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Tipsheet

One of the Biggest Workers Strikes in History Could Happen This Year

Paul Sakuma

Everyone is going on strike. From The New York Times to railroad workers and hospital nurses, workers from many industries are demanding they get theirs as companies renegotiate contracts. Some might have legitimate grievances, but it’s had an impact. The strikes that cripple liberal media outlets can go on forever, as far as I’m concerned. Seven thousand nurses on strike have impacted New York City’s hospital system, while a railway strike, which was averted through an act of Congress, could have crippled up to a third of the US economy. Yet, another strike could impact American shipping, which has been in the works for months.

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UPS is preparing its workers for a strike as Teamsters officials prepare to negotiate new terms, and if talks collapse, it could lead to one of the most significant labor union strikes in history. The contract between the union and UPS is set to expire in July of 2023. In September, CNN Business reported that trouble was brewing, with observers conceding that a strike was likely to happen. They went through the numbers. Six percent of America’s GDP is handled by UPS, every household in America would be impacted by this strike, and 350,000 Teamsters members work as UPS drivers; UPS has a total of 534,000 employees. It’s also not smart when a considerable portion of your workforce is unhappy with the current deal (via CNN):

 A majority of members voted against ratifying the current contract in 2018, only to see the previous Teamster leadership, led by then-President James Hoffa, put it in place because not enough of the membership participated in the ratification vote to trigger a strike. 

The union’s new president, Sean O’Brien, won his office earlier this year by making the UPS contract a central focus of his campaign. He has vowed to make UPS pay Teamster members far more this time and he often talks about a $300 million strike fund the union has accumulated to pay members in case they go on strike. 

“Do our members wake up every day wanting a strike. I’d say no. But are they fed up? Yes they’re fed up,” O’Brien told CNN Business last week. “Whether or not there is a strike, that’s totally up to the company. We’re going to utilize as much leverage as we can to get our members the contract they deserve.”

UPS said the average pay for its delivery drivers is $95,000 a year, with benefits such as a traditional pension plan, worth an additional $50,000 a year. UPS’ semi-tractor drivers are paid even more. That’s far higher than most wages at FedEx and Amazon, where many drivers work for small independent contractors. 

The current contract expires at 12:01 am August 1. O’Brien vows the union will not grant any kind of contract extension past that deadline.

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And the new president of the Teamsters, Sean O’Brien, is preparing his troops for war (via Business Insider):

Since 2019, drivers have been working under a contract that made them among the highest-paid in the last-mile business but included a raft of unpopular provisions. 

Most of the UPS drivers who voted were against the contract but a (now axed) union bylaw allowed it to pass due to low turnout. The process left many members disenchanted with their union, multiple UPS drivers told Insider. 

Partly as a reaction to those grumblings, Teamsters lifer Sean O'Brien was elected to take over the union's leadership last year. He ran on a fiery platform of reclaiming the union's might and growing its membership.

O'Brien vowed to undo some of the disliked elements of the UPS contract, namely a new tier of drivers the company created to handle Saturday deliveries, driver-facing cameras in trucks, and a new kind of seasonal hire using personal vehicles. He's also hell-bent on raising part-time pay. 

[…] 

"Everybody tells a great tale about how successful the company is and how great it is to work for, but it's simple," O'Brien told Insider in July. "If we strike UPS, it's UPS's fault." 

The union has amassed a $350 million strike fund and shortened the time it takes for members to receive a payout from eight days to one. 

"That's some pretty good leverage," O'Brien said.

"UPS and the Teamsters have worked cooperatively for almost 100 years to meet the needs of UPS employees, customers, and the communities where we live and work," a UPS spokesperson told Insider in July. "We have built UPS into the world's leading package delivery company together, which has also bolstered Teamsters membership over the years. We believe we'll continue to find common ground with the Teamsters and reach an agreement that's good for everyone involved." 

O'Brien is starting negotiations later than past leaders have — just four to five months before the contract expires — and is bringing a different crew.

Traditionally, the Teamsters' side of the table is about 80 people, consisting mainly of union leadership. O'Brien is set on bringing in more member voices and making sure the rank and file are in the room. 

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Given how everyone is taking no prisoners, prepare for shipping delays by summer.

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