Over 1,000 delivery drivers and warehouse logistics workers at United Parcel Service (UPS), many donning T-shirts emblazoned “Ready to Strike” over their UPS uniforms, rallied in force at Boston’s Teamsters Local 25 headquarters in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood April 2.
Of UPS’s global workforce of over 500,000, some 340,000 are represented by the 1.3 million-strong Teamsters, in the largest private-sector collective bargaining agreement in North America. The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted UPS workers’ essential role in the global supply chain of everything from medicine and food to semiconductors.
From the back of a flatbed truck, Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien and General Secretary Fred Zuckerman laid out the stakes for contract negotiations. Talks with UPS for a national contract are scheduled to begin April 17. The current contract expires July 31.
O’Brien declared to rousing cheers: “Because of you putting faith in our leadership team, you have proven that you want change. You have proven that we are not going to take and accept what UPS gives us. We are going to demand, take — and punish, if they don’t give us what we want moving forward!”
O’Brien added: “We are gonna set the tone for organized labor. If you’re a pipefitter, a plumber, a bus driver, what we do in these negotiations is gonna set the tone for the entire country, the entire labor movement moving forward. … I go up to Capitol Hill every day, and I tell them: You got a problem with the supply chain? Wait until July 31st when Big Brown is shut down! You’re gonna see a supply chain solution, and we’re not afraid to do it!
“This contract’s not just about winning the best contract ever at UPS,” O’Brien emphasized. “We’re gonna take this contract, and we’re gonna go to the nonunion Amazon workers and say: ‘when you’re a Teamster, you’re gonna get health and welfare; you’re gonna get a pension; you’re gonna get guaranteed wages.’ … We’re gonna lay the template down that this is achievable and as a victory for success for the entire labor movement!
“Fred [Zuckerman] and I were in South Africa [at a meeting of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), March 14, 2023], where we got support from unions from 118 countries who are supporting this fight. We want to make certain that when we make an example of UPS, that globally UPS feels the pain, because they need to reward the people who make them a success around the world.”
Zuckerman reported to the crowd that a recent Teamsters constitutional change will provide strike benefits on day one from the union’s $300 million strike and defense fund to striking members’ families. Throughout the new union administration’s 2022 election campaign, Teamsters for a Democratic Union advocated this change as a priority. The change removes the government-imposed restrictions on the Teamsters, which followed the historic 15-day 1997 national strike at UPS, led by then-President Ron Carey.
Sal Valenti, a UPS Teamster and New England negotiating committee member, said, “We are here to send UPS one message — that we are united in this fight. Throughout the pandemic we’ve worked six, seven days a week, and we are going to make sure we get what we deserve.”
These excruciating pandemic conditions sickened many and killed some UPS workers, who were under orders to keep the packages moving, most of them to corporations who utilize just-in-time inventory management to speed up operations and save storage costs. With these tactics, UPS’s revenue hit a record during the pandemic of $100 billion in 2022. (CNN, Jan. 31)
The message from the rally was that all the forces of the global working class who aim to push the class struggle forward against the ravages of capitalism should start designing strike solidarity signs and set their alarm clocks for midnight Aug. 1.