button Vol. 5
No. 1
Spring 1999

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General Handbook

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line UPS - Follow up Report,
One Year After
The Strike...??
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button United Parcel Service
- Follow up Report, One Year After The Strike

Last year's UPS contract was tentatively settled on August 18, 1997. It was ratified by the 185,000 UPS Teamsters on Feb. 6, 1998. Under the five-year agreement, UPS agreed to increase salaries by $3.10 an hour for full time workers and by $4.10 an hour for part time workers over the life of the contract. The company also agreed to combine part-time positions into 10,000 new full-time jobs - IF business lost in the strike returned to the company.

After the strike UPS hustled to rebuild its business and make up a $1 billion shortfall in revenues. This year's financial performance indicate that the company seems to be recovering spectacularly. However, the improved financial performance has not necessarily meant improved employee relations. Negative effects of the walkout remain... despite management's efforts.

Claims of non-compliance to the agreement are met with claims of good employee moral, and changed conditions in the company. Among some of the areas in contention between the union and UPS management are the following:

Service and Productivity... Conflicting Claims

Drivers are still complaining bitterly to union officials and UPS management about productivity demands (employee performance) and what they see as a decline in service. Many drivers feel the increased productivity levels since the strike are unattainable, and there are reports of nervous breakdowns because of the pressure put on drivers to produce. Their lives seem to be dictated by their computers... which they claim set ever higher standards at the expense of customer service.

Management however, points to the company service index being at its highest level ever while the company cuts back on service. As drivers urge the company to choose between increased productivity or better service the response has been "give us both, because you can't be productive without good service."

The union claims that UPS is going after business customers and reducing service to residential customers to save money. Standards are being lowered and corners cut, according to drivers. Since the company is making more money now, it is felt that they won't change this trend until there is a backlash as a result of these changes. Changed management strategies may have changed the conditions which were present at the time of the strike, thereby changing the import of agreements which were made.

Full-time Jobs. When?

Rand Wilson, spokesman for the Teamsters International in Washington D.C, says UPS is stonewalling and is failing to follow the terms of the contract when it comes to their pledge to create new jobs. UPS claims it can't create new jobs because of the reduction in the volume of packages delivered.

Ten thousand workers were laid off during the strike (most of whom were full-timers) when package volume plummeted - and have not been recalled. With volume still below pre-strike levels it is unlikely that UPS will restore the 10,000 jobs. In addition, some of the cost-cutting measures - such as allowing packages to sit on trucks for an extra day - make it less likely that new full-time jobs will be needed.

Wilson claims that quartely reports about the location of each job created have not been forthcoming. He notes that the fact that there's a reduction in volume doesn't void the obligation to create the new jobs which were agreed upon. Communications on this issue, as well as any indication of progress, have been at a near standstill. At $30.00 / month in dues the loss of 10,000 jobs is costing the IBT $300,000 a month ($3,600,000 a year) in lost dues revenue to the Union. Long term, the strike has cost the Union much more than it cost UPS.

Bad Blood... Memories Are Slow To Fade

In another word, retaliation... so says drivers. The union claims that things that used to take two or three weeks to settle now take five or six months... with an attitude of "Do it our way or arbitrate."

UPS management sees the union as "us-versus-them" and are not engaging in "win/win" strategies. They also report that since the work stoppage they have not had an inordinate increase in the number of calls to their toll-free business-conduct line where employees can call in anonymously and report their feelings or any incidents.

There have been a record number of grievances since the strike due to petty harassment and post-strike vindictiveness on the part of some supervisors claims teamster Rand Wilson.

Some progress is being made, admits both sides, but lots of bad blood remains. Supervisors were called upon to keep the business running during the strike, and were subjected to harsh language and threats when they crossed the picket line to do so. Even UPS drivers admit that some very nasty things were said during the strike... and there are still some sores there that are mending.

Happy Workers?

Consultants hired by UPS say employee morale is higher than ever... some union activists say there is widespread dissatisfaction. As usual, somewhere between the two lies the truth.

Surveys by UPS reveal that employees felt wounded by the blows to the company's reputation... and problem areas surfaced around improving communications. The message seems to be that employees are still proud to work for UPS, but need positive reinforcement. Workers in the field are reported to still respect the head people in the company, who came up through the ranks. However, there are some workers who feel that top executives are out of touch with the workers themselves.

Surveys, complaints, retaliation, hard feelings.. all during pressures by management for increased productivity, in part caused by the fallout from the losses of the strike. It is fair to say that the question of how happy workers are at UPS is still open to debate.

The Future, and Lessons Learned?

Both union leaders and activists and UPS leaders and supervisors all voice optimism for the future. Ultimately, actions will speak louder than words, and while UPS looks to dismiss last year's strike as a minor glitch, much of the bitterness and anger linger on. There seems to be a trend of policy makers for both the union and UPS management to downshift their relationships from collaborative to confrontational... and splits between the rank-and file workers and supervisors, as well as workers and UPS itself are likely to increase.

All in all, it seems profits have increased, and the dynamics of labor relationship at UPS are still looking for a degree of stabilization... and the Union has lost over $3.5 million a year in dues.

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