UPS and the Teamsters union are “far apart” during their ongoing contract talks that began with optimism last year that an agreement could be reached before the current five-year deal expires July 31.
The Teamsters union is drawing a line in the sand over health care in its ongoing labor negotiations with UPS, which has floated the idea that the 260,000 Teamsters for the first time make a small co-pay contribution toward their health care premiums.
During a recent negotiation session, Teamsters union President James P. “Jim” Hoffa said a group of Teamsters began chanting, “We won’t pay!!” in a loud display of their opposition to the proposal.
“I got news for you—that’s a non-starter for us,” Hoffa said recently. “I guarantee they heard that (chant) in Atlanta (UPS’s corporate headquarters).
“We’re at a critical point at the negotiations,” Hoffa said in a March 23 conference call with union rank and file and shop stewards but was open to all who obtained the number that was disclosed by dissident Teamsters. UPS earned $4.5 billion last year on more than $60 billion revenue as the nation’s largest transportation company.
“They’re successful because we work hard—you work hard—and that’s what these negotiations,” Hoffa said.
UPS officials have repeatedly declined to negotiate publicly and refuse to discuss any details of their negotiating strategy.
Ken Hall, the Teamsters’ general secretary treasurer and the union’s point man for the Teamsters negotiations with UPS, said the talks were tough but that was not a surprise. The current contract expires July 31, but UPS has expressed a desire for an early settlement to avoid any freight diversion to non-union carriers.
“The ball is in UPS’s court,” Hall said. “If they don’t want shippers to walk away, it’s in their best interest to agree to a fair deal.”
Hall said he was “limited” about disclosing negotiating strategy during the conference call. He said that was because the conference call number was publicly disclosed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), the dissident wing of the union that made the call available to anybody.
“Stop putting our members in harm’s way,” Hall implored TDU. “Posting those numbers (was an) irresponsible action makes it absolutely certain that there is UPS management listening on this call.” It is not in the best interest in our members in March to put information out that would cause shippers to leave,” Hall said. “We want UPS to earn as much money as possible. The more money they make, the more money we take.”
Hall also had a message to any UPS management personnel who may have been listening on the Teamsters’ conference call: “My message to those management people in Atlanta is, ‘Get off their ass and get a reasonable offer on the table.’”
On the economic front, the two sides have just exchanged proposals. Hall said the union wants more full-time jobs than the company has agreed to. The union wants part-time wages to jump from the current $9 to $15 per hour in addition to a $1 hourly per year raise for all UPS Teamsters.
The union says UPS has offered only a $1,000 lump sum payment, plus a 50-cent hourly increase in wages. Hall responded by calling the company’s proposal “a joke.”
“It is absolutely not acceptable,” Hall said. “But it’s not surprising to those of us who have been around a while. The first proposal is always a low-ball offer. They far exceeded expectations. It was lower than I expected. We are far apart.”
UPS’s health care proposal remains on the table because the union is considering “creative solutions” to the health care dilemma. Those include starting a Teamsters-only health care plan for UPS workers.
“Part of the misinformation is we would walk out if UPS put it (the health care co-pay) on the table,” Hall said. “Why are we still at the table? Because the company has agreed to consider converting to a Teamster health care plan that would have enough reserves to cover the cost. We are not going to agree to a ridiculous proposal.”
Hall said he was confident the union would win a “fair and reasonable contract,” but said it might take until mid-summer. Hall said he recently delivered a petition to UPS management containing more than 50,000 signatures demanding a fair shake.
The contract buzz is on the company’s demand that UPSers pay for their health care. And that’s exactly how management wants it. The Teamsters are calling the UPS health care demand a “trap.” What the union means is the more the issue is on the table, the less the negotiations will focus on members’ issues, including harassment.
“Health care is not a real issue—it’s a distraction,” Hall said.
When UPS demanded the giveback, Hall hinted the union would walk away from early negotiations if the company did not take the proposal off the table. That was in February. He now disputes that he said that. That has irked TDU, the dissident wing of the 1.4 million-member union, which has demanded the union insist that UPS withdraw the co-pay provision.
Hall has promised that UPS Teamsters “will not pay $90, $9 or 9 cents” toward our healthcare.
TDU said the real danger in the UPS health care scare is that it is being used to distract members from the core issues that affect rank and file every day: production harassment, excessive overtime, understaffing, technology, trumped up discharges for “dishonesty” and other harassment.
The harassment is real, Hoffa said. New technology has enabled companies to track their workers more closely than ever, and Teamsters want language protecting them from what they term high-tech snooping.
“They don’t need anybody harassing them,” Hoffa said. “It’s a hard enough job. They don’t need harassment from somebody who’s never done their job.”
“Harassment involves a lot more than somebody yelling at you every day,” Hall said.
Hall said UPS has agreed to language in the contract that would allow union workers to go to arbitration over harassment issues.
Hoffa and Hall promised that harassment, pensions and full-time jobs were priority issues. TDU wants UPS deliver on the issues—instead of talking about what the company deems important.