August 17, 1997 in Nation/World

Talks Provide No Progress In Ups Strike Pension Plan, Full-Time Jobs Continue To Be Main Disputes

Robert A. Rosenblatt Los Angeles Times
 

Weary negotiators for the striking Teamsters and United Parcel Service kept talking Saturday, but failed to reach any agreement that could end the union’s walkout against the nation’s dominant package delivery service.

“They’ve been talking basically nonstop,” a Labor Department spokesman said. “They are working hard on the issues.”

But as of late Saturday night, there was no breakthrough on either of the main disputes: the Teamster proposal for more full-time jobs, and the company’s call for a new pension system limited to UPS workers.

“At this point, there has been no significant progress,” said UPS spokeswoman Gina Ellrich.

“They are still talking, they are going at it,” said Nancy Stella, the Teamsters’ spokeswoman.

After Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman persuaded the two sides to begin talking informally on Thursday, the discussions have been going on virtually around the clock, with breaks only to give the participants a few hours of sleep and a chance to clean up and put on fresh clothing.

Herman is pressing both sides to keep meeting until they can forge a compromise.

The sessions involve face-to-face discussions between UPS and Teamster representatives, and then separate caucuses for each side. John Calhoun Wells, the head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, presides over the meetings.

Despite the marathon conversations, both sides seem prepared for a long strike. The walkout of 185,000 Teamster members - who work as package sorters, loaders and delivery truck drivers at UPS - began on Aug. 4 after failure to reach agreement on a new contract.

UPS business has been crippled by the strike, with volume slowed to a trickle, about 10 percent of the 12 million packages it carries on a normal business day. The U.S. Postal Service has filled some of the gap, and, as it did last week, will have some package deliveries Sunday.

But there is still a massive volume of packages going undelivered. Many small business are being forced to lay off workers because they cannot ship their goods. Late last week, an Oklahoma lawyer filed a federal lawsuit against UPS on behalf of a number of companies, charging the shipper with breach of contract and negligence. The suit claims UPS encouraged customers to continue contracting with it to ship products even though it knew a strike was imminent.

In the bargaining between UPS and the Teamsters, the union wants more of the part-time jobs at the company converted to full-time positions. Part-time workers receive about $9 an hour in pay, compared with $20 for full-time employees.

The Teamsters say many of the workers have been laboring as part-timers for years, and deserve an opportunity to get the better-paid job classification. UPS insists that it needs the flexibility that comes with the ability to manage the size of the labor force, and its workers’ shifts, to meet variations in the flow of business.

On the other key point, UPS wants to withdraw from the current multi-employer pension program and create a new retirement plan exclusively for UPS workers, which would offer substantially increased pensions to some long-time workers. UPS, contributing more than $1 billion a year, is the biggest single participant in the network of plans covering Teamsters.

The Teamsters reject the idea of a separate UPS pension plan. They say a UPS withdrawal could cripple the traditional pension program that enrolls companies of all sizes, as well as enable UPS to save large amounts of money that would otherwise go to the workers as improved benefits.

The last extended public comments from either side came Friday when Teamster President Ron Carey held a news conference, promoting the union’s plans for a series of rallies and other events this week. He also called on other U.S. workers to show solidarity with the strike by wearing blue ribbons on Thursday.

UPS said Carey had violated an informal agreement to avoid public comments as the talks intensified.

“We were very disappointed that Mr. Carey chose to leave our talks and hold a press conference,” UPS spokeswoman Ellrich said Saturday. “We thought that was a waste of valuable time. We could have been talking rather than have him using the same old rhetoric.”

xxxx POLL According to a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans back the Teamsters in the dispute with United Parcel Service, while 27 percent support management. The poll of 819 adults was taken last Wednesday and Thursday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


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