In Griffin, Georgia, UPS warehouse worker Jess Leigh exemplifies the struggles of part-time workers. As a single mother of two, she has spent nearly six years on the preload shift making poverty wages and has worked in multiple positions from loading trucks to being a hazmat responder.
Jess has been a firm advocate for part timers’ rights in these contract negotiations. She is a member of Teamsters Mobilize, a coalition of UPS rank-and-file workers whose main demand has been “a base wage of $25/hour, $0.75 in catch up raises for each year of service, and 5% raises over the life of the contract.” She has also earned a lot of recognition from workers across the States due to her role in organizing “Red Solidarity Fridays,“ a day where inside workers wear red as a show of unity in this fight.
Like me and every other UPS part-timer worker, Jess makes poverty wages for grueling work. She became a shop steward because of “some issues with the company when I returned to work after having my youngest son around being able to be given the proper amount of time to pump breast milk for my son.” They didn’t have a shop steward at that moment and she had to stand up for herself. After that, she took the position to organize with her coworkers and fight back the many contract violations that constantly happen at her warehouse.
We discussed the expectations of part timers in these crucial contract negotiations and strategies to secure the best possible contract terms.
What are your expectations for this contract?
My expectations are high. I’m just gonna be honest. I have very high expectations. I expect a lot out of this current leadership. They talk a big game, and I expect them to back it up 100%. You know, we’ve had this sell out leadership and office that has damaged us as a whole. It has damaged our workforce. And there’s a lot that needs to be caught up on. Can it all in 25 years of damage be fixed in one contract? No. But there needs to be significant improvements across many, many, many, many issues. And that’s the only thing that we’re going to vote yes on. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be addressed.
And a minor improvement in one area is not sufficient to leave other issues unaddressed. So I expect a lot, I expect all these major issues to have improvements, every last one of them. We don’t need to leave anything unaddressed that is an issue for our people. If we leave something unaddressed, that we know is a problem, if we do not make an improvement on that, that in itself is concessionary. And we’re not here for concessions.
What are some of the main issues that need to be addressed in this contract?
The main issue for the part timers is wages; we have been left behind with stagnant wages for over 20 years, our wages have barely moved in 20 years. And that is just not acceptable. It should not have been acceptable in previous contracts. But we are not going to allow that any longer as the part-time workforce is the majority of the UPS employees; we are not going to be treated that way any longer.
We need a minimum of $25 as the starting wage coming in the door, we need catch up raises on top of that, for every year of service, that catch up read rate needs to be a minimum of 75 cents, and that is the bare minimum that part-time workers need in this economy.
There is no question about the profits that we all together collectively generate for this company. Whatever our role is, it is all about moving packages, right? That’s what we’re doing. In every classification, you’re moving packages. We’re all moving these packages worldwide, we literally make this country run. Every last one of us, it takes all of us collectively, working together as a team to do the work we do. An hour of Teamster work is an hour of Teamster work. Four years of Teamster service is four years of Teamsters service, no matter what classification you are in, there is no argument that we all work hard.
I think we can all agree to that. And the money is there to pay every one well. Not just fair, because we know that fair is not necessarily good, right? We don’t do a fair job for this company, we don’t generate a fair amount of profits. Like, look, let’s not act like we’re the greedy ones, because we’re not, we do great work, and we generate massive profits, record profits. If record profits are being generated, it stands to reason that record wages should be given back. Record wages should be received if record profits are being generated.
We all can win. It’s not their issue or my issue. It’s all of our issues. Let’s win for every single one of us. That’s what it’s about. That’s a Teamster family. That’s what a union is. We all come up, we fight for one another. I fight for your issue just like I hope you’ll fight for mine.
What made you get involved with the contract negotiations?
This last year was when I got heavily involved. I just decided that I was going to really put my hat in the ring and give it my all for this contract campaign. Because I knew how much change needed to come to the part-time workers issues.
And instead of having the mentality of, you know, “I hope my union does this,” I was like, “We’re the union.” I’m gonna take it upon myself to do whatever I can. So that if we don’t win a strong contract, it won’t be because I didn’t do what I could.
I’m also part of Teamster Mobilize and we are going to be following how the contract negotiations go in the last week before the contract expires. We are ready to strike, but we are also ready to push for a Vote No campaign if we think that the possible tentative agreement doesn’t address our most urgent issues. $25 is the LOW or we VOTE NO!!
To support Jess Leigh and Teamsters Mobilize’s efforts, donate to their GoFundMe campaign.