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Landover, Maryland Teamsters hold practice picket at UPS

By Jon Abraham

Zach Callahan (left) of Teamster Local 639 at UPS picket, Landover, Maryland.

Landover, MD – On July 7 approximately 100 Teamsters of the Local 639 organized a practice picket outside their workplace in preparation for a potential strike.

The Teamsters represent around 340,000 UPS workers across the country who have built a strong contract campaign and credible strike threat demanding better wages and working conditions. The current contract is set to expire on July 31. In June, rank-and-file Teamsters who work at UPS voted to authorize a nationwide strike by a 97% majority.

The ongoing practice pickets are to prepare working Teamsters for a strike and to show UPS management what their future will look like if the Teamsters do not get an offer that meets their demands.

Zach Callahan is a package car driver from Teamsters Local 639 who has been working at UPS for 24 years. Callahan has been a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for 15 years and is a union steward. Callahan, who works a couple hours south of Landover in Virginia (a “right-to-work” state), joined the pickets bright and early in solidarity with his fellow Teamsters.

Callahan is classified as a part-time worker even though he consistently works 40-50 hours a week. UPS, a big corporation, uses a legal loophole by offering him part-time benefits and part-time pay, but asking him to come in a couple hours early almost every day until he ends up working full time hours. He never knows what his exact start time and schedule will be until the morning of his shift.

Part-time workers make up more than 60% of the UPS workforce. Most of the major gains that the Teamsters have made so far in bargaining have been around issues affecting the full-time employees. Because of this, Callahan says of UPS, “They are doing nothing about the part-timers. People are not getting breaks, they’re getting heat exhaustion. It’s brutal. And they’re getting paid poverty-wages. So Sean O’Brien is saying they deserve a raise, a $20 an hour minimum. These are issues that UPS refuses to address.”

Sean O’Brien is the president of the Teamsters Union and has been clear that the Teamsters are currently holding out and prepared to strike over the issue of part time wages. UPS management has given significant ground on many of the demands of full-time employees, while continuing to hold out and not offer real raises to the part timers. Regarding this, Callahan stated, “What UPS is trying to do is divide and conquer: part-timers versus full-timers.”

The CEO of UPS is Carol Tomé, whose 2022 annual total compensation was $18,977,605. The ratio of this to an average UPS employee then was 364-to-one. In 2022 the company made close to $14 billion in adjusted operating profit and returned $8.6 billion of cash to shareowners through dividends and share buybacks.

At the same time as recording record profits, UPS in recent years has refused to offer significant raises for the essential workers whose work created those profits. The Teamsters have said that they believe that drawing the line in the sand at UPS and striking if they don’t get a better offer will show UPS Teamsters and other workers around the U.S. that they deserve more and that by withholding their labor they have the power to achieve these demands.

Callahan said “We’re not asking for anything crazy. UPS made a killing off the pandemic, and what did we get? Maybe they gave us a little lapel pin that reads, ‘Essential Workers,’ that’s it.” There was no hazard pay for working during the pandemic, just a pin commemorating their hard work while the bosses profit hand over fist.

In regard to the upcoming strike and what the public can do, Callahan says, “If we do go on strike, it would be great if other people could show up at the picket lines and show up at our workplaces. Get as many people out there as possible, have the numbers, and then we can show people that workers have the power!” Callahan went on to say to non-union workers, “You should get together and try to organize your coworkers, and then we can show you what can be done.”

Callahan continued, “In this country, a lot of people don’t have healthcare. I heard most people can’t afford a $500 emergency. People don’t have paid time off, they don’t have maternity/paternity leave, so there’s a lot that needs to be fixed with the way things are.” He added, “But there’s a strike wave coming, so that’s good news, we can show the world that people matter more than profit. Because the way it is now, the government, the whole capitalist system, all they care about is making a profit, and exploiting the workers.”

As of July 16, bargaining between the Teamsters and UPS remains at a standstill with no further bargaining dates scheduled. If no deal is reached before August 1, then 340,000 Teamsters will be on strike. A strike at UPS is expected to have major ramifications on distribution of goods to homes and stores that may last weeks or months even after a strike concludes.

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