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UPS Negotiations Resume: Workers Need To Organize Against Any Concessions!

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The UPS contract expires on July 31st, potentially leaving the largest unionized private workforce in the country without a contract. If UPS workers go on strike, it will be the largest US strike in 25 years since UPS workers last went on strike in 1997. UPS has been preparing for a strike by training managers to drive delivery routes, but managers and rival corporations like FedEx cannot absorb the roughly 19 million packages delivered every day by UPS Teamsters. 

A strike would have huge implications for the rest of the US labor movement. UAW auto manufacturing workers at the Big 3 (GM, Ford, and Stellantis) are threatening a strike in September and will be closely following what happens at UPS. Teamsters President Sean O’Brien has pledged to organize union drives at Amazon facilities where the Teamsters have been promoting $30/hour starting wages at recent pickets. The outcome of the UPS contract struggle will set the bar for what the Teamsters can achieve at Amazon.

These corporations viciously oppose unions, which makes the stakes of the UPS contract fight especially high. Millions of workers are watching, looking for their own way to fight back against falling real wages, rising healthcare costs, unsafe conditions, and inhumane schedules. The Teamsters need to pull out all the stops and fight tooth and nail for the contract UPS workers deserve, not a contract defined by what’s acceptable to executives.

Where Negotiations Stand

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like a deal was going to be reached over the July 4th weekend. O’Brien announced a deadline of July 5th to reach a TA. However, early that morning the Teamsters announced that their National Negotiating Committee unanimously voted down UPS’s offer and that no further negotiations were scheduled. It later came out that pay for part-timers is what is holding up negotiations.

O’Brien has been on a media tour and traveling across the country leading up to his announcement for a rally in Atlanta on July 22nd. Practice pickets have remained scattered, but they have resumed in some parts of the country. In several interviews and rallies, as corporate media is attempting to pit workers against each other by pointing to the potential economic impact of a strike, O’Brien has said that if UPS doesn’t come back with a better offer, “UPS will put itself on strike.” The continued talk of a strike is encouraging and O’Brien’s militant language stands in contrast to many labor leaders today. But the decision to go on strike should never be up to the company. It is up to UPS Teamsters to decide when and how to use the most powerful weapon they have. A 10-day strike is estimated to cost the US economy over $7 billion. If UPS Teamsters choose to go on strike, they will be exercising the best leverage they have to negotiate a strong contract and will likely receive support from the millions of US workers.

Now, the Teamsters have announced that negotiations will resume the week of July 23rd. O’Brien has been saying he is fighting for a $20/hour starting wage for part-timers. The leaked counter proposal from UPS shows the company was offering $17/hour with $1 raises each year for all new hires. UPS’s proposal also includes the right to reverse cost-of-living adjustments which would give them the ability to cut workers’ wages during an economic downturn, a frightening proposal at a time when we’re staring down a likely coming recession. 

O’Brien has been claiming there will be no concessions in this contract, but UPS is going to fight hard to make sure anything given to workers with one hand is taken back with the other. UPS’s massive part-time workforce is likely where the corporation intends to make up for anything given, such as the elimination of the 22.4 classification.

Part-Timer Pay

For decades, Teamsters’ leadership has neglected to fight for higher part-timer wages. Teamster staffer Dennis Taylor went so far as to admit in 2018 that they worked with the company to keep part-timer wages “artificially low” for decades in exchange for other benefits in the contracts. If O’Brien wants to win a strong contract with no concessions, he must drop this “give and take” approach of the former leadership and build towards a strike.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) has already hosted meetings of thousands of workers, and should host mass meetings where rank-and-file teamsters can discuss the TA. This could set the tone for similar discussions in every union hall, warehouse, breakroom, and parking lot. This process would make rank-and-file workers more confident to vote “no” if they believe they can win more and lay the basis for a rank-and-file strategy to organize a decisive strike to force UPS to back down.

This means TDU needs to be prepared to take a more confrontational approach to O’Brien than they have so far. For example, TDU at one point was fighting for a $25/hour starting wage, but they have since dropped their demand down to $20 in recent weeks saying that they want to be in line with the union’s leadership. In 1982, a part-time worker started off making $8/hour. Today, that wage adjusted for inflation is just over $25/hour. Workers who face inflation, rising rents and healthcare costs, unsafe conditions, and no time with their families should demand what they need, not what is acceptable at the bargaining table.

At Amazon, workers at the unionized JFK8 facility and workers fighting for a union at the KCVG Air Hub are fighting for $30/hour starting wages to do the same work UPS Teamsters do. This demand is one of the main reasons why Amazon workers nationwide want to fight for a union. If O’Brien wants to both deliver for UPS’s inside workers and bring the fight for a union to Amazon, he needs to take up the demand for $30/hour.

Will The White House And Congress Intervene?

O’Brien has now publicly asked Biden not to interfere with negotiations. He claims the White House has so far not involved itself in the contract dispute, which is unlikely given the weight UPS workers hold in the US economy. More recently, O’Brien thanked a group of 200 Democrats and Republicans who sent letters to the Teamsters and UPS saying they will not intervene in the contract dispute.

O’Brien is making a major mistake if he expects politicians from either party to stay out of this labor dispute. Democrats and Republicans have long histories of siding with bosses over workers, most recently when both parties united behind Biden to take away the right to strike of rail workers. The right to strike for UPS workers is not restricted by the same laws as rail workers, but under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, the President can ask the courts for an injunction to hold up a strike if it can be shown that the strike or lockout affects a substantial part of an entire industry and that it “will imperil the national health or safety.” There should be no doubt in any workers’ minds that a judge can be found who would make this finding if called upon to do so.

Getting Strike-Ready

Anything can happen now, but with negotiations restarting and UPS saying they’re prepared to raise wages, it seems likely that there will be a tentative agreement (TA) before the July 31st deadline. For months, O’Brien correctly stated that UPS Teamsters will not work a day after July 31st without a contract. Unfortunately, he now seems to be backing off of that statement suggesting UPS Teamsters will go to work while the two to three-week mail-in voting process takes place. This concession by O’Brien greatly weakens the Teamsters’ leverage to win more in negotiations.

Everything won up until this point is only because of the threat of a strike by rank-and-file Teamsters. UPS Teamsters will need to pay close attention to the details of the TA if and when it comes out. There is the potential for several “poison pills” to be slipped into the contract alongside any gains that are made. Some of these poison pills could be language to have work on Sundays, a new two-tier system, attacks against part-timer wages and benefits, and a lack of new full-time jobs. If any of these concessions are made, or if any other concessions are included, UPS Teamsters need to be prepared to vote “No” against the TA and prepare to strike on August 1st.

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