- The Teamsters union has begun its psych-up campaign ahead of contract talks early next year.
- The contract expires next July and members are poised to strike, union leadership told Insider.
- At the top of the union’s wish list is to undo parts of the 2018 agreement, complicating negotiations.
The existing contract between UPS and its 360,000 unionized workers expires next July, and work on the next contract has already begun. Negotiations will begin early next year and the stakes are high.
The Teamsters union representing UPS drivers, package handlers and warehouse workers is led by Sean O’Brien, a longtime local union leader in Boston. O’Brien is shaking up negotiations by bringing rank and file members to the table by shortening the negotiation period and threatening to strike.
O’Brien’s toughest task may be undoing elements of UPS’s current contract, which was a technicality, even though voting members were against it.
“It’s hard to walk backwards,” O’Brien told Insider. “But we have one thing, we have leverage. We have the ability to strike.”
Here are some of the issues that unions can strike on.
‘Second class driver’
Four years ago, to add Saturday service, UPS created a new class of drivers who work Tuesday through Saturday. They start at $20.50 an hour and top out at $30.64, while regular drivers can reach $40.
O’Brien and some regular UPS drivers said eliminating the position is a top priority. “I hate the fact that I work with someone who’s doing the same job as me, if not more, because he’s less senior — and he’s getting paid less,” a UPS driver in the Northeast told Insider last year. “It’s definitely a strike issue,” O’Brien said.
Another byproduct of Saturday service is that regular drivers are asked to work more overtime. At many hubs, it is difficult to find enough volunteers to work on Saturdays, so managers assign them shifts. During the pandemic, drivers also reported long days with an alarming number of stops designed to “sweat resources.”
“We’re open to finding a solution to seven-day week delivery because of what the competition is doing,” O’Brien said, but the existing staffing solution isn’t working in his view.
Private vehicle driver
PVD, as they are known within UPS, is a familiar concept in a delivery world that increasingly operates on gig-economy labor. These temporary workers supplement full-time drivers, delivering packages while driving their own vehicles. According to the existing contract, UPS can hire PVD as seasonal workers as long as it gives preference to union workers. Some drivers see this as their work product or “Uber-making”.
“When I went to work in the construction industry 32 years ago, I couldn’t bring my own truck to work,” O’Brien said when Insider asked about PVD. The Teamsters’ goal is to eliminate what a spokesman called “outsourcing” and “subcontracting.”
“Every worker at UPS should be classified, treated and paid as a bona fide employee, protected by a Teamsters contract,” the spokesman said.
Over the past year, UPS has been gradually installing devices on the dashboards of package cars that include front-facing and driver-facing cameras as well as other sensors. How these units are being used is a point of contention.
According to a UPS spokesperson, the devices do not record video or audio of the driver inside. “Inward-facing sensors act like motion detectors, similar to home motion security systems, alerting our drivers to risky driving behaviors like not wearing their seatbelts and repeatedly using cell phones while driving,” they say. “The information can be used to provide personalized coaching and training.”
O’Brien called the interior-facing cameras an “invasion of privacy” and promised to remove them in the next deal. “It’s another tool to increase productivity and hold our members hostage,” he said.
Part time salary increase
“The $15 fight is outdated now,” O’Brien told Insider. “We need to fight for a $20 starting wage, and then reward long-term part-timers accordingly.”
In addition to higher wages and what it calls “catch-up wages” for part-time package handlers and warehouse workers, the union wants more opportunities to convert part-timers to full-time.
The death of a 24-year-old UPS driver from heat stroke in June brought the issue of heat-related worker safety to the top of the Teamsters’ priority list. They sent a letter to UPS leadership in late July requesting detailed information related to the company’s plan to prevent heat-related injuries. The union is still developing a specific ask on the issue, but O’Brien said one way to help would be to “staff up” so drivers don’t drive 12- to 15-hour routes during the hottest months of the year.