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Teamsters authorize strike at UPS, huge ‘yes’ vote

By Elizabeth Kramer |
June 9, 2018
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Tampa, FL — On June 5 the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Package Division announced a big ‘yes’ vote for strike authorization at both UPS and UPS Freight. Teamsters voted ‘yes’ at 93.19% and 91.26% respectively.

Teamster package director and lead negotiator for the UPS contract, Dennis Taylor, asked for approval of a membership strike authorization vote in May. Local unions began to mail out ballot information on May 16. Members voted electronically on the question of whether or not to give union negotiators the authority to call for a strike if a satisfactory contract could not be reached.

The call for the vote initially surprised some Teamsters. Taylor kept the plan secret from the union negotiating committee. Despite this, when the plan to vote was announced, officials and many rank-and-file activists sprang into action. They organized a wide campaign to inform the membership on what strike authorization meant. The rank-and-file campaign pushing for a high 'yes' vote clearly sent UPS bosses a message.

Teamster negotiators will now primarily use this vote as leverage in bargaining. For rank-and-file Teamsters, the high 'yes' vote shows UPS bosses that they are angry and very willing to stop production, to strike. Low unemployment rates mean that a strike would be especially devastating for UPS, whose profits in 2017 were $4.9 billion. The UPS profit trajectory for 2018 is estimated to be over $6 billion.

Along with the leverage the vote gives the negotiating committee, there is a larger implication of a high ‘yes’ vote: Teamster union members are unwilling to stand down and stay silent. There is a new level of activity among the membership to prepare for a strike based on the weaknesses of the current proposals.

“The most important thing right now is making sure rank-and-file Teamsters are informed on contract negotiations. Management and union leaders need to know that we won’t accept being left in the dark, or accept a sellout contract. We will stay energized and vigilant!” said Gage Lacharite of Local 79 in Tampa, Florida.

Contract negotiations so far

Teamster members are fed up with their treatment at the hands of UPS management. Teamsters at UPS are growing more and more angry, and expectations for the union to do something about it are growing. For many, respect on the job is as important as pay and benefits at this point.

The union leadership began negotiations with a list of strong proposals, like $15 per hour starting wage for part-timers, dramatically stronger language against forced overtime, and a prohibition on the use of technology for self-driving cars. However, weak contracts have been the order of the day under current Teamster President James P. Hoffa Jr.

Rank-and-file Teamsters have big expectations following the last contract negotiated in 2013, which included givebacks by the union. So now union members are questioning the negotiating team's willingness to bargain a good contract. Teamster President Hoffa Jr. promised there would not be a ‘brownout’, or purposeful withholding of information on contract proposals and supplements. Lead negotiator Denis Taylor didn’t get the message however, as he is working overtime to keep all contract-related information secret.

Denis Taylor even kicked Avral Thompson and John Bolton of Local 89 (Louisville, Kentucky) and Matt Taibi of Local 251 (Rhode Island) from the national negotiating committee for opposing concessions. This halted the flow of information to the Teamster membership.

At issue was a proposal put forward by Denis Taylor that creates a two-tier driver system. It creates a second-tier ‘hybrid driver.’ As it stands, hybrid drivers would work 40 hours a week, either Sunday through Thursday or Tuesday through Saturday, and would be forced to do any part-time work along with delivering packages. The pay would be at a significantly lower rate than the standard package driver wage, without respect to the type of work or recognition of double time wages on Sunday.

“UPS can try to spin hybrid drivers however they want - they are a second-tier driving job. If we accept hybrids into this new contract, we are opening a door that cannot be closed - one that will lead to lower wages and worse working conditions for generations to come. We as union members cannot allow more givebacks,” said Sean Orr of Local 344 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Making the strike threat credible

Teamsters at UPS overwhelmingly voted ‘yes,’ and now it's time to show the company that members are prepared to strike if they have to.

When former IBT President Ron Carey led Teamsters at UPS in a successful strike in 1997, organizers on the shop floor spent many months laying the groundwork. Parking lot rallies took place around the country as the union officials and members worked together to demand more full-time jobs. Thousands of whistles were given to members to 'blow the whistle' on contract violations. IBT organizers traveled around the country, advising members to save up money and prepare for the strike.

The 2013 'vote no' movement during the last Teamster contract negotiations, and the 2016 IBT election created a new generation of member activists around the country united in their demand for a fighting union. These activists have been through battles on the floor and at the gates. They have become leaders in their own buildings, by leading fights against the boss on the shop floor and educating coworkers. They have traveled around their state and regions to oppose contract concessions and to campaign for Teamsters United.

While IBT leadership may be hesitant to educate the members on strike readiness, these activists are ready to step in to lead a contract campaign. Additionally, Teamster leaders like Sean O’Brien and Fred Zuckerman are opposed to a sub-standard contract and support members who want a union with teeth. Other unions can offer lessons and solidarity as well.

“Union teachers around the country support our Teamster brothers and sisters at UPS who want to fight the company. Preparing for a strike is just as important as getting the strike authorization vote,” said Sarah Chambers, executive board member of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Chambers continued, “During the 2012 strike, we created Contract Action Teams - CATs - at every school to get member input on key issues and organize job actions. These CATs were essential for winning our strike and then resisting cutbacks. The recent wave of successful teacher strikes were led directly by the rank and file who were sick and tired of bad contracts. It is the only way to win.”

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