August 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Ups Reaches Agreement With Teamsters Firm Adds Full-Time Jobs, Drops Pension Demand

Kevin Galvin Associated Press Robin Rivers Contri Staff writer
 
Tags:labor

The Teamsters union and United Parcel Service reached a tentative agreement Monday night to end a 15-day strike that disrupted package deliveries nationwide.

The five-year deal was announced by Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, who was joined at an early morning news conference by Teamsters President Ron Carey and the company’s chief negotiator, David Murray.

At a separate news conference later, Carey said the union won 10,000 new full-time jobs that would be created from existing part-time positions. He also said the company withdrew its demand to be released from the union’s multi-employer pension plans and called the agreement “a victory for all working people.”

Murray said UPS had won some concessions from the Teamsters but that the company would not discuss them until a later date.

It was not immediately clear when the 185,000 strikers would return to work, but Murray said the company hoped to welcome them back “very soon.”

President Clinton, vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, praised both sides for resolving their differences.

“The issues that were at the heart of their negotiations are important to our nation’s economic strength and to all Americans,” he said in a written statement.

A party atmosphere filled the streets in front of Spokane’s UPS offices Monday night, with a band playing rock ‘n’ roll, and strikers dancing and dribbling basketballs.

UPS driver Barry Groll was among the 25 Teamsters who cheered the news that a tentative agreement had been reached.

“I’m ready to go (back to work),” he said. “It wasn’t about the money for me. It wasn’t about the hours for me. It was about building up that pension.”

Other employees walking the picket line were guardedly optimistic that the labor strife may soon be over.

“This is a fight for the middle class,” said Ron Birch. “This means that when my 4-year-old son grows up, if he chooses not to go to college, there will be something for him to do.”

Shop steward Marlene Jensen wholeheartedly agreed. “It’s job security for everyone,” she said. “This is middle-class, working America making a good honest living. It’s our future. We had to make a stand.”

The settlement capped a five-day span of virtually nonstop talks in which Herman sometimes participated to maintain pressure on the company and the union.

“When there are differences, it takes real work … to bridge those differences,” said Herman, who said the agreement created “a model workplace.”

The union’s national bargaining committee and local union leaders who represent UPS workers were told to fly to Washington today to receive the package for approval - the final steps before a rank-and-file vote.

The Teamsters, representing nearly two-thirds of UPS’ 302,000 U.S. employees, went on strike Aug. 4. Their contract expired July 31.

On a normal business day, UPS moves 12 million bundles and parcels, or the equivalent of 5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. But with the support of package delivery giant’s 2,000 pilots, the Teamsters virtually shut the company down, leaving business owners scrambling to find alternative carriers.

It was not clear if the workers would return to their jobs immediately, or if they would wait for local union leaders to send the contract out to their members for a vote.

During the walkout, the union insisted that the company add more full-time positions. It also opposed UPS’ plan to withdraw from the Teamsters’ multi-employer pension and health funds and establish a separate benefit fund for UPS workers.

Pressure on both sides escalated during the strike’s second week. The company estimated its losses at up to $300 million in business each week and the union owed picketers about $10 million in weekly strike benefits.

The Clinton administration had resisted calls from business groups to intervene and end the strike. The White House said the work stoppage did not pose a threat to the nation’s safety and health, the standard for intervention under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.

But by publicly urging both sides back to the bargaining table, and by remaining in the hotel where the talks took place, Herman raised the pressure for an end to the biggest strike in more than two decades.

This was Herman’s first major test, and it was a shining moment. Organized labor had resisted her nomination, and her battle for confirmation to lead the Labor Department dragged on for months.

The first hint of progress came last Thursday, when UPS CEO James Kelly suggested the company was willing to modify its “last, best and final offer” and Labor Department officials described the day’s discussions “substantive and detailed.”

But the talks dragged on.

Another high point came Sunday, when President Clinton said the union and the company should “redouble their efforts and settle this strike and they ought to do it today.”

They missed his deadline by one day.

Throughout the standoff, the company had sought to bypass union negotiators and appeal directly to employees by distributing copies of its proposal at plant gates and through the mail, and insisting that its final offer be put to a vote.

Carey had insisted that the union would not agree to any offer unless it included more full-time jobs and limits on subcontracting.

About 58 percent of UPS jobs are filled by part-time workers, and their $8 an hour base salary has not increased since 1982. The company created 46,000 jobs in the last year - 38,000 of them part-time.

In addition to an annual 1.5 percent wage increase for full-time workers, the company’s original offer included a $3,060 bonus for full-time employees. Full-time UPS drivers earn $19.95 an hour on average.

The original package included a $1,530 bonus for part-timers, but no wage increase.

The company proposal had included 1,000 new full-time jobs. In addition, UPS said it would favor part-time workers for the next 10,000 full-time openings.

The company also insisted on a controversial change in the pension plan. UPS said the average employee’s pension would increase by 50 percent, but the union had adamantly opposed the company’s withdrawal from 31 regional plans in which UPS helped underwrite pensions for union members who worked for lesssuccessful companies.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kevin Galvin Associated Press Staff writer Robin Rivers contributed to this report.


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