One of the significant labor news stories that everyone had been watching for weeks, if not months, was the collective bargaining status between UPS and the Teamsters for a new agreement. A settlement was announced in July, just days before a strike deadline. The Teamsters at once claimed a massive victory, and the media seemed to agree with that headline.
But there is more to the story. In this two-part story, our own Nancy Jowske takes a deeper look at the agreement and offers some thoughts on what the “historic” agreement delivers for union members represented by the Teamsters.
It’s still too early to tell if the “Vote NO” contingent will accomplish much against the formidable O’Brien machine. With the Teamsters for a Democratic Union still fawning over O’Brien and the few surviving Hoffa partisans still locked in their safe rooms, there is no nationally organized resistance within the IBT anymore. However, ratification of supplementals could get sticky, especially as we still haven’t seen all that fine print. The leaders of Local 89, which represents 12,000 workers at the global hub in Louisville, have declined to endorse the master agreement; 89 is the home local of IBT Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman (ouch!) who has offered nothing but praise for the agreement, at least publicly. And 14 western locals simply failed to show up for the leadership endorsement vote last week, presumably because the tentative appears to punish current and future retirees for how well the Western States pension fund has been managed.
If message boards and social media are any indication, the rank-and-file is deeply divided. Ugly fights are breaking out everywhere between O’Brien yes-men and those who just won’t grab their fistful of fat first-year dollars because they can’t let go of what they were promised during two years of Hurricane Sean. It’s also getting ugly between part-timers who believed the IBT would settle for nothing less than $25 an hour to start and top-rate full-time drivers who have no issue, apparently, with earning more than twice as much as the peasants loading their vans.
Meanwhile, the socialists are doing their best to stir those peasants up. Teamsters Mobilize, the World Socialist Web Site, and Workers Strike Back, led by Kshama Sawant, are organizing part-timers to vote and vote no. In the UPS bargaining unit, part-timers outnumber full-time workers two-to-one but are far less likely to vote, mainly because no one has ever organized them until now. However, like all tentative agreements reached with a union that doesn’t want a strike, the UPS tentative was engineered, by the numbers, to be ratified. (Reaching an agreement is easy; reaching an agreement the rank-and-file will swallow is challenging.) The Teamsters will be doing the counting with no one looking over their shoulder, so the likelihood of rejection is minimal.
What does winning look like for UPS in 2023 and beyond? According to O’Brien, UPS “blinked” in the face of a strike and left with nothing. Well, not quite. The devil is in the interpretation, but it sure looks like the company can shift work to drones, driverless vehicles, and automated sort systems, keep doing deliveries with personal vehicles using cheaper second-tier labor, move to seven-day delivery, force overtime on most of its represented employees, and take its time on air conditioning the fleet, all with minimal if any actual IBT interference. And there may be all sorts of other UPS wins tucked into supplementals and riders, most of which have been hidden from public scrutiny.
So, the real question is, what has O’Brien won here besides tons of invaluable groveling media attention? That new class of hybridized part-time sorter / part-time personal vehicle driver may make it easier to compare UPS apples to Amazon oranges. O’Brien told Bloomberg, “We’re going to take this historic agreement and use it as a template to show Amazon workers what they will receive when they join the Teamsters union, and we organize them….We got the deal done without needing to strike the company, we added credibility to the process, and set the tone for what organized labor can achieve against corporate America.” As long as no one shows them the fine print, that is. All that, and O’Brien now has proof he’s more badass than the last Hoffa. Mission: accomplished.