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UPS vs. Teamsters

by staff |
June 20, 2007
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Working at United Parcel Service (UPS) is a backbreaking, grueling job. Few people last even one year. Most who work there for a long period of time have back and/or joint pain. The main jobs, loading the trucks or delivering packages in the boxy brown trucks, are especially taxing. The loading jobs are so rough that UPS only wants part-timers to do them, figuring no one can handle the job for a full eight hours.

Why do they do it? Why do they sacrifice their bodies year after year in a job that most don’t like? The answer is simple. The benefit package the Teamsters have won in past years is pretty good. For a working class parent it is hard to beat the Teamster benefit package at UPS. When you are broken down at the end of your career, there was always a decent pension plan to retire.

But UPS didn’t become one of the world’s richest corporations and the Teamsters’ single largest employer by giving away benefits. In fact, UPS has aggressively been trying to erode Teamster power for many years.

First they changed the loaders from full time to part time. Then they cut the wages and benefits of the part-time workers, who used to get paid the same as full-time workers. Starting pay for part-time workers has only increased once in the 25 years since 1982 and has been frozen since Jimmy Hoffa was elected president of the Teamsters.

Now that UPS has marginalized and pushed this group of workers down, they have set their sights on full-time workers. Particularly, UPS has announced that they want to pull out of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. UPS is willing to pay the multi-employer fund $4 billion in penalties because they know they could make it up in the long run by reducing the benefits to its full-time employees.

UPS launched a major propaganda campaign among its employees with mixed results. “UPS won’t even let us go to the bathroom without a struggle. Now they tell us that they know what’s good for us. They say, ‘don’t worry we will take care of your pension.’ I don’t think so!” said Joe Balkis, a 19-year UPS Teamster in Harvey, Illinois.

UPS went after their workers’ pensions in 1997 when Ron Carey was president of the Teamsters. Carey said for the profitable UPS to reduce Teamster benefits was a strike issue. He mobilized the members, winning the biggest strike in Teamster history. Teamsters under Carey’s leadership not only preserved Teamster benefits, they won more full-time jobs. The slogan, “Part-time America just won’t work,” galvanized not only Teamsters, but millions of workers and people of conscience across the country.

After the strike, the federal government, led by Newt Gingrich and House Republicans, went after Carey. They removed him from office, giving their ally, Jimmy Hoffa, an easy path to the presidency of the Teamsters.

Since then Hoffa negotiated a disastrous contract with UPS in 2002. Hoffa failed to negotiate sufficient employer contributions to maintain the good Teamster benefits. Then he lied to the members about what he had done. He called it, “The best contract ever.” Then the boom hit. Teamster pension benefits across the country were cut as the funds that distribute them ran into financial trouble. Hoffa’s lie had cost members real dollars.

At the 2006 Teamster convention, Hoffa promised to restore Teamster benefits by starting early negotiations with UPS. After Hoffa was reelected Teamster president, UPS asked to be taken out the Teamsters Central States Pension fund covering over 42,000 workers. Unlike his predecessor Ron Carey, Hoffa said that this is a serious proposal. He has not mobilized the Teamsters around any counter-proposal. In fact he has not even outlined the Teamster proposal to his own members.

Though Ron Carey is gone, the reform movement he once led is alive and well. Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) has helped to found “Make UPS Deliver.” TDU is organizing, educating and mobilizing UPS Teamsters across the country to preserve their benefits. TDU is doing the work the Teamster officials should be doing, but rarely do.

TDU will be holding its annual convention in Chicago Nov. 2-4.
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