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Teamsters UPS Contract: Apathy or Mandate?

What does the low contract voter turnout mean in the face of Trump's national Right to Work law?

Kris LaGrange's picture
Oct 08, 2018

Union Contract ratification votes were recently tallied at the United Parcel Service, the largest collective bargaining agreement in North America, between UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. This contract was rejected by 54% of the members who actually voted, but top brass in the Teamsters leadership are insisting that this contract has passed since less than 50% of the total membership in the bargaining unit voted. Critics are saying that the Teamsters are a divided union, split into two camps. One side are leaders like Jimmy Hoffa and Denis Taylor. On the other side is a group known as Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). TDU leaders have slowly been running for office and gaining more power within in the International Union.

The TDU faction worked hard to turn out the No vote on the UPS contract but didn’t turn out enough union voters. On the other side, it's not too clear if Hoffa and the Teamster leadership presented the UPS membership with a contract that the entire union is with, but numbers don't lie. Only 44% of the union even bothered to cast a vote. Does that mean that apathy means content? Does the lack of action to actually go out and vote by the UPS rank and file union membership equate to a mandate? Did the Teamsters leadership do enough to communicate with the members about the importance of voting? We don't know. The Teamsters aren't exactly direct UCOMM clients and we are just throwing out some food for constructive thought here.

 The infighting and disagreements that are playing out in the national media could make the Teamsters look bad to the company and weaken their position at the bargaining table or the mandate and lack of participation means the membership is happy and trusts their leadership. The TDU is clear on their position with this contract, but the Teamsters may have a real problem on their hands. If they continue to allow a culture of apathy to grow within their ranks, like public employee unions have, this cancer will spread and be hard to contain when their members will be given the opportunity to not pay union dues under Trump's upcoming national Right to Work law.

Getting the membership to vote and participate in internal union elections, whether it be significant or insignificant, is a healthy exercise for organized labor. Unions who do not exceed these basic muscles get fat and lazy, and are destined to suffer the same fate that our nations public employee unions have with the recent Janus v. AFSCME case. Read more about the historic vote below from Labor Notes and be prepared to ask yourself - am I personally doing anything myself to strengthen, or weaken, the American Union Movement? -Kris LaGrange

 

This article, originally published October 5, was updated October 8 to reflect the results of the vote count and subsequent developments. –Editors.

Apparently trying to have their cake and eat it too, Teamsters brass have announced that they consider the UPS contract ratified, despite members voting it down by 54 percent—but don’t worry, they’re going to keep negotiating to improve it.

When the votes were counted October 5, members had solidly rejected the controversial tentative agreements covering 243,000 workers at the package giant UPS and 12,000 at UPS Freight.

Concessions in the deals had sparked widespread anger and a vote-no movement. However, the company and union officials were both campaigning hard for a yes.

The contract rejection was a big victory for the “vote no” movement, which is backed by the rank-and-file network Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and activists from the Teamsters United coalition that nearly unseated President James Hoffa in 2016.

In a confusing statement October 6, the union announced that it considers the package deal ratified based on a constitutional loophole—yet also that it “fully intends to demand that UPS return to the bargaining table to address a number of member concerns.”

Days before the vote count, Teamsters Package Division Director Denis Taylor had threatened to impose the contract even if members voted it down, unless voter turnout topped 50 percent or “no” votes topped two-thirds.

Out of 92,604 eligible votes cast at UPS, the final tally was 46 percent yes, 54 percent no. That’s 44 percent turnout, and a big jump up from the 64,000 who voted on the 2013 UPS contract.

 

IS IT OR ISN'T IT?

In the immediate aftermath of the vote it wasn’t clear whether the union intended to follow through on Taylor’s threat.

“Quite honestly I think they were caught off guard by the amount of ‘no’ votes and the fact that a bunch of supplements were voted down,” said Jeff Fretz, a full-time inside worker and union steward in central Pennsylvania.

Even UPS announced it was disappointed that the contracts had not been ratified.

But when the news got out, members who’ve been organizing for a “no” were livid.

TDU is calling for an emergency meeting of the union’s executive board to resolve the crisis, and for Hoffa to remove Taylor as negotiator, return to the table, improve the deal, and bring it back for a revote.

“We need to keep up the maximum pressure campaign to hold him accountable to go back and re-enter negotiations,” Fretz said.

Ten of the 28 local and regional supplements and riders were rejected as well, though the union is counting five of these as ratified.

The constitutional rule was not interpreted this way in the 2013 contract, when 10 supplements and riders were rejected, renegotiated, and re-voted, without meeting the vote thresholds the union is now demanding. TDU’S take: “Taylor is clearly making up the rules as he goes along.”

At UPS Freight, with a turnout of 66 percent, the contract was rejected 38 percent yes to 62 percent no. With no constitutional provision to hide behind there, the union says it is headed back to the table to “address members’ concerns,” and that once there’s a revised deal, members will get another chance to vote.

FALLING BEHIND AMAZON

The enormous nonunion retailer and shipper Amazon had picked last week to announce that it would raise its minimum wage to $15.

That highlighted a shortcoming of the UPS deal. Going into bargaining, the biggest demand from the overwhelmingly part-time inside workers who sort, load, and unload parcels was for a $15 starting wage, with catch-up raises for people who’ve been underpaid for years.

What they got instead was a $13 minimum, with no catch-up raises. UPS is forecasting $6 billion in profit this year.

Amazon is both a major customer and a growing competitor of UPS. The news of the raise there means “there is absolutely no way we can pass this contract,” said Kristan Turns, a part-timer who has been loading packages onto jet planes in the Dallas heat since 1999 (“186 years in ramp time”).

She said Amazon already offers benefits pretty comparable to UPS. The pay differential would mean “it takes four and a half years to catch up to one of our major competitors,” she said. “Teamsters should be setting the bar, not allowing nonunion companies to set the bar for our wages.”

For the drivers who deliver packages, the biggest sticking point is that this deal would create a second tier of “hybrid drivers” who could deliver packages at a much lower wage.

The tentative agreement also does nothing substantial to address drivers’ other big concerns: excessive forced overtime, technological surveillance, and harassment by supervisors.

UPS Freight members’ biggest priority was to eliminate subcontracting. Their tentative agreement would modestly reduce the percentage of freight that could be subcontracted, but would still allow the total tons hauled by subcontractors to increase.

Read more from Labor Notes.

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