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UPS-Teamsters Deal

UPS workers hold placards at a rally held by the Teamsters Union on July 19, 2023 in Los Angeles, California, ahead of an August 1st deadline for an agreement on a labor contract deal and to avert a strike that could lead to billions of dollars in economic losses. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

As you have probably seen, UPS agreed to most of what the Teamsters demanded and so the planned strike for the end of the month has been called off. It seems like a very good deal for the Teamsters.

Under the tentative five-year agreement, existing full and part-time UPS Teamsters will earn $2.75 more per hour in 2023, and $7.50 more per hour over the length of the contract. Wages for existing part-timers will also be raised to no less than $21 per hour, effective immediately, according to a Teamsters statement.

New part-time hires at UPS will start at $21 per hour and advance to $23 per hour.

The current five-year collective bargaining agreement expires July 31. It is the largest private-sector contract in North America, covering roughly 340,000 UPS workers.Local Teamsters chapters had been holding practice pickets in recent weeks in preparation for a strike if the company and the union failed to negotiate a new contract by the end of the month.

Union members from across the country still need to ratify the new contract in August.

Contract negotiations stalled in early July over wages for part-time workers, who make up more than half of the unionized workforce at UPS. The union initially rejected UPS’ economic proposal, arguing the company can afford to increase pay for its part-time employees.

UPS posted a record profit last year, as the company reached $100 billion in revenue in 2022 for the first time.

Last year, the median UPS employee made $52,000, according to the company’s securities filings. Tomé earned 364 times that amount, with her salary approaching $19 million.

According to the company, part-time union employees currently make an average of $20 per hour after 30 days on the job. But the union disputes these claims.

The contract talks, which began in April, had previously yielded significant wins for the union on issues related to wages and workplace safety. UPS agreed to equip new delivery vehicles with air conditioning, end forced overtime and eliminate a two-tier pay system for delivery drivers, among other concessions.

But wages and benefits for part-time workers remained an unresolved sticking point for weeks, until just days before a possible strike.

The way I read it, the Teamsters got basically everything it wanted. Good for UPS for recognizing union power and what a disaster a strike would be for them. Rare thinking from corporate America.

While internet leftists who root for strikes to play out their revolutionary fantasies were upset about coming to a deal, I am not seeing too much out there from rank and file workers not liking this.

Now, Harold Meyerson asks the question many of us are wondering–what does this mean for Teamsters’ president Sean O’Brien’s stated desire to organize Amazon?

But I don’t think the wage increases are really the key to convincing Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of warehouse and trucking employees to sign up with the Teamsters. The wage differential between UPS and Amazon employees working equivalent jobs will have some impact, but Amazon has shown a willingness to raise wages when it needs to. But then, its entire business model is based on attracting workers because it may pay more than the local competition, and, knowing it can always hire their successors, compelling them to quit in less than a year because working conditions are so onerous and exhausting. Which is why some other, non-wage-related provisions of the proposed UPS contract will likely prove especially compelling to Amazon employees.

The first is the company’s agreement to air-condition its trucks, which one driver memorably compared to microwave ovens. The heat in Amazon warehouses has long made work there gratuitously uncomfortable and frequently dangerous, so the Teamsters’ ability to compel UPS to invest in AC can only bolster the union’s cred. More significant still is the contract’s elimination of the company’s surveillance cameras trained on the drivers, whose every move had been monitored by UPS supervisors. That, I’d think, would hold particular importance in Amazon warehouses, where workers’ every step, every pause, and overall speed rates are continually monitored and recorded by Amazon’s high-tech system of cameras—a Yeatsian rough beast with “a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.”

Amazon’s workers are subjected to the same dystopian surveillance that official America decries when China’s government inflicts it on its citizenry. But now that the same technological capacity enables American employers to subject their workers to this dehumanizing and abusive surveillance, it takes a powerful union to free such workers from this 21st-century Taylorism. (California has enacted a law banning companies from using metrics based on such surveillance to punish workers, but it doesn’t ban the surveillance itself.) I suspect that this feature of the UPS contract will be one of the Teamsters’ major selling points as they hope to roll the union on to Amazon.

That’s a very interesting point. If O’Brien can organize Amazon (because it sure as hell won’t be that fake clown Chris Smalls), it would be the biggest win for organized labor in this country in a half-century. I’ll believe it when I see it. But I want to see a real effort here and I think that will happen.

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