|Teamsters strike UPS in 1997. Unlike today, the ranks were invited to participate in the contract campaign. By Labor Notes|
By Dave Berndt
A groundswell of resistance has developed among rank-and-file workers to a proposed concessionary contract at shipping giant United Parcel Service. Details of the 5-year tentative agreement, which covers 240,000 workers represented by the International Brotherhood Of Teamsters, were revealed in early May at a meeting of local union officers. The UPS contract is the largest collective bargaining agreement in the United States.
When negotiations began, IBT General Secretary Ken Hall declared that the talks were going to be about gains for members and concessions are off the table. Hall declared he would hold the line on pensions and health care and negotiate significant wage increases for low-paid part-timers, new full-time jobs, protection from management harassment, and reduce mandatory overtime for drivers, among other contract improvements.
Unlike most union bargaining these days, the IBT stated it would go on the offensive - looking for improvements instead of simply attempting to stop the bleeding of concessions. Many Teamsters applauded the move, considering UPS's $4.5 billion in after-tax profits and its dominance in the parcel market.
Despite being a massive bargaining unit at a highly profitable employer, UPS Teamsters have a laundry list of grievances. The majority of union workers at Big Brown are part-time warehouse workers, who are paid poverty-level wages. The company seeks to make these jobs so unattractive in order to encourage turnover, so workers don't stay around to enjoy increased pay and benefits. Those who do stay are harassed so management can replace them with cheaper new hires. Full-Time drivers, on the other hand, are paid well - yet they endure insane production standards, forced overtime, and management pressures.
The focus of bargaining shifted quickly after UPS proposed that members covered by UPS's company health care plan pay $90 a week in premiums, up from the current $0 premium. The IBT organized rallies across the country in UPS parking lots and union halls to defend health care benefits.
When the contract language was revealed, UPS Teamsters were disappointed to see few gains. Wage increases in the new contract are less than under the current contract. There are no additional raises for part-timers, and starting pay will be a measly $10 per hour for the life of the contract. Only 2350 new full-time warehouse jobs will be created, as compared to 20,000 in the last two contracts.
Wage progression to top scale for full-time jobs is increased from 3 years to four. The anti-harassment language is weak. Drivers were also looking for improved language to stop forced overtime;the contract came up short.
However what really enraged UPS Teamsters is a health care plan that will cover 140,000 members. Members in the Central, Western, and Southern states would be moved from the current UPS-run health care plan to a union run plan with inferior benefits. Under the new plan members would pay higher deductibles, get a worse dental plan, pay more for prescriptions, and have higher co-pays.
UPS rank-and-file are asking why their union is taking concessions at a company that is making record profits. Additionally health care premiums for both current and future retirees will be raised from $50 a month to $300 by the end of the contract.
it is important to note that the driving force for UPS's demand for health care concessions is Obamacare. The Cadillac tax, which penalizes employers who offer health care plans deemed too generous, is giving companies the green light to slash benefits.
As details emerge from the Obamacare regulations. Low wage workers in these plans will be ineligible for subsidies like other workers in company plans or who buy health insurance.
A vote "no" campaign has spread like wildfire throughout the country. Self-made "vote no" t-shirts are being made and distributed. Teamsters For A Democratic Union, a nation-wide reform caucus, is distributing leaflets with information at the major hubs across the nation.
When former president Ron Carey lead the Teamsters, the power of the rank and file was unleashed to fight the bosses, culminating in the 1997 UPS strike that shut down the company and won major gains for workers. Instead of being pushed to the sidelines and forced to run "vote no" campaigns, the ranks were invited to participate in contract campaigns, and when the union went on strike, to lead mass picket lines.
A return to this type of leadership in the Teamsters, and every union, is the only way to stop the bleeding that is slowly killing the trade union movement.