As contract negotiations stalled in early June, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) employed at United Parcel Service (UPS) voted overwhelming to authorize their Bargaining Committee to call a strike should no deal be reached. With a YES vote of 93% in the package division and 90% in the freight division, rank-and-file Teamsters sent a clear message that they are willing to fight to protect and advance their working conditions.

The Teamster leadership never seriously prepared the ground for a strike, and the officials have a terrible tentative agreement which has been sent to the membership for a vote in early September. The proposed agreement introduces hybrid drivers, insufficient pay increases, enforced 70-hour weeks.UPS workers are furious. Socialist Alternative calls for the largest “No” vote on this contract. We say – send the negotiators back to the table to get a stronger offer! In the meantime, using the example of the preparations for the 1997 UPS strike, Teamsters should start organizing internally and externally for the possibility of a strike if a decent deal is not forthcoming.

Organized UPS: A Hidden Powerhouse

With 260,000 unionized workers, UPS is the largest private organized workplace in the U.S. Moreover, UPS itself is a significant component of the U.S. economy. UPS transports up to 6% of U.S. GDP, and 2% of global GDP, making it a key point of leverage on the entire U.S. economy. In the event of a strike, the Postal Service and other companies will simply not be able to pick up the slack.

Just over 20 years ago, the 1997 UPS strike showed that organized labor could still paralyze a giant like UPS and win. Under the banner of “Part Time America Won’t Work,” the ‘97 strike won concessions and dominated the news and popular consciousness. Led by Teamsters for a Democratic Union, public actions were organized and extensive communication networks were developed to keep membership updated and alert.

Current Leadership: A Great Obstacle

Current IBT President James Hoffa has avoided flexing the muscle of Teamster labor, and instead pursued a strategy of concessions to the bosses, supposedly to preserve jobs and avoid even worse conditions being imposed.

In a letter put out along with the strike authorization ballot, the IBT leadership were as non-committal as possible, explaining that “nobody wants a strike; it hurts the company and it hurts members” and “a strong strike vote can prevent a strike.” Even if the IBT were to call a strike, the Hoffa leadership clearly does not intend to put in the necessary effort to prepare internally for a strike, or to build wider support in the working class like the teachers in West Virginia and other states did last spring.

Show the World What Workers Can Do!

UPS Teamsters needs to mobilize around fighting demands such as:

  • $15 an hour base pay for part timers, plus their accumulated progression .
  • No to lower-tier hybrid drivers, more full-time, standard positions to take on increased volume, and allow drivers to limit themselves to an 8-hour day.
  • Strict enforcement of weight limits, more full-time non-driver positions, and lowered work paces.

UPS Teamsters should vote a resounding “No!” on the current proposal, and send the negotiating committee back to the table to demand a contract that reflects their needs, power, and importance. Strike preparation, using the model of the 1997 strike should begin immediately as the best way to build the fighting capacity of UPS workers today and bring decisive pressure to bear on the negotiations. We must fight for the best contract possible to build the confidence of the working class, and inspire organizing efforts at Fedex and, most importantly, the emerging behemoth that is Amazon