Taking on UPS from a Position of Strength

April 22, 2006: Hoffa’s administration recently announced that our union will seek early negotiations with UPS. The Teamster officers and members I’ve talked to have all responded with the same questions. Why now? And what’s the plan to win?

These are good questions. And as usual, you won’t find the answers in Hoffa’s PR materials.

The press release says the IBT will push for early negotiations with UPS because “A recent statistical poll of UPS Teamsters shows that they have major concerns about health care and retirement security.”

Apparently, Hoffa is so out of touch that he needed a poll to tell him that members are worried about their benefits!

The truth is Hoffa was aware of the threat to Teamster benefits when he negotiated the last UPS contract. Months before he settled with UPS, Hoffa was warned that the Central States Pension would have to consider cuts unless the union negotiated sufficient increases in employer contributions. The report was buried and members were promised in writing that their benefits would be secure for the life of his six-year “Best Contract Ever.” Since then Teamsters across North America have faced the worst benefit cuts in our union’s history.

Other critical problems were also left unresolved. Like strong limits on excessive forced overtime and the right to organize UPS’s nonunion operations, which now include Overnite.

It’s not surprising that Hoffa’s “Best Contract Ever” failed to deliver what he promised. He gave up critical leverage by settling two weeks before the contract expired. As someone with 20 years of experience negotiating industry-leading contracts, I can tell you that’s not how you get the employer to put its best offer on the table.

Now Hoffa says he’ll get the job done through “early negotiations.” There’s been no indication whether the contract will be opened with the right to economic action by our union.

UPS management may be interested in early talks for its own reasons. UPS’s main rival FedEx plans a major expansion for 2008.

UPS may want an early deal to avoid negotiations and a potential work stoppage when FedEx is completing its expansion—especially a deal at the right price.

How short would Hoffa be willing to settle this time? The Hoffa administration’s statements on early negotiations don’t say a word about organizing UPS Freight—and winning card check recognition and management neutrality. Nor is there any mention of relief from excessive overtime, stronger protections against subcontracting and supervisors working, or other critical work rule issues.

Coming off the 1997 UPS strike, Hoffa had the strongest bargaining leverage we’ve ever had with the company. Why would anyone expect better results from Hoffa now when the pension cuts and the Overnite acquisition strengthen management’s hand?

The strange timing of Hoffa’s announcement has many members saying that Hoffa’s “campaign” to “force” UPS management into early negotiations is just an election year tactic. I’ll leave it to Teamsters to decide for themselves if Hoffa is playing politics with the UPS contract.

The bottom line is, whenever we begin negotiations with UPS, we need to do so from a position of strength. This contract belongs to Teamster members—not to any General President. We’ve all got to fight for it together. 

Tom Leedham
Local 276
Portland, OR

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