On the picket line

The purpose of “On the Picket Line” is to report positive, fightback developments in the labor movement, which includes both organized and unorganized workers. But sometimes it’s necessary to report events that do not bode well for a specific group of workers, and which may, over time, have an adverse effect on the entire labor movement. The following item is in that category.

UPS workers vote for concessionary contract

After a hard sell in three letters from Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa to 250,000 rank-and-file members urging support for a concessionary five-year contract with United Parcel Service that directly affects 140,000 members, 33,405 voted Yes to the contract, while 25,448 voted No. That count, posted June 23 on teamster.org, is about 95 percent complete, so outstanding reports from six locals is unlikely to erase the 8,000-vote margin.

The rationale for voting to approve the contract is that the workers should be grateful for their jobs in bad economic times, according to a June 8 article posted on fightbacknews.org. Yet, the regressive contract offers a miniscule raise of $3.90 in wages for full-timers and only 50 cents for part-timers over five years. Here’s the really bad news: It moves the 140,000 workers out of the UPS health care plan into one with deductibles and co-pays, which for families can mushroom into hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in additional expenses each year.

In stark contrast to its workers’ wages, UPS racked up $4.5 billion in profits last year, near its pre-recession 2007 record, and this year’s first-quarter profits were $1.04 billion, up from $970 million last year. UPS CEO Scott Davis banked $10 million in 2012. The article pointed out that profits increased “because of the hard work that the UPS workers have put in,” which includes increased volume.

Despite Hoffa’s go-along, get-along, strong-arming strategy, there was considerable opposition to the contract in some locals. The leadership of Local 89 in the Louisville, Ky., area, the largest UPS local and UPS’s worldwide air hub known as Worldport, urged members to vote it down at a June 2 membership meeting. Leaders called it “highly concessionary” because it reduced wages by 7 percent, cut a week of vacation and could increase subcontracting. (teamster89.com, June 8) In another June 8 article, the leadership “strongly condemned” UPS management after it tried to influence the vote by sending letters to parents of Metro-College students to “encourage” the students to vote for the contract. Because management also offered Local 89 members a bonus of $1,000 if they approved the contract, Local leaders said UPS management had “zero integrity” and would stop “at nothing to harass and deceive its workers.”

On June 24 the vote posted on teamster.org was 34,037 for to 29,576 against. Local 89 members voted in the opposite direction, 3,388 to 483 against the main contract and decisively turning down two local riders.

Meanwhile, the fightbacknews.org article pointed out two additional problems with the contract. A huge one is that it allows only 2,350 part-timers to become full-timers over the course of five years. This is a real setback for part-timers, given that 10,000 full-time jobs for part-timers were stipulated in the 1997 and 2002 contracts. Part-timers’ starting wage is now $8.50. That’s outrageously low, given that it was $8 in 1982. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, $8 then would be worth $19.82 today, when adjusted for inflation.

This regressive contract sets a dangerous precedent for the entire working class. Like other recent anti-worker contracts — the one imposed on highly skilled machinists after they stuck at a Caterpillar plant in Illinois in 2012 and the government bailout contracts that the United Auto Workers went along with in 2009 — this only emboldens the ruling class to keep escalating its war on the workers and poor.

Low-wages at Walmart cost taxpayers money

A report released the week of May 27 revealed once more that low wages paid to Walmart workers are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Based on calculations prepared by a congressional committee, the report zeroes in on Walmart practices in Wisconsin because that state counts how many workers are enrolled in its public health care program based on their employer. At the end of 2012, there were 3,216 Walmart employees enrolled — much more than any other employer. When all their dependents were added, the total jumped to 9,207. The report estimated that at one Walmart supercenter employing 300 workers, the cost to taxpayers is $904,000 annually. (CNN Money, June 5) As of July 31, 2012, Walmart employed 2 million workers at 4,253 U.S. stores. You do the math on how many billions of U.S. tax dollars are going to subsidize anti-worker, anti-union, billion-dollar-profiteer Walmart. Talk about corporate welfare! That’s why all workers need living wages now!