Socialist Alternative

UPS Contract Struggle – Interview with a Teamster Activist

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After 90% approved strike authorization in August, Teamster members at UPS were given a contract to vote on. Here, Socialist Alternative interviews Chuck Cannon, a UPS worker from Philadelphia.

What are the main aspects of the UPS contract proposal?

We are being offered a raise that barely keeps up with inflation and only catches us up to Amazon and Fedex, both non-union companies that pay a higher starting rate. In addition, there is a proposal for hybrid drivers, a two tier system that allows UPS to cut driver wages. This is at a company that made $5 billion profit last year.
Why are so many rank and file Teamsters advocating a “no” vote?

Many workers see their wages stagnant while transporting thousands of packages a day and only the top corporate owners reaping the rewards. Day in and day out, workers are overworked in warehouses with little ventilation and drivers are micromanaged on the road by electronic monitoring. Forced overtime is commonplace and with the low pay there is little incentive to work late.

Teamsters United and other rank and file groups are advocating a no vote both because the contract is an outrageous concession to the UPS bosses and to build support for their slate in the next union elections. Overall the contract fails to address the issues of low wages and worker power at UPS.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the forces around “no” vote?

The primary strength of the forces around the no vote is how terrible the contract is. However, Teamsters United and other groups advocating for a no vote are doing so in a short sighted way and without any type of mass organizing. They should be building a campaign of pressure on the union leadership to negotiate a better contract. They should also be pointing to the need for serious preparations for a future strike as a way to bring pressure to bear on UPS.
In addition, the company and the union leadership have dragged out a vote, knowing that the low-paid workforce can only wait so long for a raise. Many workers who would have voted no in August when the contract expired will now vote yes, because have little confidence in the union to negotiate anything better.

What happens if it is approved or rejected?

Regardless of how the vote goes, the authority of the Hoffa leadership has already been undermined for failing to negotiate a proper contract. If it is approved workers will see a minimal boost in wages and little change in workplace conditions. Next time around they will look to other tactics and options to secure a better contract than voting for Hoffa.

On the other hand, if the contract is rejected, the situation is less clear. The Hoffa leadership is claiming that a no vote will automatically lead to a strike as a way to scare people into voting yes. This is actually extremely unlikely at this point. The contract would have to be renegotiated and changes would need to be made to encourage workers to vote yes the second time around. There is also a danger of demoralization after a no vote if there is no escalation or further organizing efforts by those advocating a no vote.

What are the implications for the broader labor movement?

The Teamsters occupy a hugely important place in the U.S. labor movement. Logistics and shipping make up a huge section of the US and global economy. Industry wide, the capitulation of Hoffa and the Teamster leadership to corporations like UPS directly undermine labor struggles at Amazon and Fedex. Why should workers at Amazon and Fedex unionize if the Teamsters can offer them only $13 dollars an hour, an amount many of them are already making? There is a need in the Teamsters as in many other unions for a new fighting leadership.

In the lead up to the 1997 UPS strike, the Teamsters spent a year preparing with public rallies and internal organizing. We need a return to this type of preparation for contract negotiations and leadership as an alternative to the rotten leadership of Hoffa. More than anything, this contract battle points to the need for rank and file organizing within the union, as was seen in the victorious West Virginia teacher’s strike.

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