President Clinton predicted Sunday night that negotiators were on the verge of settling the 2-week-old United Parcel Service strike Sunday, but a Teamsters union official discounted the speculation and talks recessed until noon (EDT) today.
Hours after he urged them to “redouble their efforts” to reach a deal, Clinton, who was briefed on the status of the talks, arrived for vacation on Martha’s Vineyard island, Mass., and predicted that an agreement was near.
“It’s my gut feeling they’ll settle,” he said. He held out his thumb and forefinger to indicate how close the two sides were. “They’re that close,” he said. “It’s a good deal. It will set a precedent for unions.”
But Matt Witt, the Teamsters communication director, said late Sunday that Clinton’s speculation was off the mark.
“At this hour, the talks are continuing but there are no agreements on any of the major issues,” Witt said just before midnight. “It’s unclear whether real progress will be made.”
Labor Secretary Alexis Herman continued to play an active role in keeping both sides at the table before a new work week began. Negotiators spent more than 76 hours in mediation from Thursday through Sunday evening.
At one point, as the talks were continuing into the night, Herman looked out an elevator window as she rode toward an upper floor and crossed her fingers and smiled at photographers below.
But a Labor Department spokesman said the talks recessed about midnight to reconvene at noon today, and Herman canceled a planned trip to California to continue monitoring the sessions.
Teamsters President Ron Carey took a break earlier Sunday for a teleconference to brief local union activists on the status of the meetings.
He credited the pickets with forcing the company to begin serious bargaining, but added that while many issues were under discussion, no agreements had been reached, according to Teamsters who heard the call.
Carey also urged them to continue plans for strike rallies in 30 cities on Thursday.
Reacting to Carey’s comments, UPS spokeswoman Kristen Petrella in Atlanta said in a telephone interview: “When you talk about starting to negotiate seriously, I can tell you that UPS has been committed to serious negotiations since we first began our discussions with the Teamsters in March of this year.”
“There has been movement,” Carey said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” United Parcel Service CEO James Kelly said on the same show, “The fact that we’re continuing to talk is encouraging.”
Clinton, standing on the South Lawn, said he had talked with Herman about the talks, adding, “I’m pleased for the progress that’s been made and I hope they’ll just stay there and settle it today.”
The strike by 185,000 workers has greatly inconvenienced small businesses that use UPS like their own shipping departments.
On a normal business day, the company delivers 12 million letters and packages. The strike is costing UPS up to $300 million weekly, and the Teamsters owe pickets $10 million in strike benefits.
The government said it lacked the legal authority to intervene and end the strike, and the Clinton administration was relying on Herman to keep the parties talking. Two earlier rounds of mediation ended inconclusively.
In addition to the mounting financial costs of the strike to the union, the company and the workers, Herman’s continued participation elevated the talks in the public eye and kept up the pressure for a resolution.
Carey said the fact that the company was discussing alternatives at the table showed the union was right to dismiss UPS’ demand that what it called its “last, best and final offer” be put to a membership vote.
“There has been some movement, so it’s pretty clear that our position, our strategy … is the right way to go,” Carey said on NBC. “We’re not going to permit an employer to shove a contract down the throats of our members.”
Kelly said he was surprised when Carey called on local union leaders Friday to spread their strike actions this week.
He declined to predict when a deal might be reached, but indicated the latest round of mediation - which he had not participated in - had been more productive than earlier sessions in which he participated.
“Unfortunately, not much happened during negotiations until very recently,” Kelly said.
For the Teamsters, the sticking points have been the company’s unwillingness to commit to more full-time positions, limits on subcontracting and increased wages.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” called the Teamsters strike “very popular” because “workers all across the country identify with these issues.”
The company wants out of the Teamsters’ multi-employer pension and health plans.
“There are two or three issues that have been discussed a lot, but this negotiation is about dozens of issues that are still unresolved,” Kelly said.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said the UPS strike could be the first in a series of standoffs between workers and highly profitable companies.
“What’s happening here - and it’s happening in a lot of other companies as well - we have now very high corporate profits,” Reich said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We also have very tight labor markets and we have a long expansion in which many blue collar workers have not seen their pay and benefits go up, and this is an incendiary combination.”
xxxx WIDESPREAD EFFECTS Blood banks have complained of being forced to destroy blood because they have not been able to ship it quickly enough. Some factories have laid off workers because they have not been able to get components. Dozens of school systems are worried that they will not receive shipments of books before the school year begins.