December 6, 2023

unionization ups As contract negotiations continued, workers overwhelmingly voted to approve the strike, clearing the way for a shutdown as early as Aug. 1.

Some 97% of voting workers voted in favor of the move, Teamsters leaders said Friday, after more than a week of voting led to a tentative deal Tuesday night on heat safety that would cover 340,000 delivery drivers for the largest U.S. carrier and package handlers.

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien said in a statement that the vote showed employees “unite and determined at UPS to secure the best contract in our history. If this multi-billion dollar company fails to honor our hard-working employees Deserving the contract, UPS will beat itself.”

UPS acknowledged the vote and noted that Friday’s strike authorization would not automatically trigger a shutdown.

“The results do not mean that a strike is imminent, nor will it affect our current business operations in any way,” the company said in a statement. “We continue to make progress on key issues and remain confident that we will reach an agreement that delivers victory for our employees, truck drivers, our company and our customers.”

The decision comes days after union leaders and UPS struck a handshake agreement in which the company pledged to gradually install air conditioning in its iconic brown delivery fleet for the first time.

Drivers and labor advocates hailed the deal as an unexpected step forward on a key issue in the current round of labor talks.

“People are so excited,” said Zakk Luttrell, a UPS driver and unionized clerk in Norman, Oklahoma, “and they’re saying it’s not going to happen. We’ve been hearing for years that it’s not going to work.”

UPS has long resisted air conditioning for its trucks and vans, despite at least 145 employees being hospitalized for heatstroke since 2015, according to an NBC News analysis of OSHA data. Luttrell hailed the shift as the company’s long-awaited acknowledgment that record summer temperatures required a change of approach.

“As heat increases … it’s no longer just about cost-effectiveness and efficiency,” he said, “it’s about keeping people alive.”

Amit Mehrotra, a managing director and research analyst at Deutsche Bank who covers the transportation sector, described progress on cooling as “a piece of the puzzle” that is “probably one of the first five” in contract negotiations. overall problem”.

“From a cost standpoint, it’s a drop in the bucket for UPS, but it’s a huge benefit to the union’s quality of life, so I think it’s a win-win,” he said.

Mehrotra expressed optimism about the general direction of progress talks, saying he expected the two sides to “get this done and done by the end of July” and avoid a strike.

The UPS lockout would be the largest single-employer strike in U.S. history. Even a few days of interruptions to UPS deliveries could disrupt the back-to-school shopping season by disrupting the flow of more packages than top competitors like FedEx or the US Postal Service can absorb, logistics experts say.

“The success of UPS is really tied to the success of Teamsters because what they do from a service perspective is very important,” Mehrotra said. “Now, the flip side of this coin is that the success of UPS is critical to the viability of the Teamsters, because it’s really the only place that’s seen a significant increase in Teamsters employment,” in a drop in membership in other major unions that put UPS “literally The only oasis in this vast desert” is the labor movement.

He added, “I don’t see how a strike can’t be a lose-lose.”

While many union members at UPS voted on strike authorization before the heat safety agreement was announced, some drivers said afterwards that there were other important priorities. Luttrell said “excessive” overtime requirements were his main concern.

“We make a lot of money because we have a union, but none of my time should belong to the company,” he said.

Mehrotra said he hopes UPS will close the gap on pay issues, such as creating wage parity between different categories of workers, which he describes as an “incremental cost” for the company.

Thermal safety experts praised the initial agreement on air conditioning but warned it would take time to tackle the threat of extreme temperatures.

“Even though these doors are opening and closing a lot, it keeps these vans from continuing to heat up and become a full day’s drive,” said Juley Fulcher, an advocate for the consumer rights nonprofit Public Citizen. Oven.” Who focuses on heat safety.

But in part because the changes will initially only apply to newly purchased vehicles, she said, “it won’t be an immediate solution for workers,” adding, “These fleets do take time to turn around.”

Some advocates and Teamsters leaders are also calling for a more dynamic dispatch system that better distributes driving routes in hot weather and reduces the number of packages each driver must deliver.

“Workload has to be part of the discussion,” Fulcher said, “because when we talk about heat stress, the heat comes from two sources—it’s from inside your body and it’s from the outside of your body.”

Seth Harris, a law and policy professor at Northeastern University who served as President Joe Biden’s top labor policy adviser, said UPS’s progress on heat safety could have broader knock-on effects.

“The interim agreement to prevent heat hazards will put significant pressure on UPS’s competitors to meet or exceed these standards,” he said. “Drivers looking for work will want to know if their employer will look after them and keep them safe.”

Still, the concessions have fueled optimism among UPS employees and their allies.

“We’re so, so excited, you don’t know,” said Theresa Klenk, a nurse and wife of a UPS driver in New Jersey. Suffered from severe heat stroke at work in 2016leading her to start a petition calling for air-conditioned trucks, which have since Gained more than 1.3 million signatures.

Kroenke said the newly announced changes, if ultimately approved as part of the new contract, would be “huge.” “I think it’s a great start.”

— Annie Probert contributed.