By Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa
Published in USA Today, May 13, 2019
As the 2020 primary season heats up, presidential candidates in the massive Democratic field — from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to Amy Klobuchar and former vice president Joe Biden — are vying for critical support from labor unions.
Don't dismiss this as typical election posturing. Those of us who have watched the labor movement’s ebbs and flows over the last few decades know things have changed. Democrats' actual support for labor unions has fluctuated wildly in recent decades. The failure to focus on economic insecurity and the industrial heartland in 2016 allowed anti-union Republicans to make gains among union voters.
This shift is not arbitrary but tied to a resurgence in union support among all major gender, age, education and geographic groups. Across the country, unions representing truck drivers, nurses, pilots, teachers, retail workers and more have stayed vigilant on the core issues that impact working people. We’ve helped turn income inequality — which is at a level last seen in the years just before the Great Depression — into a mainstream issue. We’ve also fought against policies that are an affront to working people, such as Missouri’s “right-to-work” law, and won.
But beyond that, unions have undergone a critical self-assessment in order to remain nimble in the changing landscape of e-commerce. Consider the Teamsters drivers’ recent contract with UPS, which went into effect last month. Virtually everyone in this country depends on UPS to keep their lives running smoothly and efficiently. However, shifts in technology and changes in consumer behavior have affected this work over the last decade and dramatically changed the delivery and global logistics industry. In the wake of these changes, UPS workers faced more challenges than ever and needed their contract to reflect that.
We're helping workers adapt to changing lives
We approached the UPS negotiation table with an eye towards growing good jobs and ensuring strong wages, but also building a sustainable life for working Americans in the ever-changing, high-demand workplace. Months later we have now secured one of the largest collective bargaining agreements in the United States, covering some 250,000 workers across the country. The new contract includes significant wage increases for both full-time and part-time workers, 5,000 new full-time jobs, health care benefits without premiums for all workers, and a pension for all workers. We also fought for a solution that provides service to UPS customers who demand weekend deliveries, while protecting Monday-Friday jobs.
This contract couldn’t be more timely. In today’s economy, when unemployment has been going down without a substantial increase in wages or work-life-balance, this historic agreement is poised to raise standards for the entire logistics industry and help make e-commerce work for working people. At the end of the new agreement, a full-time UPS package car driver will earn as much as $40.51 per hour with additional health care and pension benefits, paid leave and grievance procedure. Workers can achieve more when they stand together.
Labor solidarity is helping us win for workers
Perhaps as a result of each union’s individual work, the labor movement has demonstrated enormous solidarity in recent months. In April, tens of thousands of Stop & Shop employees represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers went on strike over stalled contract negotiations in supermarkets in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The strikers were met with public support from 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. But maybe even more importantly, other unions played a critical role in the strike.
For instance, Teamsters who serve as warehouse workers and truck drivers for Stop & Shop honored the picket line and, by doing so, stopped the store from restocking. Their unity demonstrated the strength and success that labor has when workers stand together, and resulted in a new contract that includes wage increases, a fully funded pension plan and protected time-and-a-half on Sundays.
Union leaders like me are thankful to hear from presidential candidates and glad there is a focus on reaching working people in the upcoming election. But we know that the candidates’ interest is the result of our diligence and commitment to workers. While we continue to adapt and grow in these changing times, we’ll keep doing what we do best: fighting for working people. Because, at our core, we remain steadfast in our belief that a rising tide should lift all boats, and we will keep working to make sure it does.