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Teamsters begin strike authorization process amid UPS contract negotiations

By Dave Schneider

‘YES’ vote for strike authorization strengthens union’s hand at bargaining table

Jacksonville, FL – On May 1, Teamsters Package Division Director and lead negotiator for the UPS contract Denis Taylor announced the international union would begin the process of taking a strike authorization vote. The news breaks amid ongoing contract negotiations between the Teamsters and UPS, as well as UPS Freight, which began earlier this year and are set to continue into June.

The first step of this process is a May 8 conference call between Taylor and the leadership of every UPS Teamsters local, in which local leaders will fax in their vote for whether or not to move forward with a union-wide strike authorization vote. A similar conference call for UPS Freight locals will take place the following day, May 9.

If the locals vote to progress with a strike authorization vote, the international union will send out ballot information to UPS and UPS Freight Teamsters, who will vote ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ to give the union strike authorization. According to Taylor, the vote will take place electronically. Each UPS and UPS Freight Teamster will receive information and a unique code to access their ballot online.

If UPS and UPS Freight Teamsters vote ‘YES’ to authorize a strike, it doesn’t necessarily mean the union will strike. The Teamsters and UPS have not yet reached a tentative agreement yet, which will eventually go before the members for a vote. However, a strong vote in favor of strike authorization sends a clear signal to UPS and UPS Freight management that Teamster members are united and willing to fight for a better contract. It presents a credible strike threat to the multi-billion-dollar logistics giant and strengthens the union’s hand at the bargaining table.

UPS demanding concessions despite record profits

Last year, UPS made record profits totaling $4.9 billion, helped in large part by the massive tax cuts passed by Donald Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress last year.

But while business has never been better for UPS management, Teamsters at the company are struggling. Part-time UPS workers, who make up around 70% of the workforce, start at $10/hour with only a 3.5 hour/day guarantee in the contract. They only receive health insurance after a year of working for the company, and face rampant safety violations and harassment by supervisors.

UPS drivers, most of whom are full time, face the opposite problem. Management forces drivers to work long overtime hours out on the road and flagrantly violate provisions in the contract designed to reduce forced overtime – the so-called “9.5 clause,” which allows drivers to file grievances if worked over nine and a half hours too many times per week.

The Teamster negotiators for the UPS contract released their proposals, drawn from members’ ideas, before bargaining began, which included raises for part-timers, tougher 9.5 protections, and monetary penalties for supervisor harassment. They also proposed language protecting workers from automation by drones and driverless vehicles, which threaten to eliminate cornerstone Teamster jobs in the next decade, among other measures.

Since negotiations began, however, leaks from the bargaining table have shown Taylor backing down from the union’s proposals. Earlier on May 1, hours before the strike authorization vote was announced, Taylor and the company discussed the creation a second-tier of UPS package car drivers, who would receive pay at a much lower rate than current full-time drivers. Taylor and others have reportedly dropped or significantly weakened the union’s proposals on 9.5 protections and harassment. Moreover, the company appears unwilling to raise part-timers’ wages to $15/hour and grant $5/hour bump raises to existing part-time employees – a key demand for part-time UPS Teamsters.

The Teamsters-UPS contract is the single-largest private-sector collective bargaining agreement in the U.S., covering around 220,000 workers. The current agreement is set to expire in August 2018.

Teamsters ready to fight back

While negotiations continue, rank-and-file Teamsters at UPS and UPS Freight are getting involved in the struggle for a better contract. Militant rank-and-file workers, many involved with the Teamsters United movement, have organized a series of flyering events and parking lot meetings to educate and organize their coworkers.

This surge of Teamster activity incudes Teamsters Local 344, which covers all UPS Teamsters in the state of Wisconsin, who plan to hold parking lot meetings with members to discuss the contract negotiation process, starting on May 7 at the Oak Creek hub.

Kas Schewerdtfeger, business agent and organizer for Local 344 and former UPS package car driver, said, “Rank-and-file Teamsters are encouraged to speak their mind and say what they want about the contract negotiation process and the fight for a better agreement. Our contract demands are the same proposals that the IBT [International Brotherhood of Teamsters] brought forward to the table at the beginning: No 70-hour work week. No packages delivered after 9:00pm. An end to harassment with strong language to protect workers, and more.”

He added, “It’s important that rank-and-file Teamsters stand up and do whatever it takes to win a good contract. If there are concessions on the table, it will be up to the members to decide what – if anything – they’re willing to take.”

Vote ‘YES’ on strike authorization and a credible strike threat

While strike authorization does not mean the Teamsters will strike UPS, it gives the union more leverage to extract concessions and secure a better contract at the bargaining table. Each ‘YES’ vote adds to the credibility of a strike threat and effectively strengthens the union’s hand.

Dustin Ponder, a UPS Teamster out of Jacksonville, Florida, who was elected chief steward of his sort in March on the Teamsters United platform, said, “It’s crucial we present UPS with a credible strike threat at the negotiating table. This company has made billions of dollars off our backs, and they have the audacity to demand concessions from us. We need our Teamster sisters and brothers to stand united and vote for strike authorization if we want to secure a better life for ourselves and our families.”

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