The first nationwide strike against United Parcel Service brought most of the company’s big brown trucks to a halt Monday, forcing thousands of American businesses to scramble for other ways to ship their goods and supplies.
President Clinton virtually ruled out federal intervention, and no new talks between UPS and the Teamsters union were scheduled. Pay, pensions and the schedules worked by part-time employees are the main sticking points between UPS and the Teamsters, who represent nearly two-thirds of UPS’ 302,000 employees in the United States.
The walkout against the Atlanta-based company, which accounts for about 80 percent of the nation’s package deliveries, immediately affected people trying to send packages and those hoping to receive one.
“It is not a pretty picture,” said Steve Abbott of Oriental Trading Co., which ships 10,000 packages of party favors and novelties daily from Omaha, Neb. He estimated that only a tenth of his business could be handled by UPS competitors.
The walkout sent shippers scrambling to an overloaded Federal Express Corp. and other UPS rivals, who said their first priorities were serving regular customers. FedEx had already pushed back its dropoff times by two hours, closed offices early and suspended money-back guarantees after business jumped.
The U.S. Postal Service imposed a limit of four parcels per window customer, but offered self-serve options for those with more packages.
Gordon Bibbens and a co-worker from Noteworthy Collection spent Monday morning at an Atlanta postal station weighing about 50 packages of stationery and other paper products.
“We should probably be in the office working right now instead of doing this,” he said.
Lands’ End, the Wisconsin-based catalog retailer, used the Postal Service’s priority mail to ship orders normally handled by UPS. The company told customers to expect delays.
Maine lobster dealers held back on their perishable shipments, fearing that alternate carriers would be unable to ensure timely delivery. “Everybody you talk to is not shipping. You wouldn’t dare to,” said Peter McAleney of New Meadows Lobster in Portland, which sends crustaceans worldwide.
UPS chief negotiator Dave Murray challenged the Teamsters leadership to let its members vote on the company’s final offer, made last week.
Teamsters President Ron Carey, who walked out of the federally mediated talks late Sunday, said UPS had forced the strike by refusing to resolve such concerns as the large number - about 60 percent - of unionized jobs that are part time.
On PBS’ “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” Monday night, Carey said the strike had been “very effective.”
“It appears all over the country that our members are supporting” the walkout, he said.
Clinton said that while UPS is very important to the country, he wouldn’t get involved.
“I hope they’ll go back to the table, but at this time I don’t think any further action by me is appropriate,” Clinton said.
The walkout by the 185,000 Teamster-represented employees was the first nationwide strike in UPS’ 90-year history. There had been scattered walkouts before, including a daylong action in 1994 that the company estimated cost it $50 million.
“Trying to guess how much we can operate and how long we can operate, we don’t have an answer,” UPS spokesman Ken Sternad said.
UPS said it didn’t have a good estimate of how much business was lost Monday. Spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg said just the threat of a strike cost the company 1 million packages, about 8 percent of its daily volume, on Friday, and “it’s starting to move in exponential numbers.”
Management and non-union workers were trying to delivery medical and pharmaceutical supplies and keep UPS’ international service going.
The Independent Pilots Association, which represents UPS’ 2,000 pilots, honored the Teamsters picket lines. Some management pilots were available, however, and UPS also uses some chartered planes for some deliveries.
Pickets in most cities were boisterous, blowing whistles and carrying such signs as “Unfair Labor Practices” and “We’ll fight for full-time jobs.” At least six people were arrested in disruptions at two UPS centers in Massachusetts.
“It could be 15 minutes, 15 hours, 15 days, whatever it takes,” said Richard Brown, a package handler and shop steward in Louisville.
The union’s main demands are limits on subcontracting and more full-time jobs. But UPS says it has three- to four-hour busy periods in the morning and afternoon, and it wouldn’t make sense to guarantee all employees a full-time job. UPS needs the flexibility for competitive reasons, company officials said.
The two sides also were stuck over the company’s desire to withdraw from the Teamsters’ multi-employer pension and health funds. UPS said it would improve its employees’ pensions, but union officials said they told UPS that such a move would be a deal killer.
Besides a modest wage increase, the company said its offer included profit-sharing bonuses beginning with $3,060 for full-time employees and $1,530 for part-timers. UPS also said it would create 1,000 new full-time jobs and give part-timers first shot at full-time positions as they come open.
An extended strike could cost the union about $10 million weekly. Striking Teamsters are eligible for $55 in weekly strike benefits after the first week.