Early Union Negotiations At UPS

Early contract negotiations at UPS may be a positive sign. The current sixyear contract is slated to expire on July 31, 2008, but the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and UPS entered negotiations September 19th. The contract talks are focused on the unionized parcel operations, but a simultaneous effort is underway to organize the UPS less-than-truckload operations.

Noting there are "very complex issues to address," John McDevitt, UPS senior vice president for global transportation services, acknowledged it would take time to find solutions and an early start increases the chance of an early finish.

The IBT represents about 238,000 hourly workers at UPS, including package car drivers, air drivers, feeder drivers and part-time loaders, unloaders, sorters and clerks. That's roughly 17% of the IBT's total U.S. and Canadian membership.

The UPS acquisition in 2005 of nonunion less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier Overnite Transportation, has re-opened the door for the IBT to attempt to organize the carrier. Overnite (renamed UPS Freight after the acquisition) was the target of strike action by IBT members in 1999 in a battle that raged for three years. Though the IBT had organized some workers, it was not able to negotiate any contracts for those members.

In May 2006, the IBT alleged UPS Freight management had sent a video with a strongly anti-union cover letter to its workers. A letter from IBT President James Hoffa Jr. to UPS Chairman Michael Eskew elicited a response stating that UPS valued its long relationship with the union and it would deal with any union those employees might choose to be represented by "fairly and honestly, with a goal of sustainable growth."

The IBT then launched a "member mobilization and education drive with the goal of organizing UPS Freight." Under the banner "One Company, One Union," its target is to organize all 15,000 UPS Freight workers. It's initial foray resulted in a majority of workers at the UPS Freight facility in Indianapolis, Ind., signing union authorization cards. An arbitrator confirmed the vote on August 9, 2006, and 125 workers at the facility are now represented by Local 135.

The union said it would negotiate-a contract on behalf of those employees that would serve as a national model. Referring to the UPS contract, Hoffa pointed out the key concerns of members are protecting pensions and healthcare. After that, the union will focus on work rules, safety and wages. "We will only accept an agreement that builds on the past achievements at the bargaining table," said Hoffa.

The IBT also has its eye on FedEx, which it describes as having "built its empire on low-cost business models and other unsavory practices." The union points out that drivers at FedEx Ground are classified as independent contractors and, as such, cannot legally organize into a union. It reports a number of lawsuits by drivers to be reclassified as employees.

Also on the horizon is the National Master Freight Agreement which covers a number of LTL companies. The IBT Freight Division represents 80,000 drivers, dock workers, mechanics and office workers. That contract, signed in April 2003, is due to expire March 31, 2008. According to the agreement, from April 1, 2008, "either party shall have the right to unilaterally determine when to engage in economic recourse." Though neither the IBT nor the TMI Division Motor Freight Carriers Association, which negotiates for the carriers, has given any sign those talks would start early, it seems clear they will be influenced by the outcome at UPS and UPS Freight.


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