A long hot summer has been even longer and hotter for the thousands of UPS package car drivers who contend with constant and excessive overtime.
The short-term impact of this problem on Teamsters is tremendous. Weekday family life is nonexistent. Weekends are for recovery. The long-term effects include more injuries, more accidents and difficulty making it to retirement age. TDU spoke with a number of stewards and business agents about this issue and what can be done to protect members.
"Everyone is upset,” according to Des Moines Local 90 steward Todd Hartsell. “We are seeing people who have never filed a grievance filing them now. Standards are being cut, stop counts and overtime are up.”
“Over five hundred grievances have been filed on 9.5 violations in Local 688,” St. Louis steward Gil Clark reported, referring to violations of a rule limiting how often a driver can be forced to work more than 9.5 hours a day. “On paper management says routes are 8.5 hours, but drivers are coming back in with 11 hours day after day.”
The only thing hotter than the issue of overtime is the air coming from the IBT. Hoffa announced at a June meeting that the IBT had a plan. “It almost sounded like an Amway convention,” one BA said of the meeting. “They kept saying that they had a plan and were excited and that they felt positive about getting things done.”
“All we’ve gotten from the IBT is a postcard saying they are going to take it seriously,” Local 89 steward David Thornsberry said. “They’ve got an information gathering form to use, which is fine, but we are way past the stage of needing info. UPS workers know what’s going on. Teamster officials know what’s going on. It’s time for a real plan and action, not surveys.”
The IBT is hinging its approach on the double-time penalty in the contract. Detailed wording was added in 2002 to Article 37 stating that drivers can file grievances whenever they work over 9.5 hours three or more times in a week. Two penalties were set out in the article: double time pay for hours worked over 9.5 and/or adjustment of a driver’s work schedule.
“One problem with this language,” pointed out Local 728 BA Butch Traylor, “is that the penalty is not really that hard on the company. With the penalty kicking in only after 9.5, and taking into account that you already get time and one half for those hours, it works out to maybe $7 a day as penalty, or $35 per week.”
When asked if members in one of the largest UPS locals had ever seen penalty pay, David Thornsberry responded, “We’ve seen it as much as I’ve seen a girlfriend I had back in high school who moved to Canada, and nobody has seen her.”
St. Louis is another location where the IBT is falling short. Members handed officials a powerful weapon by filing over 500 grievances on 9.5. Rather than press for quick action, the local gave UPS a 30-day period to solve the problem. That 30 days will bump right into peak season, when they can disregard overtime limits all over again. (And the local supplement provides the right to strike in certain circumstances—an additional hammer the union is choosing not to use.)
At the same time, Traylor pointed out, “UPS is increasing the stops per car. The number of stops used to be in the 90s, last year it was around 108 and this year 118. That’s about 25 stops extra, that is why we have so much overtime. Even Hoffa has admitted that the company is nearly ten percent understaffed.”
Another factor is the cutting of time allowances. UPS applies production standards even though the contract does not recognize them. The managers plan the routes on those allowances, and when they are cut, routes disappear and more work gets piled on fewer drivers.
“The Albany, Ga., center is a good example,” according to Traylor. “Two years ago there were 44 routes. Now there are 39, even though there is more volume.”
What Can Be done
Despite the IBT’s inaction members have sometimes succeeded in softening the blow of the overtime hammer.
“At the Ashbottom building.” Thornsberry explained, “we started filing tons of grievances. Just recently we got bids put up for four more drivers. A few years ago, we got 20 put on. It takes persistence.”
“To be honest,” Traylor added, “the hassle of dealing with many grievances is perhaps itself a deterrent for management.”
“Lots of members are now filing over 9.5,” Pontiac, Mich., steward Darwin Moore said. “We are getting some relief for the ones who file and even won penalty pay recently in a case that went to the panel in Chicago.
“Really, we should be shooting for an 8.5 hour day,” Traylor said, “with progressive steps to penalize the company. There should be double time after nine hours and triple time over ten hours. And it should kick in automatically, not if you file a grievance.”
This is where the IBT has failed to grasp a great opportunity. The overtime issue bumps directly into larger issues of family life, health for workers and safety for the public. Local unions and rank and file members can take some action on their own, but a national campaign would have the most impact.