United Parcel Service, already reporting some lost business and scattered employee layoffs, is under pressure to reach a new contract with the Teamsters union before a strike deadline Thursday.
The giant parcel carrier’s competitors and major customers are readying contingency plans to offset potential disruption of the daily delivery of 12 million documents and parcels by UPS workers around the nation.
“I think things are getting a little bit tense,” Teamsters spokesman Rand Wilson said Tuesday. “The clock is ticking … it’s a cliff-hanger.”
“We are obviously not at the juncture we would hope to be at this point,” said Mark Dickens, a spokesman for Atlanta-based UPS. “There still is quite a bit to resolve.”
Teamsters members earlier this month authorized their leadership to call a strike if no agreement is reached on a new contract when their four-year accord expires at midnight Thursday. In 1993, the contract was extended while negotiations continued past the deadline.
Along with increases in pay and pensions, the Teamsters are pressing UPS to limit subcontracting, strengthen safety and health provisions, and create more full-time jobs while limiting its use of part-time workers.
UPS said it needs to maintain flexibility in its hiring and work practices for competitive reasons.
The Teamsters represent some 190,000 of the company’s 302,000 U.S. employees. UPS, which has had Teamster representation since 1916, has never had a nationwide strike, although there have been scattered, brief walkouts.
Dickens said UPS has already lost business, with customers diverting deliveries to rivals while negotiations continue.
Wilson said the company was using the lost business claim as a scare tactic, saying negotiations had begun in March.
“Each week we’ve told them they have to bargain seriously to avoid just this type of down-to-the-wire loss of business,” Wilson said in Washington where talks were being held.
Officials at J.C. Penney Co. and Lands’ End, two large customers with heavy catalog sales, said they have made arrangements for alternatives to UPS in case of a strike.
“We are obviously concerned about the possible disruption in service,” said Lands’ End spokeswoman Anna Schryver. “While we hope for the best, we do have some contingencies in place. But UPS is our best option.”
She said the Dodgeville, Wis., catalog retailer ships about 12 million packages a year with UPS.
And competitors such as Federal Express Corp. and the U.S. Postal Service also said they were ready to try to take up the large slack that would be left.
“We hope the issues are resolved amicably,” said Darlene Faquin, a FedEx spokeswoman in Memphis, Tenn. “In the meantime, we are making contingency plans in the event service disruptions at UPS trigger a sudden and sharp increase in demand for FedEx services.”
She declined to give details.
Transportation analysts say there are limits to how much of UPS’ volume could be handled by its competitors during a strike.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: UPS AT A GLANCE Founded - Aug. 28, 1907, in Seattle Headquarters - Atlanta Employees - 338,000 total; 302,000 U.S. Revenue in 1996 - $22.4 billion Delivery volume in 1996 - 3.15 billion parcels and documents. Service area - throughout United States; more than 200 countries and territories. Fleet - 157,000 vehicles, 197 jet aircraft, 302 chartered aircraft.