Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Update: NPR reported July 25 that an agreement for a pay raise was reached, avoiding one of the biggest strikes in US history. Per the five-year agreement, full and part time employees will earn $2.75 more per hour and $7.50 per hour over the length of the contract.

As tensions rise, UPS is hoping to reach a deal with the Teamsters to avoid what could be the largest single-employer strike in the history of the United States.

As their contract with the Teamsters nears expiration, multinational shipping and receiving giant UPS has reached out to the workers’ union to meet at the negotiation table once more. Despite previously expressing qualms with the Teamsters’ demands, claiming they simply did not have the funds available to meet the union’s proposed conditions for a new contract, UPS is returning to the table for negotiations once more after hitting a stalemate in talks.

Roughly 95% of the contract has been agreed upon, but the portion related to economic factors, such as wages and pension, is still being negotiated. As Teamsters President Sean O’Brien called UPS’ counteroffer “appalling” and not reflective of the massive profits the company raked in during the COVID-19 pandemic, the union is expected to stand firm on their conditions of agreement.

While UPS’ specific concessions from their previous proposal are currently unknown, the company is keen to reach an agreement. UPS lost $850 million when workers last went on strike in 1997. Today, the country’s economy would suffer a loss of $7.1 billion from a 10-day strike, according to Reuters. Intent on curbing what could be the costliest labor strike in a century, UPS is hoping workers accept the new deal. When reached out for comment, UPS gave this official statement.

“As evidenced by our 100-year partnership with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, UPS supports our employees’ right to express their views. We are proud of the progress we have made to date negotiating a new contract that includes increases to our industry-leading wages and benefits for our people,“ UPS says.

“We agree on the vast majority of the issues the union and our people have raised. We look forward to returning to the negotiating table next week to come to an agreement by August 1 that represents a win for our customers, our employees, the union and the company.“

The statement shows a marked shift in tone from the company’s remarks just days before scheduling this week’s meeting, having stated: 

“The Teamsters have stopped negotiating despite historic proposals that build on our industry-leading pay. We have nearly a month left to negotiate. We have not walked away, and the union has a responsibility to remain at the table,” UPS’ previous statement reads. “Refusing to negotiate, especially when the finish line is in sight, creates significant unease among employees and customers and threatens to disrupt the US economy. Only our non-union competitors benefit from the Teamsters’ actions. We’re proud of what we’ve put forward in these negotiations, which deliver wins for our people. The Teamsters should return to the table to finalize this deal.”

UPS is a fortune 500 company, one of the world’s largest shipping carriers, and provides transportation, distribution, trade and brokerage services in more than 220 countries and territories. In the United States, UPS handles roughly 28% of the 75 million packages distributed in a given day. UPS reported record profits in 2022 with total revenue seeing an increase of 3.14% with a total annual revenue of $100.338 billion. Accordingly, the Teamsters seek a deal that reflects fair pay for workers that have helped the company to thrive, especially during lockdown during the pandemic. Some leaders within the union, such as DFW Chapter 767 President Dave Reeves, believe the company has an obligation to stand by their statements on the immense value of their workers.

“We’ve been very clear up to this point. I think the company has a decision to make: whether or not to pay its workers appropriately to the value they express having seen  in them,” Reeves says. “You know, they’ve made record profits and they have the chance right now to show these workers what they’re really worth to them.”

Reeves was also outspoken on the topic of solidarity with part-time workers, as the union hopes to ensure that all workers are paid a living wage consistent with what the company outlines in their statements. In response to the company’s claim that “part-time union employees at UPS currently make an average of $20 an hour after their first 30 days of employment,” Reeves stated this metric was a “bold-faced lie.”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“The company regularly releases misleading claims on pay when the fact is that a lot of these [workers] are not getting what could be called a living wage in their state,“ Reeves said. “About $16 an hour is what they start at, but that’s not reasonable given the rising cost of living, the recession, and the importance that this job gets done.” According to Dallas College, $17.82 is the living wage for an adult supporting themselves as a single-person household in Texas.

In advocating for part-time/new employees, Teamsters have also argued against the two-tier wage system that shapes many workplaces across the United States. As new employees typically make much less than employees who have worked long-term, the Teamsters have pushed for eliminating disparities in pay between employees performing the same job essentially, as well as pushing for fairer pension benefits between part-time and full-time workers.

Additionally, the union has spoken out against long hours and requirements for overtime availability for full-time employees. “Mandatory overtime is something else we’re fighting. Our guys are sometimes out here working more than five straight days to keep up with standards. And this heat doesn’t make it any easier.“ 

In an interview with More Perfect Union, workers have previously spoken about sometimes harsh conditions on the job, especially for new employees that are not yet accustomed to the job. One worker reported knowing two new workers that died of heatstroke in the summer of 2022, after working six days a week and sometimes up to 12 hours a day. 

Other workers under the union have commented on the high divorce rate among delivery drivers, possibly due in part to excessive overtime. Workers consistently express that excessive overtime is a major concern, especially considering the high level of demand due to both a high volume of orders and partnerships forged between UPS and other corporations and businesses.

Going into negotiations on Wednesday, it’s unknown if Teamsters’ demands will be met and there is no guarantee that a strike will not commence after the union contract expires on July 31. 

“We’re hoping that UPS makes the right call. But if they can’t provide workers what they deserve, a strike is imminent.“