Teamsters, UPS Workers Reach Tentative Deal to Avoid an Immediate Strike

By Scott Moran

UPS workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reached a tentative deal to avoid a worker strike that would have started on August 1st, 2023. The key wins are raises: for all UPS employees, the federal holiday, MLK as a full paid day off, and the installation of air-conditioning units on new delivery vans. This deal is still tentative and union members have the option to vote no over the next few weeks.

UPS workers have worked continuously since their previous strike that occurred in August 1997.  In recent years, UPS adjusted net income rose more than 70% during what was the lucrative COVID-19 pandemic to most shipping companies.  UPS Workers had to sacrifice personal safety during the pandemic to keep critical packages moving throughout the national lockdowns. UPS, along with union busting FedEx, was one of the two carriers to deliver the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Although this agreement will avoid an immediate strike, many workers feel that this deal is not the best for their interests.  

In this tentative agreement, all UPS union employees would receive a $2.75 an hour raise and a $7.50 an hour pay increase over the next five years. Part time workers will start at $21 an hour but this is less than the $25 an hour that many workers believed they deserved considering the massive UPS profits that occurred since the last contract in 2018.

“A lot of guys who are driving will never see an AC unit before they retire,” said Damian Kungle, a part-time UPS employee in Canton, Ohio who makes $16.65 an hour. [i]

UPS, like other shipping carriers in the United States, has a dirty secret. Although UPS executives like to tout industry leading pay for its delivery drivers, this figure does not include part-time package handlers that perform back breaking work for $16.20 an hour under the previous contract. UPS clearly exploits these part-time workers that the company views as essential for navigating bursts of shipping activity throughout the busy months. While it is possible for part time workers to eventually become full time workers, most part time workers have other jobs just to carve out a meager existence.

Hard fought labor victories of the past pave the way for future company concessions. In 1994, UPS Teamsters had an unsuccessful strike against a new 150-pound package limit. Although the workers cited safety concerns, the courts did not care, and the union had to pay UPS for the alleged breach of contract damages.[ii]  Fast forward three years to 1997, and UPS arrogantly thought it could steamroll over the Teamsters union’s demands. It believed that most workers would simply cross picket lines and show loyalty to UPS. However, the well-organized solidarity of the 15-day worker strike crippled UPS with losses over 600 million (1.14 billion adjusted for inflation in 2023).

The successful 1997 UPS strike dominated television news cycles. Prior to the strike, the news cycle consisted of attacks on affirmative action, deportation on immigrants, and tax cuts for the rich. Public opinion polls depicted the public siding with the striking workers by a margin of 2 to 1.[iii] This is imperative because UPS executives pressured the Clinton administration to invoke the ugly Taft-Hartley Act to break any strike that causes a national emergency.[iv]  For 15 days, workers and their common struggles became the centerpiece of all political talks.  The legacy of the 1997 UPS worker strike cannot be understated.

What caused UPS to settle on an agreement with the Teamsters union?   Here are the most significant factors. First, strong evidence of Teamsters union solidarity.  On July 16th, 97% of the UPS workers authorized a strike. The union conducted several rehearsals strikes with local strike captions throughout the nation.  Second, the Independent Pilots Association, who represents 3300 professional pilots who fly cargo for UPS, vowed to not turn one wheel for UPS if the Teamsters UPS would go on strike. Third, an increase workers organization efforts and current strikes, such as the Writers Guild of American.  Fourth, the successful 1997 UPS Teamsters worker strike proved that a nationwide strike is not only possible to organize but could also be executed.  

Among U.S. workers today, there is an increasing consensus that unions are a positive force for increasing worker power and balancing economic inequality.[v] Although around 16 million U.S. workers are organized into a union, the number of workers represented by a union is declining because the growth of non-union jobs is outpacing union jobs.[vi]  It is imperative that this trend that is a dearth in union participation, which has been occurring for decades, is reversed in order to improve the outlook for US workers. 







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