It’s Friday morning, and you’re starting another 12-hour shift in the bitter cold. At least you know the end is in sight, because tomorrow is Saturday and you’re almost to the 60-hour weekly limit.
That is, until your manager hits you with the news: UPS has decided to exploit a loophole in Department of Transportation regulations to allow 70-hour weeks. You’ll be working tomorrow after all.
When UPS pulled this move on delivery drivers in many cities nationwide December 1, the response from the Teamsters International was weak — a memo from the union’s package division telling members the national contract did not protect members from the change.
But in New England, the union wasn’t having it. And workers found the leverage they needed to make UPS back off.
We Won’t Work 70!
December 11, a Monday morning, found UPS managers in the Warwick, Rhode Island, package hub’s parking lot facing hundreds of Teamsters chanting “We won’t work 70!”
During the holiday season the company routinely relies on drivers to volunteer for an early start time on Mondays to get a jump on delivering the packages that came in over the weekend. Usually most are happy to do it, since they’ll get home sooner — and the company avoids an hour of down time during scarce daylight.
But this particular day, incensed over UPS’s power play, the hundreds rallying in the parking lot decided not to be so helpful. They stayed put, refusing the 8 a.m. start. This meant UPS would start the week in a hole that would be hard to dig out of.
“The trucks weren’t rolling. Nobody was moving,” said Chief Steward Tommy Salvatore, who has put in 27 years at UPS. “I was totally blown away. I haven’t seen solidarity like that since the ’97 strike.”
“After UPS told them the company doesn’t care about their lives, their families, or their safety, they decided, ‘We’re not going in early,'” said Matt Taibi, principal officer of Local 251.
The company’s division manager stormed over. “He said, ‘We’re going to eat 28,000 packages today. Are you going to help us with these?'” recalled Local 251 Business Agent Matthew Maini.
“We basically said, ‘I guess you’re going to eat your 28,000. Do you want cheese with that?'” said Maini. “He walked back in with his head down.”
Sure enough, that night 28,000 packages came back to the building undelivered. It would take UPS days to catch up.
The company backed down. While UPSers around the country were forced to work Saturdays, Teamsters who took action in Rhode Island, Boston Local 25, and other defiant locals, backed by the New England Teamster Joint Council, kept their 60-hour week, thank you very much.
Peak season is miserable for UPS drivers. Every year from October 15 to January 15, to handle the flurry of holiday gift deliveries, management gets a free-for-all. For three months almost all bets are off — the contract allows unlimited subcontracting, unlimited use of temps, and scads of forced overtime.
It’s a preview of how things could be year-round if UPS gets its way in this year’s national negotiations, where scheduling and forced overtime will be among the central themes. The company wants to expand its deliveries to Sundays; it wants workweeks of any five days with no weekend premium; it wants to remove limits on subcontracting and hiring of temps.
The worker who delivers boxes to your doorstep is known in UPS lingo as a package-car driver. Even in the off season, the hours are long. “It’s very fast-paced, tough, demanding physical work,” says Taibi, who did the job for 14 years. “You’re in and out of the truck hundreds of times in a day. You’re driving in residential neighborhoods, you’re going up to houses, you’re dealing with all the weather conditions.”
Adding to the stress of the job, each package car is booby-trapped with hundreds of sensors that monitor such details as how long your truck was stopped at each delivery — figures your supervisor can use to hassle you later.
“With the technology they have, they can really tweak these routes,” says Salvatore. “If they feel a route should be doing 150 stops for 9.5 hours, they can make sure every day that the truck has 150 stops on it.”
That means climbing in and out of the truck 300 times. “And each climb is three or four steps,” Salvatore says. “You wonder why your back is throbbing at the end of the day.”
“That’s when we have repetitive injuries, accidents,” says Maini, who drove for 22 years. “The body just can’t handle that over a lifetime.”
UPSers Back Insurgent
Anger over the last UPS contract debacle, in 2013, fueled the challenge that nearly toppled incumbent President James P. Hoffa in 2016 in a squeaker election.
Rank-and-file UPSers held up that national contract by voting down most of its local and regional supplements. Members were angry at the deal’s givebacks, especially an increase in out-of-pocket health care costs, at a time when UPS was hauling in profits of nearly $5 billion a year. After members repeatedly rejected three regional supplements, Hoffa finally resorted to imposing the concessions.
No wonder in the election about 70 percent of UPS Teamsters chose the insurgent Teamsters United slate, headed by Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman, who pledged a much more militant contract fight.
Teamsters United continues as a grassroots network that’s pushing for limits on excessive overtime during peak, including prohibiting UPS from forcing drivers to work six days and limiting the maximum number of hours workers can be forced to work in a week. Members are already preparing to organize a national “no” vote if another bad deal comes down the pike this summer.
As the largest private-sector collective bargaining unit in North America, UPS sets a standard for other union and nonunion employers. “We need to keep those standards high,” Salvatore says. “Not only do we have to fight for what we want, we have to fight to keep what we have. It’s going to be a long year.”
Besides Monday-morning rallies, Local 251 has stepped up its enforcement of other contract provisions. One day, drivers en masse submitted the form requesting to work only 10 hours the next day. Another day, stewards circulated leaflets reminding members that the contract allows them to request help in lifting any package over 70 pounds.
The message to UPS is, “Our contract is coming up and we plan on taking you on,” Maini said. “People have to learn it’s OK to say no to UPS. It’s OK to fight back. And if you don’t, they’re going to walk all over us.”
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