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UPS Labor Contract Is Historic, But Is It Enough? Some Workers Say No.

Even with the potential new wage increase, the 60 percent part-time workforce at UPS would still make "poverty pay."

A United Parcel Service (UPS) driver makes a delivery along the coast of Cape Cod on July 24, 2023, in Orleans, Massachusetts.

Voting ends Tuesday for 340,000 rank-and-file UPS workers deciding on a tentative agreement with the shipping giant. The tentative agreement includes wins like the addition of air conditioning in vehicles and wage increases.

The Teamsters and UPS finalized the potential deal on July 25, avoiding a strike for the time being. Teamsters local unions voted on July 31 to endorse the tentative agreement, which would last for five years.

“This is an historic agreement and the richest in the history of Teamsters at UPS,” Teamsters Department of Strategic Initiatives Assistant Director Kara Deniz told Truthout.

Victories for the union include making Martin Luther King Day a paid holiday, limits on paid overtime, and the ability for the union to engage in bargaining in the event of a national emergency due to a pandemic.

Some workers are happy with the tentative agreement. “Our union was organized and we were relentless. We’ve hit every goal that UPS Teamster members wanted and asked for with this agreement. It’s a ‘yes’ vote for the most historic contract we’ve ever had,” Brandy Harris, a part-time UPS Teamster with Local 174 in Seattle and a member of the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee, said in a statement.

But some workers think they deserve more than what the tentative agreement offers.

Jennifer Hancock, a part-time warehouse worker in Richmond, Virginia, has been with UPS for 32 years. She is part of Teamsters Mobilize, a rank-and-file initiative of UPS workers pushing for a better contract that started in August 2022. Teamsters Mobilize has 14 active members but dozens more are part of the group. Union leadership has not responded directly to their demands.

“They have been calling this a historic contract, and on the one hand, I agree with them,” she said. “This is a very good contract, probably because all the previous four or five contracts have been so bad.” She said that wages for part-timers have not kept up with inflation, and that the tentative raise to $21 an hour is not enough. Teamsters Mobilize is pushing for $25 an hour base pay. The tentative agreement puts the top rate for full-time workers at $44.25 per hour for this year. It puts the top rate for part-time workers at $31.14. In 2027, a full-time worker could be making $49 per hour, but a part-time worker who starts in 2023 would be making $23 that year.

Sixty percent of unionized UPS workers are part-time. While many full-time workers want more hours with their families, part-time workers want the opportunity to work more. Right now, they are allowed to work 3.5 hours a day 5 days a week. One solution the tentative agreement provides is having more full-time openings that part-time workers could apply for, but Hancock is skeptical. “That’s difficult to do at a local level because the job openings are spread out across the country,” she said.

The Teamsters scored a major victory when UPS agreed to start installing air conditioning in trucks next year. But there are no plans at the moment to install air conditioning in warehouses.

The union leadership is touting the pay increases secured for part-time workers. “This is the first time now that we’ve had wage increases for the part-timers that are in line with the full-timers,” Deniz told CBS MoneyWatch. “We pushed UPS extremely hard, as hard as we could. They had nothing else. We got it all.”

José Francisco Negrete, a part-time package handler in Anaheim, California, is also part of Teamsters Mobilize. He, like Hancock, opposes the tentative agreement. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t push further,” he said. His main concern is also that the potential increased wage for part-time workers is still what he called “poverty pay.”

Although the tentative agreement would get rid of a formal two-tier wage system for drivers where some were classified differently and paid less, Negrete said a de facto two-tier wage system would still exist as long as part-time workers are paid less than full-time workers.

Workers know UPS can afford a bigger raise. UPS reported a record $11.3 billion in profits on $100 billion worth of revenue in 2022.

Michelle Polk, director of communications at UPS, told Truthout: “We reached a win-win-win agreement on the issues that are important to Teamsters leadership, our employees and to UPS and our customers. This agreement continues to reward UPS’s full- and part-time employees with industry-leading pay and benefits while retaining the flexibility we need to stay competitive, serve our customers and keep our business strong.”

Negrete said that a major issue for him is the way UPS workers were treated during the COVID-19 lockdown. They put themselves at risk — some died — while the country relied on them for groceries, medicine, and even exercise equipment. “I didn’t see anything in this economic package that reflected what we gave UPS at that time,” he said. “Nothing. … It’s just like UPS just has amnesia and, you know, the pandemic never happened. It was just an extended peak season for UPS, which [had] record profits.”

“That’s what UPS loves to do, they love to put a Band-Aid on something that needs surgery.”

Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien said in a statement: “Rank-and-file UPS Teamsters sacrificed everything to get this country through a pandemic and enabled UPS to reap record-setting profits. Teamster labor moves America. The union went into this fight committed to winning for our members. We demanded the best contract in the history of UPS, and we got it.”

Not only do UPS workers put themselves at risk for COVID, they put themselves at risk by working in soaring temperatures.

Luigi Morris, a part-time warehouse worker in Canarsie, Brooklyn, told Truthout that the warehouse can be sweltering. “We are working super hard, [doing] super intense work,” he said. Morris is also a member of Teamsters Mobilize.

The Teamsters scored a major victory when UPS agreed to start installing air conditioning in trucks next year. But there are no plans at the moment to install air conditioning in warehouses.

UPS said on its website: “The Teamsters raised A/C as a top priority for their members, and the new solutions we’ve agreed to will improve airflow, temperature and comfort for our employees.”

Morris thinks that the reason for the discrepancy between the trucks and the warehouses could be because the drivers are public facing. “Everything that happens in the warehouse is always invisible,” he said.

“It’ll take too much money to retrofit those old buildings,” Negrete said. He added that a few years ago, he filed a grievance asking for some fans — but they are not enough.

“That’s what UPS loves to do, they love to put a Band-Aid on something that needs surgery,” he said.

Morris is voting no on the tentative agreement. “No practically means that we wanted to have the chance to fight for more,” he said. “So if the contract is voted down, that means that the union goes back to the negotiation table, we bring back the strike threat, and hopefully, you know, we get more than we already got.”

Improved conditions for UPS workers afforded by a stronger contract could mean leverage for workers at Amazon, Starbucks, automakers, Netflix, and others, Negrete said.

Amazon workers who are part of the Teamsters have been picketing around the country. Morris said that several of his colleagues also work for Amazon. “It’s much better to have a contract. It’s much better to have a union,” he said.

For Negrete, the negotiations are part of a larger fight. “These corporations go in lockstep with each other,” he said. “They understand who the enemy is and it’s us, the workers. … We’re so caught up in our own little tribes that we don’t see the big picture like they see the big picture, and we need to adopt that, you know, my struggle at UPS is not an isolated struggle.”

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