Does the Brown hit the fan if UPS walks?

(AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File)

Friday saw a bit of a tremor run through the package delivery system we all take for granted. The question turned from “What can Brown do for you?” to “What are they going to do for themselves?”

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The answer was: vote to authorize a strike. And they did so overwhelmingly.

UPS and the Teamsters sat down across from each other in mid-April to start hammering out a deal for a new contract. The one currently in effect ends 31 JUL, so there wasn’t much time to waste.

They’d already come to some accommodations pretty quickly that – having seen our UPS folks around here on sweltering, humid, FL-in-Aug afternoons lugging boxes – seem to have been common sense from the get-go. But they’ve been non-starters for the longest time.

Air-conditioning. Those brown trucks and drivers have never had it.

…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.”

I mean, I was flabbergasted when I found that out, although it never occurred to me to wonder why drivers always had the door open, either. I do have my braindead moments. But working at the retail shop downtown for 12 years gave me a new-found respect for our UPS fellow, Tremaine, whom I just adored anyway. I don’t know how he did it.

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But it finally caught up with him – heat stroke, hospitalization, and a couple months out of work, it was so severe. I can’t imagine he was an outlier.

The rest of the dispute looks like it boils down to classic Teamsters v management. If Teamsters were so worried about their members, why’d it take ’til now to get air-conditioning? I’d be asking those bigwigs that.

But now it’s a question of pay scales, overtime requirements, tiered systems, etc..

…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.

“Job security.” I mean, what is that? As for the Teamsters “no more two tiered pay” position, that’s kind of ironic, as the Teamsters were the ones who inflicted that system on their own members.

…Significantly, outside of a few locals, the Teamsters union has not even acknowledged the layoffs as of this writing. The move also comes as massive cuts to the New England Teamsters Pension Fund of up to 60 percent have been floated. Those cuts may or may not occur, in the immediate instance, depending upon a federal bailout of the heavily indebted fund.

The layoffs are targeting mainly “hybrid” drivers, also known as “22.4s” after the relevant clause in the UPS-IBT contract. This second tier of lower-paid delivery drivers, who split their time between making deliveries and working in warehouses, was created in the 2018 Teamsters contract, which workers voted to reject but which was unilaterally imposed by the Teamsters bureaucracy, using an anti-democratic loophole then in the union’s constitution.

The creation of the hybrid position was a major concession undermining the position of delivery drivers of the few decent-paying jobs left at UPS (although drivers also work in notoriously poor conditions in trucks lacking air conditioning, which produced a series of heat-related injuries last summer). UPS was a pioneer in the late 1970s in the transition to a low-paid workforce when it began to transition towards the use of part-timers in its warehouses. Today, two-thirds of the approximately 350,000 unionized workers at the company are part-time workers, mostly young and struggling to make ends meet.

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Even as Teamster negotiators gird themselves for battle, UPS itself in in a state of decline as far as package delivery volume goes. Do they smell blood in the water and go for the jugular or can a compromise that doesn’t kill the company be reached?

…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.

It IS the Teamsters, after all. They are also aware that, while volume may be declining, profits have not been. Their members are kind of peeved about not being party to some trickle down profit share-the-love.

…The Teamsters represent about 340,000 UPS employees, more than half of the company’s workforce in the largest private-sector contract in North America. If a strike occurs, it would be the first since a 15-day walkout by 185,000 workers crippled the company a quarter century ago.

UPS has grown vastly since then and become even more engrained in the U.S. economy. The company says it delivers the equivalent of about 6% of nation’s gross domestic product. That means a strike would carry with it potentially far-reaching implications for the economy.

…UPS delivers around 25 million packages a day, representing about a quarter of all U.S. parcel volume, according to the global shipping and logistics firm Pitney Bowes. That’s about 10 million parcels more than it delivered each day in the years leading up to the pandemic.

UPS profits have soared since the pandemic began in 2020 as millions of Americans grew to rely on the delivery to their doorstops.

Annual profits at UPS in the past two years are close to three times what they were pre-pandemic. The Atlanta company returned about $8.6 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks in 2022, and forecasts another $8.4 billion for shareholders this year.

The Teamsters say that profit growth is largely due to the hard work of UPS drivers and warehouse workers who carry everything from 50-pound bags of dog food and cases of wine to prescriptions.

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The usual progressive cheerleaders are lining up to egg angry workers on.

The new Teamsters president, Sean O’ Brien, was chosen in a surprise move by members over Hoffa Jr.’s favored candidate. He’s apparently a profane, rough and tumble, old school union boss, who wants to take down Amazon once he gets done with UPS.

Sean O’Brien’s summer of the strike
The Teamsters president has big plans to stop your UPS deliveries in August. It’s a dress rehearsal for his not-so-secret dream to take on Amazon.

…The worker started to explain — human resources had taken his application but seemed to be jerking him around. O’Brien listened long enough to get the gist. “A lot of that stuff is subcontracted out now. So just go to your local union. Don’t believe a f—in’ word these people are saying.” O’Brien paused to let this sink in. “There’s a big pandemic goin’ on in there with management,” he continued. “It’s called f—in’ lie-abetes.” Now the workers were grinning. “Ever heard of diabetes? … Well, they got lie-abetes.

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O’Brien’s got the snappy, tough-guy talk down, no doubt. He’s gotten results so far. -UPS employees were shocked that UPS capitulated on the a/c after years of intransigence…

…Drivers and labor advocates hailed the deal as an unexpected step forward on a key issue in the current round of labor talks.

“Folks are super excited,” said Zakk Luttrell, a UPS driver and union shop steward in Norman, Okla. “This is something that they said was not going to happen. We’ve heard for years it’s not going to be effective.”

UPS had long resisted calls to air condition its trucks and vans even as at least 145 of its employees have been hospitalized for heat illnesses since 2015, according to an NBC News analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data. Luttrell hailed the shift as a long-awaited acknowledgment by the company that record summertime temperatures demand a change in approach.

“With the heat being what it is…it’s not just about what’s cost effective and efficient anymore,” he said, “it’s about keeping people alive.”

…and UPS is signaling that they don’t believe it will come to a strike.

That would be great if the two parties could get by without a walkout.

The next few weeks of rhetoric – or no – will tell.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024
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