The existing contract between UPS and its 360,000 unionized workers expires next July, and the work on the next one has already begun. Negotiations will start early next year and the stakes are high.
Leading the Teamsters union, which represents UPS drivers, package handlers, and warehouse workers is Sean O’Brien, a long-time local union leader in Boston. O’Brien is shaking up the negotiation by bringing rank and file members to the table, shortening the timeframe for the talks, and threatening a strike.
O’Brien’s toughest task may be undoing elements of UPS’ current contract, which went into effect on a technicality, even though members who voted were against it.
“Walking backwards is difficult,” O’Brien told Insider. “But the one thing we have, we have leverage. We have the ability to strike.”
Here are some of the issues the union could strike over.
Four years ago, to add Saturday service, UPS created a new class of drivers who work Tuesday through Saturday. They start at $20.50 per hour and top out at $30.64, while regular drivers can reach $40.
O’Brien and some regular UPS drivers have said eliminating this position is a top priority. “I hate the fact that I work with somebody that’s doing the exact same job as I’m doing, if not more, because he’s less senior — and he’s getting paid less,” a UPS driver in the Northeast told Insider last year. “That is definitely a strike issue,” O’Brien said.
Another byproduct of Saturday service has been more requests for regular drivers to work overtime. At lots of hubs, it’s a struggle to find enough volunteers to work Saturday, so managers assign them the shifts. During the pandemic, drivers also reported longer days with a daunting number of stops designed to “sweat the assets.”
“We’re open to finding a solution to the seven-day week delivery because what the competition is doing,” O’Brien said, but the existing staffing solution is not working in his view.
Personal Vehicle Drivers
PVDs, as they’re known inside UPS, are a familiar concept in a delivery world increasingly run on gig-economy labor. These temporary workers supplement full-time drivers, delivering packages while driving their own cars. According to the existing contract, UPS can hire PVDs as seasonal laborers as long as it gives priority to union employees. Some drivers see it as the commodification or “uber-ization” of their job.
“When I went to work in the construction industry 32 years ago, I didn’t bring my own truck to work,” O’Brien said when Insider asked about PVDs. The Teamsters’ goal is to eliminate what a spokesperson called “outsourcing” and “subcontracting.”
“Every worker at UPS should be classified, treated, and paid as an actual employee, protected by a Teamster contract,” the spokesperson said.
Over the last year, UPS has been gradually installing devices on the dashboards of package cars that contain front-facing and driver-facing cameras as well as other sensors. How those units are being used is a point of controversy.
According to a UPS spokesperson, the devices do not record inward-facing video or audio of the driver. “Inward-facing sensors act like motion detectors, similar to home motion security systems, alerting our drivers to at-risk driving behaviors such as not fastening their seatbelt and repeatedly using a cell phone while driving,” they said. “The data may be used to provide in-person coaching and training.”
O’Brien called the inward-facing cameras an “invasion of privacy,” and vowed to get them removed in the next contract. “That’s just another tool to increase productivity and hold our members hostage,” he said.
Part-time pay raise
“The fight for $15 is antiquated now,” O’Brien told Insider. “We’ve got to fight for a $20 starting rate of pay, and then reward long-term part-timers accordingly.”
In addition to higher pay and what it calls “catch-up raises” for part-time package handlers and warehouse workers, the union also wants more opportunities for part-timers to convert to full-time.
The death of a 24-year-old UPS driver from heat stroke in June brought the issue of heat-related worker safety to the front of the Teamsters’ priority list. They sent a letter to UPS leadership in late July requesting detailed information related to the company’s plans to prevent heat-related injuries. The union is still developing a specific ask on the issue, but O’Brien said one way to help would be to “staff up” so drivers aren’t driving 12- to 15-hour routes in the hottest months of the year.