After many years of concessionary contracts imposed by the Hoffa Jr. leadership, UPS Teamsters are gearing up for a major fight-back. International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Sean O’Brien has vowed to “hit the pavement” and call a strike if a good contract is not agreed to by August 1 of this year.
This would be the first national UPS strike since 1997, and by far the largest U.S. labor action in decades.
A strong contract, which can only be won with a very credible strike threat — perhaps only through an actual strike itself — could improve the lives of 350,000 UPS workers and revitalize the labor movement. Big Brown has the cash — now it’s time they pay up.
Contract negotiations are currently underway but do not look promising. The company has dragged its feet, canceled bargaining sessions, and is generally refusing to consider union proposals. Whether Teamsters win a great contract or get stuck with more of the same will depend on how well we organize with our co-workers and our allies, and whether we are prepared to shut down UPS with large, militant picket lines. The strength of our union is with the members.
This contract fight puts forward demands to drastically improve conditions for the most precarious workers: part-time UPS warehouse employees. In New York City, this sector is predominantly composed of Black, Brown, and immigrant workers, many of whom have two or more jobs to make ends meet, and earn poverty wages. Inside workers have become the majority of the UPS workforce and make up the “sleeping giant” within Teamsters. With the union taking up the demand for major wage increases and longer breaks for part-timers, now is the time for the sleeping giant to wake up and fight.
Friends and Enemies
There is a new energy in the workers’ movement. Workers at companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, and Trader Joe’s, and many others are fighting to unionize their workplaces and get a first contract. In other sectors, like education, healthcare, manufacturing and more, workers are going on strike to fight for better. Our working conditions and wages have been eroded by economic crises, the pandemic, high inflation, and profit-thirsty corporations. The struggle at UPS can become a point of reference for the broader working class, especially among this new, energetic sector emerging within organized labor. This sector of workers — many of whom are already standing together in solidarity by attending each other’s rallies and actions — must be ready to join in more combative actions like strikes and picket lines.
Neither the Republicans nor Democrats provide any solution to the working class. They have no problem spending billions of dollars on war, while claiming to have no money for healthcare, education, and housing. Last year, the Democratic Party played a vital role in forcing a tentative agreement on railroad workers, breaking what would have been a historic strike. While UPS workers are not subject to the Railway Labor Act, we should have no illusions that politicians will be our friends. When DHL Teamsters from local 251 went on strike last year in Providence, RI, cops attacked the picket lines and arrested union leaders in an attempt to break the strike.
The path to fighting for our rights and working conditions is coming from below — from workers who are fighting back against big corporations, but also against racism, sexism, and this system of exploitation. To revive the labor movement and win meaningful gains, it is essential to increase the involvement of rank-and-file UPS workers, and for workers to develop democratic shop-floor organizations where they can discuss next steps during the last months of negotiations and prepare to be strike-ready. Democratic parking lot meetings can give a voice to the rank-and-file, as can WhatsApp groups, social gatherings, and other forms of bottom-up organization.
With over a third of a million workers across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico moving toward one of the biggest strikes in U.S. history, the stakes are high. For part-timers, this is a struggle for a living wage, for respect, for safer conditions. For full-time drivers, this contract struggle is about ending 22.4s, getting Air Conditioning in the Package Cars, ending forced overtime, ending sub-contracting, and much else.
We are essential for the economy, and we kept society running during the pandemic.
Despite working tirelessly to ensure that people, businesses and hospitals could get essential goods delivered, the UPS bosses had no regard for our safety.
Who’s not essential in this equation? The bosses.
UPS has been making record profits — over $12 billion in each of the last three years alone — and is projected to keep making the same or greater profit margins. The CEO made $27 million in a year and shareholders enrich themselves thanks to the exhausting labor of workers making only $15.50 an hour. They have millions to give to Cop City, to strengthening a police force that cracks down on our union siblings as well as terrorize Black and Brown communities, but claim they have no money to guarantee that the workers who make them those profits can have decent work conditions and good lives.
Enough is enough. It’s about time we fight back!