The Teamsters union representing UPS workers has voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if no agreement is reached on a labor contract before the current one expires July 31, raising the prospect of massive, nationwide disruptions in UPS deliveries.
“This vote shows that hundreds of thousands of Teamsters are united and determined to get the best contract in our history at UPS,” Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien said in a statement Friday. “If this multibillion-dollar corporation fails to deliver on the contract that our hardworking members deserve, UPS will be striking itself.”
Negotiations between the Teamsters and UPS began April 17. The current contract between UPS and the Teamsters union representing its rank-and-file workers will expire at midnight July 31.
A strike authorization vote does not necessarily mean a strike is imminent but is a way for a union to add pressure to a company and show a membership willingness to strike if negotiations are not met.
“The strongest leverage our members have is their labor and they are prepared to withhold it to ensure UPS acts accordingly,” O’Brien said.
During negotiations this week, the two sides reached agreement on one of the key bargaining points: air conditioning. The company will provide cooling measures, including air conditioning, new heat shields and fans for the company’s vehicle fleet.
“We have reached an agreement on heat safety with the Teamsters, which includes new measures that build on important actions rolled out to UPS employees in the spring, including new cooling gear and enhanced training,” UPS spokesman Jim Mayer said. “We care deeply about our people, and their safety remains our top priority.”
Here’s what you need to know about the negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters and what it means for you.
Who are the Teamsters?
The Teamsters are an international union that represents freight drivers and warehouse workers that was established in 1903 to improve working conditions and the operations of the trade they represent.
The largest UPS Air hub globally is in Louisville, Kentucky, where Teamsters Local 89 represents roughly 10,000 UPS workers, including at UPS Worldport.
What do the Teamsters want from UPS?
According to Teamsters Local 89, the demands from the union include no more excessive overtime, no more two-tier pay, higher part-time pay, more full-time jobs, job security for feeders and package drivers, and video camera and harassment protection.
According to UPS, the company believes the union will bargain over job creation and opportunities, pay and benefits, paid time off, part-time jobs, two-tier drivers, overtime, personal vehicle drivers, heat safety, and vehicle cameras.
What happens if the Teamsters strike?
The last time the UPS Teamsters had a strike was in 1997. The 15-day strike by 185,000 workers “largely crippled the world’s largest package delivery company,” according to a New York Times article from August 1997.
“The strike hobbled package deliveries around the nation, cutting UPS’ volume to less than 10% of normal and nearly overloading the post office and Federal Express,” the New York Times reported.
Today, UPS is already experiencing a decline in average daily package volume which recently led the company to make an operational adjustment to its Worldport facility. UPS saw roughly 1.2 million fewer packages on an average day in the first quarter of 2023 than it did in 2022. This represents a more than 5% decrease in average daily package volume and $137 million loss in revenue, according to quarterly filings.
In an economy dependent on the logistics and shipping industry, a union employee strike could have more drastic consequences than in 1997. Customers could see slower delivery of goods to households, higher prices on products and shipping, and it would result in yet another breakdown of the modern supply chain, according to the Associated Press.
If UPS were to strike, it would be the largest single-employer strike in U.S. history. The Teamsters represent more than 340,000 package delivery drivers and warehouse logistics workers nationwide. UPS Airlines pilots who are members of Independent Pilots Association union would support the picket line, just like in 1997.
While a strike threat looms over the company, Mayer at UPS has said the company is confident an agreement will be reached with the Teamsters.
What is the negotiating process?
The bargaining process started last August with the introduction of a contract campaign. Here are the steps and timeframe of contract negotiations:
- Aug. 2022: Teamsters call to action and 25th anniversary of 1997 strike
- Sept. 2022: Distribution of UPS contract surveys to Teamsters
- Oct. 2022: Regional union meetings to discuss contract surveys
- Nov. 2022: Proposal meetings begin for Teamsters locally and regionally
- Dec. 2022: Teamsters review contract proposal language
- Jan. to March 2023: UPS and Teamsters start to negotiate on more than 40 supplemental contracts that address geographic and local-specific topics
- April-July 2023: UPS and Teamsters negotiate a Master Agreement contract on a range of topics including pay, benefits, work rules, seniority rights, grievance procedures, safety and more. During this time a strike authorization vote typically occurs
- July 31, 2023, at midnight: The contract will expire. The Teamsters and UPS desire to meet a tentative agreement prior to expiration in order to start the ratification and implementation process of the contract
What happens if an agreement is not reached, and the contract expires?
- Accept management proposals
- Extend the contract expiration date with the joint agreement of the union and management
- Declare an impasse and UPS is free to implement its final offer and the union can strike
Contact reporter Olivia Evans at [email protected] or on Twitter at @oliviamevans_.