UPS strike looms in a world that has become dependent on everything being delivered anywhere, anytime

WASHINGTON– Living in New York, working full time and without a car, Jessica Ray and her husband have come to rely on food deliveries and just about everything else for their home. That means more free time on the weekends with their young son, rather than queuing for toilet paper or lugging heavy bags of dog food to their apartment.

“I don’t even know where to buy dog ​​food,” Jessica Ray said of the specialty food she buys for the family’s aging dog.

There are millions of families like the Rays who have traded store visits for door-to-door deliveries in recent years, which means the contentious labor negotiations currently underway at UPS could become far more disruptive than last time. it happened in 1997, when a scrappy upstart called Amazon. com became a public company.

UPS is delivering millions more packages every day than just five years ago and its 350,000 unionized workers, represented by the Teamsters, are still seething from a contract they say was forced upon them in 2018.

In an environment of vibrant labor movements and lingering resentment among UPS workers, the Teamsters are expected to dig in, with the potential to intimidate a major logistics force in the United States.

The 24 million packages shipped by UPS on average per day represent about a quarter of the total package volume in the United States, according to global shipping and logistics company Pitney Bowes, or as UPS puts it, the equivalent of about 6% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Higher prices and long wait times are almost certain if there is a dead end.

“Something has to give,” said Thomas Goldsby, chair of logistics for the University of Tennessee’s supply chain management department. “The python can’t swallow the alligator, and we’ll all feel it.”

In other words, get ready for Supply Chain Breakdown: The Sequel.

During the second half of 2021, the phrase “global supply chain” began to enter casual conversations as the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses struggled to get what they needed, increasing prices and waiting times. Automakers kept vehicles right off the assembly line because they didn’t have all the parts.

Some of these problems persist and a strike at UPS threatens to spread the suffering.

Those who have come to rely on home deliveries for the basics may need to rethink weekly schedules.

“We’ve finally reached a point where we finally feel pretty good about it,” Ray said. “We can take a Saturday afternoon and do a fun family activity without feeling the burden of keeping everything running for the day-to-day running of our household.”

UPS employees feel they have played a role in transforming the way Americans shop since the last contract was ratified in 2018, while helping to make UPS a much more valuable company.

UPS’s annual profits over the past two years are nearly three times what they were before the pandemic. The Atlanta-based company returned about $8.6 billion to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks in 2022, and plans another $8.4 billion for shareholders this year.

The Teamsters say UPS frontline workers deserve a piece of this windfall.

“Our members have worked very hard during the pandemic,” Teamsters spokeswoman Kara Denize said. “They need to see their fair share.”

Union members rejected the contract offered to them in 2018, but it was imposed by the union leadership on the basis of a technicality. Acrimony over the current contract was so fierce that last year workers rejected a candidate for Teamsters leader favored by longtime union leader James Hoffa, choosing instead the more combative Sean O’ Brien.

O’Brien toured local Teamsters shops nationwide to prepare front-line workers ahead of negotiations.

In addition to tackling part-time pay and what workers say is excessive overtime, the union wants to eliminate a contract provision that created two separate hierarchies of workers with different pay scales, hours and benefits. . Driver safety, particularly the lack of air conditioning in delivery trucks, is also at stake.

A win at UPS could have implications for organized labor outside the company.

The Teamsters are trying to organize workers at Amazon, and dozens of the company’s delivery drivers and dispatchers in California joined the union last month. There are also major labor organizing campaigns at Apple, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Apple, and even strippers at a dance club in Los Angeles.

“This has huge implications for the entire labor movement in the United States,” said John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, referring to the negotiations. about working at UPS. “There is more assertiveness and activism from a lot of young union activists and some sectors of the union establishment. Sean O’Brien is representative of this.

When dozens of UPS locals met with Teamsters leadership earlier this year, O’Brien delivered an urgent message.

“We are entering these negotiations with a clear message to UPS that we are not going to go past August 1,” O’Brien told the rally.

It would be the first work stoppage since a walkout of 185,000 workers crippled the company a quarter of a century ago.

UPS CEO Carol Tomé has remained publicly optimistic, recently telling investors that the company and the Teamsters aren’t far apart on major issues.

“Although we expect to hear a lot of noise during the negotiation, I remain convinced that a win-win-win contract is very feasible and that UPS and the Teamsters will reach an agreement by the end of July. “, said Tome.

If Tomé is wrong, Americans may have to set aside more time to shop like they did before.

“He has the potential to have a significant impact,” Ray said. “My husband and I have invested heavily in figuring out how to take the burden off of making sure we always have toilet paper.”

ABC News

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