Unionized employees of United Parcel Service of America Inc. prepared to return to work today after Teamsters leaders Tuesday unanimously approved a landmark contract, ending a 16-day strike and restarting normal delivery of the millions of parcels handled daily by the company.
Experts said Tuesday that the Teamsters scored a significant victory for themselves and big labor by crippling the nation’s largest package carrier and then extracting concessions on the central issues of more full-time jobs, better pay for part-timers and maintaining a union-run pension plan. It was the first time in recent memory, they said, that a union made such strides in achieving its goals while the company got so little of what it wanted.
The contract’s duration of five years instead of the four sought by the Teamsters was UPS’ only gain.
James Kelly, the company’s chief executive, predicted that UPS would resume normal operations today. “We expect to have full, total operation,” he said in a news conference.
Strikers remained on the picket lines late into the evening while they waited for votes by the Teamsters’ 70-member bargaining committee and by top officers from 206 union locals nationwide, who gathered in Washington, D.C. Both groups approved the settlement, which now goes to rank-and-file members, who will vote on it over the next few weeks.
The first nationwide strike in the 81-year relationship between UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters disrupted parcel delivery throughout the country. Factories couldn’t get parts, retailers had trouble sending out merchandise and some small businesses shut down. Customers were inconvenienced, including college students waiting to ship belongings to campus.
Teamsters President Ron Carey took advantage of the public attention focused on the strike Tuesday to promote the union’s efforts to organize Federal Express Corp. and recruit 15,000 Washington state apple pickers into the union.
He also announced that nationwide protests in dozens of cities would go ahead as scheduled this week but the topics have changed from UPS to blocking an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement, increasing union membership and support for local labor and workplace disputes.
“People will be celebrating our victory over corporate greed and showing their support for other workers who also are standing up for the American dream,” he said at an afternoon news conference. “This fight with UPS shows what working people can accomplish when they all stick together.”
Carey also predicted that UPS would recapture business lost to competitors since the Aug. 4 walkout by 190,000 employees. UPS said 5 percent of its business may have been permanently lost to competitors. UPS had been transporting 12 million packages a day, more than 60 percent of the nation’s daily total.
Teamsters members will begin informally wooing back customers today, Carey said.
Kelly welcomed the effort but was cautious about repairing the $300 million-a-week strike damage and expanding UPS’ market share. He warned that the Atlanta-based company may still have to lay off 15,000 Teamsters if customers fail to return. Said Kelly, “The reality is that they’re not all coming back and we will have fewer jobs.”
The tentative UPS-Teamsters contract includes the union’s demand to convert 10,000 part-time jobs into full-time jobs as the company’s business grows during the next five years. UPS had offered only 1,000 new full-time jobs.
The company also agreed to raise pay for full-time workers by $3.10 an hour over the life of the contract, - up 15.5 percent - slightly less than what the union sought. Before the strike, the typical full-time UPS driver was paid $19.95 an hour.
Part-time workers, who now constitute 58 percent of the company’s payroll, won an hourly wage increase of $4.10 - 37.2 percent - their first increase in 15 years. Their base pay is $8 an hour and starting salaries would increase by 50 cents an hour under the new contract.