labor UPS Contracts Rejected
This article has been updated to reflect the results of the vote count. –Editors.
In tonight's vote count, members rejected the controversial tentative agreements covering 260,000 workers at the package giant UPS and 12,000 at UPS Freight.
Concessions in the deals had sparked widespread anger and a vote-no movement. However, the company and union officials were both been campaigning hard for a yes.
This week’s bombshell came when Teamsters Package Division Director Denis Taylor threatened to impose the contract even if members voted it down.
However, when the results were read out, Taylor said that the union would return to the table with the company to seek improvements.
It's a big victory for the “vote no” movement is backed by the rank-and-file network Teamsters for a Democratic Union and activists from the Teamsters United coalition that emerged from the campaign that nearly unseated President James Hoffa in 2016.
Out 92,604 eligible votes cast at UPS, the final tally was 46 percent yes, 54 percent no.
That's a turnout of 44 percent, and a big jump up from the 64,000 on the 2013 UPS contract.
Ten of the 28 local and regional supplements and riders were rejected as well.
At UPS Freight, with a turnout of 66 percent, the contract was rejected 38 percent yes to 62 percent no.
FALLING BEHIND AMAZON
The enormous nonunion retailer and shipper Amazon, meanwhile, had picked this week to announce that it will raise its minimum wage to $15.
That highlights a shortcoming of the UPS deal. Going into bargaining, the biggest demand from the overwhelmingly part-time inside workers who sort, load, and unload parcels was for a $15 starting wage, with catch-up raises for people who’ve been underpaid for years.
What they got instead was a $13 minimum, with no catch-up raises. UPS is forecasting $6 billion in profit this year.
Amazon is both a major customer and a growing competitor of UPS. The news of the raise there means “there is absolutely no way we can pass this contract,” said Kristan Turns, a part-timer who has been loading packages onto jet planes in the Dallas heat since 1999 (“186 years in ramp time”).
She said Amazon already offers benefits pretty comparable to UPS. The pay differential would mean “it takes four and a half years to catch up to one of our major competitors,” she said. “Teamsters should be setting the bar, not allowing nonunion companies to set the bar for our wages.”
For the drivers who deliver packages, the biggest sticking point is that this deal would create a second tier of “hybrid drivers” who could deliver packages at a much lower wage.
The tentative agreement also does nothing substantial to address drivers’ other big concerns: excessive forced overtime, technological surveillance, and harassment by supervisors.
UPS Freight members’ biggest priority was to eliminate subcontracting. Their tentative agreement would modestly reduce the percentage of freight that could be subcontracted, but would still allow the total tons hauled by subcontractors to increase.
THREAT TO IGNORE VOTES
Taylor’s threat hinged on language in the Teamsters constitution (Article XII, Section 2(d)(2)) that allows negotiators to accept a contract if fewer than half the members vote, unless at least two-thirds vote no.
According to UPS Teamsters United, Taylor claimed in a meeting of local UPS leaders that the union would be required to accept the deal. In reality, the language says the negotiating committee would be required to accept the company’s final offer “or such additional provisions as can be negotiated by it.”
Though awkwardly written, the provision clearly says that bargainers have the option to negotiate better terms.
Federal law does not guarantee members the right to vote on their own union contracts. However, the Teamsters like many other unions have enshrined that right in their constitution, along with rules governing such votes.
Labor Notes called the union’s package division this morning seeking comment on the threat. We had received no reply at press time.
Representatives of the company and some local unions have been pushing a yes vote in the workplace, while discouraging vote-no activity.
The Hoffa administration and UPS have barraged members with multiple national mailings urging a yes vote on the deal—in all, at least a million pieces of mail.
“It was like getting hit with a baseball bat every time I opened up my mailbox,” said Turns. “I can’t believe how much money we wasted on that campaign. If the contract they want us to vote yes on is so great, then why are they having to sell it that hard?”
Among the mailings were postcards warning that a no vote would mean “the risk of a work stoppage without further review by the members.” The possibility that a no vote would be overridden, however, was never mentioned.
In Pennsylvania, supervisors were reportedly leading workers individually to computers, logging them in to vote, and directing them to UPS’s statement in favor of the contract. Others were pushing employees to download the company’s app on their cell phones and vote that way.
In Los Angeles, Teamsters were thrown out of UPS parking lots for handing out vote-no leaflets. In New York they were told they couldn’t park their cars in company lots if they had vote-no signs in the windows.
In Dallas, at least two employees received disciplinary letters warning them that the “no solicitation at work” policy barred verbal conversations about the contract. Meanwhile supervisors on the clock cornered individual employees with vote-yes talking points.
BARELY PASSED LAST TIME
The previous UPS national agreement in 2013 barely passed, with 47 percent voting no. Member rejections of several of its regional supplements held up the whole thing for almost a year.
The Teamster constitution had been overhauled in 1991 to give members more democratic rights, as part of a consent decree that rank-and-file reformers pushed for to remedy the union’s ties organized crime.
Members won the right to vote on local supplements and riders to national contracts. The constitution stipulates that the national agreement doesn’t go into effect until all supplements are ratified.
Teamsters in 2013 were angry about concessions on health care, among other issues. After some supplements were voted down, bargainers went back to the table and negotiated improved benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs. Still, members in a few areas held out until Hoffa and Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall imposed the supplements unilaterally.
To do that, Hall was apparently relying on language that allows the national executive board to amend the ratification article of the constitution “if at any time it believes such action will be in the interests of the International Union or its subordinate bodies,” though they did not formally amend the constitution.
A number of local leaders recommended voting no, including in strongholds of opposition to the 2013 contract and support for the 2016 opposition ticket.
WAVE OF FURY
If union tops were to follow through on their threat to impose a rejected contract, we would expect a wave of fury from Teamsters against their national leaders—and against the local leaders who have been carrying water for Hoffa.
The Teamsters United coalition in 2016 did especially well among UPS Teamsters, 70 percent of whom voted against Hoffa.
The next national election is in 2021. Some locals, though, have elections as soon as this fall.
Slates fueled by the vote-no movement are running for office in the biggest UPS locals in the Northeast (Local 804, New York City) and the South (Local 767, Dallas). On the local level, often members are as frustrated with poor contract enforcement as they are with givebacks.
The incumbents in New York are scrambling to get in touch with members’ mood. The local’s current president announced at a rally that Local 804 would take the concept of the second-tier hybrid driver “and run with it,” but he took heat from members and soon backpedaled, saying his comments had been misunderstood.
In the final week of contract voting, Local 804 even started sending vote-no leafleters out to job sites—“a little late to the game,” said 21-year delivery driver Mark Cohen.
Cohen and the others putting together a slate in Local 804 had already spent weeks of their own vacation time building momentum for a no vote and a more militant approach to defending the contract.
“If there’s a violation the company fails to fix, it’s about getting a lot of people involved, not just one particular business agent,” Cohen said. “It’s about doing things that put a fear into the company.”
Five years ago, the contract vote in Dallas was an overwhelming yes. But times have changed.
Local 767 members backed the Teamsters United ticket against Hoffa in 2016, and Turns was confident that a majority were voting no on the current contract offer. She’s co-coordinating the campaign for the 767 Teamsters United for Change slate, with a vote count next month.
“We have always been a big Hoffa hall,” she said. “If you weren’t on the side of Hoffa you would never say anything out loud—and that’s changed. You can say it out loud, you can say it over the P.A. system.”