About 340,000 workers at the shipping giant UPS, represented by the Teamsters, have voted to authorize a strike when their current five-year contract expires on 31 July if a new tentative agreement isn’t reached with the company by then.
Voting began last week at local union halls around the US. Workers voted 97% in favor approving the strike authorization. Negotiations on the national agreement between UPS and the Teamsters began in early May 2023 and remain ongoing.
“We’re not trying to go on strike. We’re going to lose money. We have families, this is going to affect everybody, even our customers. But this is on the company. The company can make it right and finish the contract, and give us what we’re asking for,” said Viviana Gonzalez , a UPS package car driver in Palmdale Village, California, for nine years and a union shop steward.
She added: “It’s not a secret that we all worked through the pandemic. We put our lives at risk. We work crazy hours, and we never saw any sort of pay from being an essential employee. We were just making the world move and they made billions of dollars off of us and we haven’t seen anything to compensate us for putting ourselves at risk. None of us have seen it, especially our part-timers.”
Workers at UPS have been pushing for numerous demands in their new contract, including air conditioning in UPS vehicles, pay increases for part-time workers to at least $25 an hour, elimination of two-tier wages for package drivers, ending the use of subcontracting, eliminating driver-facing cameras, an end to a forced sixth day of work in a week and more full-time opportunities.
“The job is physically demanding. The wages they’re starting at now aren’t enough to keep them in the door in the local market. They come in, they get beat up in the morning in a very physical, fast-paced job. They get part-time hours, but what I feel is like a full-time job worth of work in four or five hours,” said Ted Breen, a pre-load worker at UPS in Glens Falls, New York, for 14 years.
UPS workers have highlighted the company’s immense profits in recent years and through the pandemic, with an emphasis on pushing for those profits to reflect gains in their next contract.
The Teamsters union noted UPS has reported $56.3bn in profits under the current contract so far, from 2019 to 2023.
“We worked very hard through very tough times, when most people couldn’t or wouldn’t go to work, the UPS workers came to work at the risk of their own health. The company was always about cheerleading, ‘Oh heroes work here, heroes work here,’” said Scott Gove, who has worked at UPS for 35 years. “They need to start sharing the profits that were made through the pandemic across the backs of those Teamsters.”
The Teamsters have announced 43 non-economic changes to the UPS Teamsters national agreement achieved so far in negotiations, and announced earlier this week that the union secured air conditioning for the UPS fleet, which was a major demand for the union as UPS workers have reported grueling heat exposure on the job. Negotiations on economic proposals are set to begin next week.
Teamsters have taken a more aggressive stance on the new contract, as the Teamsters president, Sean O’Brien, was elected in 2021 as part of a slate of reform candidates after the previous UPS contract in 2018 was ratified by union leadership despite membership voting against it.
A spokesperson for UPS said in a statement: “We continue to make meaningful progress on a variety of topics in our negotiations with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.”
They also provided a May report by Deutsche Bank conducted for UPS on the assessment of a strike risk at UPS, which noted “we feel comfortable that a strike will not occur”, claimed the Teamsters’ financial readiness for a strike is limited, and predicted UPS shares performance would rebound after the strike threat passes.
They added on the strike vote, “The International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced it received approval from its UPS members who voted on its strike authorization. The results do not mean a strike is imminent and do not impact our current business operations in any way. Authorization votes and approvals are normal steps in labor union negotiations. We continue to make progress on key issues and remain confident that we will reach an agreement that provides wins for our employees, the Teamsters, our company and our customers.”