August 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Ups, Teamsters Sever Strike Talks Optimism Fades After Brief Session

New York Times
 

Negotiators for the Teamsters’ union and the United Parcel Service broke off talks Saturday just two hours after returning to the bargaining table, with both sides indicating that they might be digging in for a long strike.

The two sides said the talks were broken off indefinitely, reducing hopes of a quick end to the six-day-old walkout by 185,000 drivers, loaders and sorters. After emerging from the talks at a federal mediator’s office in Washington, James Kelly, chairman of UPS, said he was returning to the company’s Atlanta headquarters to “make the tough decisions” about what to do next.

Officials with the company and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters held their brief negotiating session Saturday after the two sides met for a total of 19 hours on Thursday and Friday without reporting significant progress.

Before the talks resumed Saturday shortly after noon, Ron Carey, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said, “If the company is prepared to move, I’ll be here until tomorrow morning. If they’re not, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got to get out there and get together with the members.”

Carey said that without major progress in the talks, “I would rather be out on the picket lines,” explaining the union’s position to members and buoying the strikers’ solidarity. Union officials said that if the talks faltered, Carey would probably head to the metropolitan New York area to meet with strikers in New York and New Jersey.

UPS officials say a dispute over pensions is the main sticking point, with the company pushing to set up a new pension plan and pull out of the Teamsters’ multi-employer plan.

The union insists that the main obstacle to a settlement is the company’s refusal to turn more part-time jobs into full-time ones. The two sides also have differences over pay, subcontracting and the company’s demand to delete a provision from the old contract that allowed UPS drivers to honor other unions’ picket lines.

“We continue to believe we made a very good offer,” said Gina Ellrich, a UPS spokeswoman. “We’re continuing to discuss that offer. I don’t think we’ve made any concessions from that offer.”

Another UPS official said the company has not budged from its final offer, saying the two sides have explained their positions to each other and informally discussed bartering items - the company might abandon one of its demands if the union does likewise.

After the talks broke up Saturday, Kelly declined to say whether UPS would hire temporary or replacement workers. “We’re willing to do what it takes,” he said.

In recent days, Teamster leaders have sent urgent letters to hundreds of union halls telling them to be prepared for a long strike. Teamster officials say the company might think that the strikers cannot weather a long walkout because the union’s strike fund is nearly depleted, but union officials insist its members can withstand a protracted walkout.

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