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UPS Teamsters make contract demands

Hoffa leadership prepares to sell-short
By staff |
October 1, 2017
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Jacksonville, FL - United Parcel Service (UPS) has less than one year before its contract with over 250,000 Teamsters expires. UPS Teamsters have reason to be in a fighting mood. In 2013, when Teamster President Hoffa encouraged the union’s membership to vote to accept a concessionary contract, it barely passed the 50% threshold needed for approval. Regional supplements in 18 locations were voted down. The “Vote No” movement that grew out of these fights united Teamster activists from around the country who wanted to see better leadership.

Hoffa appointed Eastern Region Vice President Sean O’Brien to be the chief negotiator. O’Brien started his job talking tough, something not seen since Teamsters went out on strike under the militant leadership of International Teamster President Ron Cary. O’Brien started to reach out to all Teamsters, including those who encouraged a no vote in the last contract. This was too much for Hoffa, who then fired the chief union negotiator.

To many, Hoffa’s move indicates another concessionary contract will soon be on its way. According to UPS’s own executives, they expect to rake in over $5.3 billion in profit this year. The sweat of underpaid hub workers and overworked drivers is all the proof needed to back that number up.

UPS, however, is claiming more and more competitive pressure. In prior contract negotiations, the main delivery competitor on everyone's lips was FedEx, but now Amazon has exploded into the equation. The national Teamster officials have provided no plan whatsoever to organize these major companies. Instead, UPS workers have endured a race to the bottom which most recently has taken the form of management attempts to hire seasonal drivers who use their own cars and cell phones: ‘uberized drivers.’

Jared Hamil, a member in Los Angeles Local 396, explains: “This past year we've seen UPS roll out Saturday delivery all over the U.S. Now, they want temporary seasonal workers to use their own cars instead of putting on more routes and drivers. UPS's plan is to make more profit by cutting from workers as much as they can. We are the union. It's up to us stop them. If we don't win a better contract now, what's to stop them from taking more in the future? Now is the time to take a stand.”

In the union elections held last year, Teamsters United, a slate led by Louisville Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman, came within 4000 votes of beating Hoffa. Teamsters United won vice presidential spots in the Southern and Central Regions of the U.S. Not surprisingly, UPS Teamsters voted against Hoffa by over 70%. “We have serious issues that need to be addressed at UPS,” Zuckerman said in a recent statement, “starting with reversing the givebacks in the last contract. We need to improve our benefits, not cut them.” All this put together means that, going into these negotiations, there is an organized, fighting network of workers at UPS who expect a better contract this time.

Corey Uhl, a union steward in New York Local 804, displays this enthusiasm, “As a shop steward, I'm excited for what these upcoming contract negotiations have to offer the members of 804. There's a lot of room for us to demand more from the company and the International Union.”

Throughout the months of July and August, Teamster locals all around the country hosted UPS contract proposal meetings. Thousands of members crowded union halls to express the problems they have to face on a daily basis and the solutions they think necessary.

For part-timers, who make up over 60% of workers at UPS, the most commonly heard demand was an end to part-time poverty. The last contract contained only a 50-cent increase for part-timers, while the Fight for Fifteen Movement sped past the Teamsters and won $15 minimum wage laws in several major cities.

Dave Schneider, a union steward in Jacksonville Local 512, flyered with a group of activists at the gates of UPS and found that “there's zero doubt that the UPS workers we talked with want to fight for a better contract, especially part-timers. Wages were the biggest issue we heard about. Just about everyone united behind the demand for a $15 per hour starting wage and $5 bump for everyone else. It just makes sense with the obscene profits UPS rakes in off our backs.”

In addition, many want to take up the demand of Ron Carey during the 1997 strike and fight for more full-time hub jobs. In 1997, the Teamsters won 10,000 full-time jobs, but that number has steadily decreased with Hoffa's concessionary agreements.

One of the most important benefits for part-time workers is their healthcare. The last contract saw a shift from a company-run healthcare plan to Teamcare. Copays went up and coverage went down. Members have vowed to never allow this again and instead to bring the healthcare standards back up.

UPS hubs are often very dangerous locations, as package-car drivers who have faced discipline for refusing to drive unsafe vehicles will testify. Part-time package handlers often navigate narrow walkways crowded or blocked by fallen packages. Hub workers endure the summer heat with broken or non-existent fans while managers occasionally leave their air-conditioned offices to tell them to work faster.

Adrian Romero, member in Salt Lake City Local 222, says: "I want to make sure that the workplace is safe and inclusive for all Teamsters. Some of the things I proposed had to do with the working conditions at the hub. The heat is a huge issue that management isn't addressing and many people have passed out as a result. I also proposed that they be required to routinely check the air and water quality of the hub according to local health department standards. As a queer person, I feel the need to fight for LGBTQ protections in the workplace. I proposed protections in the contract against verbal abuse and discrimination towards transgender people as well as bathroom and locker room accommodations."

Full-time workers, especially package-car drivers, have seen their workplace standards sink through the floor during their time at UPS. Previously, a full-time driver had to wait two years to reach the top rate of pay, but several contract concessions have increased that time to four years, costing new drivers tens of thousands of dollars. UPS management has increased the workload to such as extent that many drivers have to crawl over boxes in their packed-out trucks in order to make their next delivery.

Full-time drivers regularly complain about forced overtime. It used to be that staying out until 9 or 10 p.m. happened mostly during UPS's peak season of November and December, but this is now the norm for many drivers year-round. “The children of UPS drivers are growing up without their parents,” said Frank Perez of Chicago Local 705, “we don't mind working hard, but Teamsters deserve to get home at a reasonable hour to see their families.”

The current contract contains a clause that allows for a “9.5” opt-in list for drivers seeking to be relieved of overtime. However, these drivers often face dramatically increased discipline as management threatens members who consider signing up. Fed-up drivers are proposing to make it an “opt-out” list to decrease harassment and to increase penalties for forced overtime.

All UPS workers, both full-time and part-time, unite against the constant harassment by the boss. Many UPSers view this workplace tyranny as the primary cause behind the recent tragic shootings in the UPS facilities in San Francisco and Birmingham. When members file harassment grievances, they are often filed away for future reference with no real punishment for the offending manager. Members brought forward solutions to this, such as monetary fines for every incident of harassment and mandatory discipline for offending bosses.

Much could happen between now and the first membership vote on the UPS contract, but this promises to be a year of struggle.

$15/hr Starting Wage for Part-timers!

Stop Workplace Harassment!

End Forced Overtime!

Improved Healthcare!

No to Uberizing Package-Car Drivers!