On Tuesday — six days before UPS Teamsters were poised to begin the biggest U.S. strike in decades — the Teamsters announced that a Tentative Agreement (TA) had been reached, claiming, “We’ve changed the game: Teamsters win historic UPS contract.” Highlights of the TA were announced on Tuesday and the full text of the proposed contract was released the next day. Member voting will start on August 3 and end on August 22, allowing workers three weeks to look over the TA and vote to either ratify it or keep bargaining. If the TA is voted down, a strike would be on the table yet again.
The Teamsters undoubtedly won significant gains in this tentative contract. The two-tier system among drivers has (mostly) been eliminated, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will become a paid holiday. The TA will prevent the company from forcing workers to work overtime on their days off, and newly purchased delivery trucks will have air conditioning. The 340,000 Teamsters who mobilized and organized around the country won these gains.
But in other areas, this contract falls short. From inadequate, sub-inflationary part-time worker wages and lack of improvements in the grueling conditions of warehouse workers, to the continued precarization of union jobs, there are many reasons why increasing sectors of UPS workers are saying that they will vote no on this contract. Others are still undecided.
Nevertheless, the fact that UPS members have not yet been able to discuss and vote on the TA themselves has not deterred certain sectors from claiming that this is a sweeping victory and that a strike has been averted. Many of them claimed the struggle was over before the full TA was even released. International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) officials, labor journalists, and Democratic Party politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders have expressed great enthusiasm for the proposed contract.
Even left organizations like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) posted statements celebrating the announcement of a TA as a win in itself before the language of the contract was released, writing that “UPS Teamsters’ victory shows how workers can fight and win!”
This is the wrong approach, and one which militant workers are rightfully indignant about. Workers must read the TA with a critical eye. What is in it? What isn’t? It is the workers — not the company, not the union leadership, and not Democratic Party politicians — who get to decide if this TA is acceptable or whether they will fight for more.
As socialists and supporters of the labor movement, we should fully support and stand alongside those workers, who are rightfully expressing that they will vote no and demanding to fight for more.
UPS has made billions off of the sweat, broken bodies and hard labor of UPS workers. As UPS worker and Left Voice member Luigi Morris puts it, “there is momentum to fight for more.” Let’s support workers to build that momentum.
More and more workers are explaining why this contract does not meet their demands. Part-timers in particular, who were at the center of negotiations in the last few weeks of bargaining, have been hung out to dry. As many workers are pointing out, this is a five-year contract — a very long contract — in an unstable economy where wage increases are already being eaten up by inflation.
As a part-timer who has been working for over twenty years, UPS worker Elbie Lieb explains:
Where I live, in a small college town in Indiana. If I go to my members with $21 when we get hired and up to $23.75 [author’s note: it’s actually only $23] — we need to see the language, the devil is in the details — they will be fairly impressed … In other areas, I don’t think that’s going to carry the weight. In cities, is $23.75 going to cut it for folks? I don’t know.
Lieb is right. Adjusted for inflation, $23 dollars an hour is simply not enough to live on.
Other workers have been more explicit about the problems with the contract. Morris said, “Among part-timers, there is a sector that is unhappy with this contract. $21 an hour does not keep up with inflation. We work in this heat under grueling conditions, with only a 10 minute break. We deserve more and we should fight for it.”
Even CBS News highlights that “for some workers, the new contract falls short.” As they report,
A lot of us are frustrated and disappointed,” said Jose Francisco Negrete, a package handler in Anaheim, California, who has been working at UPS for 25 years. Negrete, who also works part-time as a classroom assistant, is part of a contingent of workers pushing for a $25 hourly minimum for part-timers.
“$21 is still poverty pay — it’s $1.50 more than the In-N-Out, which is a two-minute drive away,” he said. “Is that really going to move the needle for you? Are you still going to be working two or three jobs? Are you still going to be on government assistance?”
“You have to fight big, and I don’t think we fought big,” he said.
UPS makes billions off of the labor of drivers and part-timers. The company’s CEO Carol Tomé makes more in one day than a UPS worker is paid in an entire year. UPS workers have died of heat exhaustion, and worked and died during the height of the pandemic. Many workers know they deserve more.
Workers Must Decide
It is not up to the union leadership to decide on a contract and take the strike off the table; it is up to the 340,000 workers to decide if this is a victory and whether they will accept this contract.
The experience of the last contract struggle at UPS in 2018 is evidence of this. The fight was cut short, and the contract — which brought about the hated two-tier system for drivers — was bureaucratically imposed on workers who voted to reject it. Sean O’Brien was elected as a leader of the Teamsters on the explicit threat of a strike to win better conditions for workers, and on the promise of ending the two-tier system for drivers. But those demands come from the workers themselves; his voice cannot be conflated with those of rank-and-file workers, especially part-timers, who have been at the center of contract negotiations.
Now that the TA has been released, it will be essential to ensure the democratic right of rank-and-file workers to decide whether they accept this proposed contract. Participatory, democratic parking lot meetings must become part of the DNA of UPS organizing — to discuss the contract and collectively decide how to improve the job and push back against management.
UPS workers must read the complete language of the TA with a critical eye. We must encourage workers to not take anyone’s word for it — neither Sanders’ nor O’Brien’s — but rather to decide for themselves if it meets their demands.
And we must call for, support, and encourage spaces of self-organization for workers to discuss and decide. The burgeoning “Vote No” movement must get the widest possible hearing, and workers should continue to discuss whether to use their greatest weapon: the strike.
UPS Workers Have So Much Power. They Should Use It.
At the beginning of this week, over 340,000 UPS workers were ready to go on strike to fight back against the terrible wages and working conditions imposed by UPS. Even leaders of the Democratic Party felt obliged to state their solidarity with UPS workers because that is where the power lies: in the hands of a third of a million workers who threatened not only to severely stunt an important sector of the U.S. economy, but of the whole world. That is the power that the rank and file of UPS Teamsters holds.
Workers have built tremendous power over the last year, working together to stand up to the bosses’ bullying and management’s harassment to strongly proclaim: no more. It is this power that got rid of most of the two-tier system among drivers.
But there is another two-tier system that remains: among part time workers whose wages now cap at $23 and top paid drivers who will be making over double that by the end of the contract. This hyper-exploitation of part time workers is the basis of UPS’ massive profits. The new contract not only fails to bridge this divide between drivers and warehouse workers, but in some ways, increases the gulf between the two.
But it doesn’t need to be this way.
We must listen to the workers who are organizing a vote no campaign, to the workers who know that they are worth more. It is essential that workers fight back against these false divisions the bosses create, and take up this fight for the most exploited among UPS workers, to fight for at least $25 at the start of the contract.
A Teamsters spokesperson told CBS news, “We pushed UPS extremely hard, as hard as we could. They had nothing else. We got it all.”
Let’s be clear: a $21 minimum wage to work in an inferno-like warehouse is not “getting it all.” As socialists and supporters of a combative labor movement, we must fight all of those who seek to diminish the power of UPS workers and the power of the strike. We must fight all those who seek to lower the aspirations of the working class, claiming that crumbs are the whole cake. All of us who want a fighting labor movement must stand on the side of the vote no campaign, saying that we stand with workers in this struggle. The DSA, which has been organizing thousands of people to join practice picket lines and support UPS workers, should put all their strength behind supporting the workers who are fighting against the TA and for a better contract.
UPS workers are incredibly powerful. They move 6 percent of the GDP of the United States. If drivers and warehouse workers unite, this power can bring the UPS bosses — and the whole U.S. economy — to their knees. These workers have the potential to win a better contract for all: one that guarantees no loss of work or pay, fights against layoffs, and guarantees better wages, conditions, and pensions. UPS workers have the power to refuse a sub-par contract; to stand up and say that no workers get left behind.
After decades of concessionary contracts, UPS workers stand at the precipice of what could be one of the biggest labor battles in history.
The power is in the hands of UPS workers. Let’s support them to use it.