On Tuesday July 25th, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced a tentative agreement (TA) with UPS, calling off the strike of 350,000 workers that was set to begin on August 1st.
UPS Teamsters are the largest private-sector unionized workforce and part of the logistics industry, moving goods that make up 6% of the value of the US economy. This means UPS Teamsters have huge potential power. The disastrous UPS contract forced through by the former union leadership in 2018 was a big factor in Teamsters electing new leadership in 2021 (Sean O’Brien and Teamsters United). The new leadership promised to win a no-concessions contract by August 1st or a strike would be called.
Teamsters have backed up the negotiations with more mobilizations like practice pickets and rallies than has been seen since the Teamster strike against UPS in 1997. Many UPS workers were ready to walk out on August 1st to win their demands. A strong contract with obvious gains won by UPS Teamsters could directly raise living standards in a big way and help inspire more union drives, strengthen contract battles, and increase the confidence of working people to organize unions and fight against corporations.
The Teamster leadership has circulated the tentative agreement to rank-and-file UPS members, who have three weeks to review, discuss, and vote on the contract proposal, as outlined in their union constitution. The TA will be accepted or rejected by the workers’ vote. While UPS workers are considering the TA, strike preparations like practice pickets and rallies should continue, to keep the pressure on UPS until members either vote no, which could reopen negotiations or the possibility of a strike, or vote yes, which would approve the TA to become a new five-year contract. Efforts like the labor and community solidarity committees launched by the Independent Socialist Group (ISG) should continue to meet and discuss the TA and prepare for more solidarity actions in support of UPS workers if they vote no.
ISG calls on rank-and-file Teamsters to read the agreement carefully and critically, and to discuss the TA with other UPS workers and supporters. Every union local and rank-and-file members of the union should organize meetings to discuss and debate the TA. Some UPS Teamsters have already raised concerns about the tentative agreement.
Union leadership entered negotiations calling for a $25/hr. minimum for all UPS workers, but the current TA offers new part-timers only $21/hr. All current part-time and full-time workers would see a total of $7.50 in increases to hourly pay over the life of the contract. This is a step in the right direction, but over the five years of the agreement, the rising cost of living and inflation will cut into, or even outpace, this wage increase.
UPS announced record profits of $11.3 billion in 2022—workers should be confident in their ability to win more than $21/hr., which in many places across the country is not a living wage. For context, prior concessions in the 1982 UPS contract cut part-time wages from $12/hr. (about $38 today) to $8/hr. (about $25 today). The tentative agreement proposes functionally lower wages in the current cost-of-living crisis than the already brutal wage cut in ‘82. UPS’ record profits should have resulted in decades of wage increases instead of payouts to shareholders and bosses.
One of the biggest attacks in the 2018 contract was Section 22.4 which created a lower tier of full-time driver positions. The contract forced new workers to do the same work for worse pay and conditions. The tentative agreement does eliminate the “22.4” position and converts those drivers into regular delivery drivers. However, the TA creates a new tier for already-underpaid part-time workers, where part-time workers hired during the new contract term will only see pay increases to a total of $23/hr. by the end of the 5-year contract.
Tiered systems are a common and effective way for corporations to divide a workforce. Companies use tier systems to try to convince existing workers to vote for a contract that sells out future workers who will be hired into a lower tier with worse pay, benefits, and conditions. As workers under the old “standard” retire or leave, the new lower tier becomes the new “standard”. Companies “save” billions of dollars with two-tier schemes and weaken unions.
The current TA trades one tier system for another. Full-time drivers will now receive the same wages and benefits for the same work, which reverses the 2018 concession. This is good.
However, it comes at the cost of pushing the tiered system onto part-time workers, mostly package handlers inside the warehouses, who are currently 63% of the workforce. This is a further move by UPS to try to split workers along full-time/part-time lines. They tried the same trick in 2018 when they removed this very same part-time wage tier in exchange for the notorious “22.4” position in which new full-time drivers were forced to work six days a week, could not refuse overtime, and were paid significantly less than the regular full-time package car delivery drivers. This tier was one of the main reasons the 2018 contract was voted down by members. Workers should unite and reject all tier systems in the workplace.
As for addressing issues of safety, particularly for delivery drivers, the tentative agreement mandates air conditioning units in UPS package cars only in new vehicles starting in 2024. Current package cars are to be fitted with fans and ventilation to help control the temperature in the rear storage area during loading and unloading which can exceed 120℉.
This July was the hottest month on record by far. Considering the average lifespan of the trucks is around 20-25 years, this means only about a quarter of the trucks will likely be replaced and contain A/C by 2028. This also leaves UPS a potential loophole to avoid the cost of A/C’s and new trucks by retaining an increasingly worn and unsafe fleet, even in the face of worsening climate change and record heats. And while the TA eliminates the ability for UPS to force drivers to work on days off, it provides no protections against forced overtime on the days drivers are scheduled to work.
Additional new full-time positions will help reduce hours among overworked drivers and increase hours, pay, and benefits for workers who move from part to full time. 7,500 full-time jobs would be added with this TA, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of part-time workers who want full-time hours and pay. UPS is offering 7,500 more full-time positions for a workforce of 350,000 while the 11 day UPS strike in 1997 won 20,000 additional full-time positions for a workforce of 185,000.
“Personal Vehicle Drivers”
The use of “Personal Vehicle Drivers” (PVDs) is not eliminated in the tentative agreement. UPS Teamsters will now have hiring priority for these temporary peak-season positions and new hires will be union members. But the company is still offloading vehicle wear, tear, and cost onto workers and avoiding hiring more full-time drivers.
The UPS contract campaign has been framed by the new union leadership as a fight for a no-concessions contract in contrast to the recent decades of clearly pro-company contracts negotiated by past union leadership. ISG fully agrees that concessionary bargaining needs to end, not just for UPS workers, but for all workers.
Workers and unions need to fight for contracts that go further than just regaining lost ground in wages, benefits, staffing, and workplace safety. When considering how to vote on the TA, UPS Teamsters should take into account that, as the largest private-sector union workforce, the strength of their contract can help other workers to fight for significant, long-overdue improvements in wages, benefits, and working conditions. The strength of the Teamster contract, if it makes obvious, far-reaching gains, will have a direct impact on the interest and confidence of workers at Amazon to organize with the Teamsters.
During the next three weeks, the union should double-down on strike preparation in case the TA is voted down. A strong, well organized strike will be needed to win a better agreement. Working class people should continue to support UPS workers. We all have a stake in a victory at UPS. Working people can mobilize our communities and unions, and organize and join solidarity efforts like the solidarity committees that ISG initiated in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine. Beyond just UPS, other major upcoming labor battles will need organized and active solidarity efforts from unions and communities.
160,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild and 20,000 members of the Writers Guild are out on strike. 150,000 United Auto Worker (UAW) members are entering into contract negotiations with the “Big 3” automakers. Workers at companies like Amazon and Starbucks need active solidarity to win union drives and first contracts. It’s clear no union can stand alone in taking on giant multinational corporations and their political allies.
UPS Teamsters deserve safe workplaces, much higher wages, and better quality of life. They have the power to win all these. The tentative agreement is just that—tentative. It does represent improvements in important issues. But are they enough?
It is ultimately up to the members to democratically ratify or reject the terms. If, through serious and widespread discussion, UPS Teamsters determine that the tentative agreement does not meet their needs or the promises of the O’Brien leadership, they should vote to reject the TA and strike. Union members can organize a campaign among their coworkers and between locals, arguing for the need to vote no and continue fighting for more. If they choose to vote no, the solidarity committees and the Independent Socialist Group will be back on the picket line with UPS Teamsters.
You can read more on the background of the fight for a good contract for UPS Teamsters at independentsocialistgroup.org.