UPS workers represented by the Teamsters voted overwhelmingly on Friday in favor of a nationwide strike that could have far-reaching consequences for workers and the economy.
The union said on Friday that 97% of workers are in favour of walking off the job if they do not reach a satisfactory agreement with the mail-order giant by 31 July, when current contracts expire. The vote is not a guarantee of a work stoppage, but it does give the Teamsters leadership the green light to call one if they see fit.
In May, the union and UPS began negotiations on a new five-year agreement that would settle wages and working conditions for more than 300,000 UPS drivers, warehouse workers and other employees. The two sides have reached tentative agreement on some issues, but much remains to be done before a contract can be finalised.
If no agreement is reached by August, the US could see the largest strike ever against a single employer in terms of the number of workers involved.
“The UPS-Teamsters contract is the largest of its kind in the U.S. private sector. The quality of the deal can affect working conditions throughout the logistics sector and beyond.”
UPS is confident it can reach an agreement and avoid a work stoppage. On Wednesday, the company announced that it had reached an agreement with the Teamsters over the problem of heat in delivery trucks, including that all new vans will be equipped with air conditioning starting next year. Improving heat protection was the union’s top priority.
However, other critical issues have yet to be resolved, such as starting pay for workers and the so-called “two-tier” employment system. A previous UPS Teamsters contract provided for a lower class of drivers to earn less than senior drivers for the same work. Many members are calling for the elimination of this category.
Negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters generally have far-reaching implications. UPS plays an important role in US commerce, so a work stoppage would affect all kinds of businesses as well as the economy in general.
But the UPS-Teamsters contract is also the largest of its kind in the American private sector. The quality of the deal may have an impact on working conditions across the logistics sector and beyond, and set an example for negotiations in other companies.
The Teamsters’ new president, Sean O’Brien, campaigned primarily on taking on UPS and improving the union’s agreement with the trucking company – one of the reasons many industry observers believe a strike is more likely this year than in past bargaining cycles.
O’Brien has tweeted throughout the negotiations, saying earlier this week that he was “glad UPS finally came to its senses” and agreed to the heat agreements. However, he pointed out that there were still many important issues to be resolved.
“The goal remains the same: to get better every day and build on the previous day until we get the best contract ever,” O’Brien said.
The last UPS strike was in 1997 and lasted 15 days.