn’t “keeping up with the times,” it’s going backwards to the Victorian era. As workers organizing at Amazon have said, “We work to live, we don’t just live to work.” UPS Teamsters should vote “NO” and stop Sunday deliveries in their tracks.
Vote “NO” – Continue strike preparations!
For all these reasons Workers Strike Back urges workers to vote “NO” and to join us in the fight for the contract we deserve. In the meantime there’s no reason why the union should not continue with practice pickets, strike plans, and community mobilization. On July 5th, UPS told the Teamsters that they had “nothing more to offer” to UPS workers. It was rank-and-file Teamsters – drivers, inside workers, and part-timers all working to prepare for the strongest possible strike – who created the pressure from outside of the bargaining table to improve the TA.   A Teamster strike would cost the company anywhere from $80 million to $170 million a day. According to their own figures, in 2022 UPS made $13 billion in profits on total revenue of $100 billion and it expects to beat this again in 2023. With record leverage to win a genuinely game-changing contract, a deep well of support from the working class public and the wider labor movement watching closely, Teamsters should be fighting for all they can get, not just taking what’s acceptable to UPS.   Teamster leaders laid out a long process to discuss and adopt the tentative agreement, starting with discussions among regional leaderships, then going into discussions at locals and, finally, into the hands of members. However, with the TA now released, informal discussions are already taking place in every warehouse, breakroom, and parking lot. Organizations like Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which have had thousands of UPS workers attending meetings, should provide a structure for discussions on the TA, and more importantly, how to increase the pressure on UPS if workers want to vote “NO” and fight for more.  
A strong contract would include: Base part-timer pay of $30/hour, Catch-up raises of 75 cents per year of service, 5% annual part-timer wage increases and a 4-hour shift guarantee for all part-time workers Making MRA’s (Market Rate Adjustments) permanent and equal across facilities in a local, with contract raises and Cost of Living Adjustments added on top Paid maternity leave – not just rooms for new mothers to express breast milk while their newborns are in daycare Inflation adjustments for pension benefits At least 10,000 more 22.3 full-time combo jobs nationally New hires to receive health insurance after 30 working days, to be codified in the national agreement 22.3s should get full time wages. There’s no good reason why 22.3 should not get paid the same hourly rate as RPCD, we’re all doing hourly work and we all have the same bills to pay Air conditioning installed in all delivery trucks, without delay.

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