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Strike authorization vote for UPS Teamsters workers is underway

The end game regarding the unsettled labor situation between Atlanta-based global freight transportation and logistics services provider UPS and the Teamsters may be getting closer to an end result this week, with local unions representing UPS Teamsters conducting in-person voting for strike authorization.

The existing contract between UPS and its more than 340,000 UPS Teamster members is set to expire on July 31.

Teamsters ‘officials said this week that a YES vote would pave the way for the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee to call for a national strike at UPS, in the event a new deal cannot be reached. And they added that the results of the vote will be released on June 16.

“The time has come to use our strongest leverage and officially remind UPS that hundreds of thousands of Teamsters are ready to withhold our labor to ensure UPS acts accordingly,” said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien in a statement. “The National Committee strongly urges all UPS Teamsters to vote YES to authorize a strike. This is how we win.”

A UPS official told LM that the company continues to make meaningful progress in its negotiations with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“As with labor negotiations in other industries, the Teamsters will hold—and its members will overwhelmingly approve—a strike authorization vote in the coming weeks,” he said. “This vote is a routine part of the bargaining process and does not mean that there will be a strike. UPS has worked collaboratively with the Teamsters for nearly 100 years, and this year is no different. We respect this step in the process and remain committed to making progress at the bargaining table.”

A supplemental update issued by the Teamsters on April 3 made it clear that much more ground needs to be covered for a deal to come to fruition.

In the update, the Teamsters said that it put UPS on notice during supplemental bargaining meetings throughout the country last week, refusing the “company’s outrageous insistence on cost-neutral agreements,” and adding that while some progress was made on various proposals by the union, the Teamsters also saw some disturbing backsliding by the company.

“As 11 supplemental negotiating committees held meetings with UPS last week, Teamster committee chairs continued to remind the company of the fast-approaching deadline,” said the Teamsters. “At the same time, UPS negotiators chose to either ignore economic proposals altogether or ask that such proposals be paid for with concessions elsewhere. All supplemental negotiating committees are holding firm against concessions while presenting proposals for more paid time off (sick days and holidays), stronger seniority and bidding language, improved grievance procedures, stronger language against subcontracting, and more. Teamster committees are getting regular support from the Package Division as the International Union pressures UPS to stop its delay tactics and wrap up supplements. Supplemental negotiating committees have made it clear to the company that UPS is delusional if it thinks there will be a cost-neutral contract after it raked in more than $13 billion in profit last year thanks to the hard work of our members.”

In a May 12 update, UPS said it continued to make what it called meaningful progress on the National Masters Agreement with the Teamsters, with both parties exchanging proposals on non-economic items at the main table, and five subcommittees met to advance discussions on key topics: safety & health, feeder (tractor-trailer) operations, package operations, air operations and inside operations.

And in a May 26 update, it said UPS and the Teamsters reached agreement on various key issues, including operating priorities, the use of technology and in-vehicle cameras—and advanced discussions on other topics.

On UPS’s fourth quarter earnings call earlier this year, CEO Carol Tomé made it clear where UPS is coming from, in advance of its negotiations with the Teamsters, noting that the Teamsters have been very important to the company for the better part of the last 100 years.

“Our approach with the Teamsters is a win, win, win for the Teamsters, win for our employees, and win for UPS and our customers,” she said. “I would submit that a win, win, win is very achievable because we are not far apart on the issues. And let me make this real for you by giving you a few examples. First, both Teamsters and UPS agree that a healthy and growing UPS is good, good for Teamsters, good for our people, and good for our customers. In fact, we've added more than 70,000 Teamster jobs since 2018. So, we're aligned that a growing and healthy UPS is good. To be growing and healthy, we need to be competitive and make sure that our offerings meet the needs of our customers.”

And she added that a lot has changed since the last time UPS negotiated its current contract with the Teamsters.

“[R]ecipients want their packages delivered when, where, and how they want them delivered, which means we can…delivery will become table stakes,” she said. “Teamsters fully acknowledge that but have worried about the pressures placed on our workforce with weekend operations. And they refer to that [as] the sixth punch, which is when people work six days a week. We share the same concerns. I don't want people working six days a week unless they want to. So, we're aligned on this. We just need to get to the bargaining table and work it out.”

As previously reported, this is not the first time UPS and the Teamsters have been in high-profile labor negotiations. In 1997, UPS Teamster workers went on strike for more than two weeks. Teamsters’ officials described that ordeal as a “high-stakes shutdown over Teamster jobs and benefits.” And they added that UPS wanted to take over members’ pensions, with management’s goal being to freeze pension benefits and replace pensions with 401k plans, while also noting that UPS wanted the right to increase subcontracting of good feeder jobs. Low-wage part-time jobs were on the rise.

At a January Teamsters meeting of the UPS National Screening Committee in Washington, DC, O’Brien made it clear that the Teamsters are focused on getting a new deal done—and getting what they want out of a new deal.

“We’re going into these negotiations with a clear message to UPS that we’re not going past August 1,” O’Brien said. “We have to deal with 22.4s, PVDs, subcontracting, part-time wages and other issues that we’re taking a hard line on with the company.” 

An industry consultant told LM that it seems that UPS feels this potential strike is a very real possibility, but they are controlling the messaging to not insinuate fear amongst their customers.

“Carol Tome indicated ‘Our goal with the teamsters is win- win- win,’ while also mentioning they are ‘building contingency plans,’” he said. “To me, this means they are hoping for the best, but also planning for the worst (strike). Although the strike of 1997 occurred over 20 years ago, many shippers have not forgotten. Based on the current uncertainty within the industry, I believe UPS truly feels the pressure of this possible strike, but they are not trying to worry shippers in fear of many building their own contingencies in preparation.”

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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis.
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