NEW YORK (Dispatches) - Over the past year, the nascent labor movements at mighty corporations like Starbucks and Amazon have grabbed national attention. But less well-known is a looming high-stakes clash between one of America’s oldest unions and the world’s biggest package courier.
Contract negotiations are set to begin in the spring between UPS and the Teamsters Union ahead of their current contract’s expiration at the end of July, 2023. Already, before the talks have even started, labor experts are predicting that the drivers and package handlers will go on strike.
“The question is how long it will be,” said Todd Vachon, professor of Labor Relations at Rutgers. “The union’s president ran and won on taking a more militant approach. Even if they’re very close [to a deal], the rank and file will be hungry to take on the company.”
If that happens, a strike at UPS would affect nearly every household in the country. An estimated 6% of the nation’s gross domestic product is moved in UPS trucks every year. The explosive growth of online retail has made the company and its drivers more crucial than ever to the nation’s struggling supply chain. Beyond the company’s home deliveries, it also delivers many of the goods found in stores, factories and offices.
About 350,000 Teamsters work at UPS as drivers and package sorters out of a global workforce of 534,000 permanent employees. And that’s growing fast — the company has added some 72,000 Teamster-represented jobs since the start of the pandemic.
While there are competing services at FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service and Amazon’s own delivery service, none of them have the capacity to handle more than a small fraction of the 21.5 million U.S. packages that UPS moves daily.
“We want a contract that provides wins for our employees and that provides UPS the flexibility to stay competitive in a rapidly changing industry,” the company said in a statement this month. “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. We believe we’ll continue to find common ground with the Teamsters and reach an agreement that’s good for everyone involved.”
The union has not gone on strike against UPS since a nearly two-week protest in 1997. If the union does go on strike, it would be the largest strike against a single business in nation’s history.
Seattle Cancels First Day of School as Teachers Go on Strike
Seattle Public Schools canceled Wednesday’s first day of school after teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike over issues that include pay, mental health support, and staffing ratios for special education and multilingual students.
Seattle Education Association President Jennifer Matter announced Tuesday that 95% of ballots returned by the union’s membership favored going on strike absent an agreement with Seattle Public Schools. Contract talks continued.
“No one wants to strike,” Matter said. “But SPS has given us no choice. We can’t go back to the way things have been.”
The district said in an email to parents that it was “optimistic the bargaining teams will come to a positive solution for students, staff, and families.”
Districts around the country have faced labor challenges as the pandemic put extraordinary stress on teachers and students alike. An infusion of federal stimulus money has helped stabilize school district budgets, and teachers unions have sought to improve pay, resources and and working conditions after a difficult few years.