TOPICS > Economy

UPS On Strike: Return to Sender

August 4, 1997 at 12:00 AM EST
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Newsmaker interviews with key figures from the two sides in the strike. First, Ron Carey, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Before becoming union president, Carey worked as a UPS driver for 12 years. Thank you for being with us.

RON CAREY, International Brotherhood of Teamsters: Thank you.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How would you assess the effectiveness of the strike right now?

RON CAREY: Well, I–it appears all over the country that our members are supporting it, and I wouldn’t–I don’t think 30 percent volume is functioning today. I think the strike has been very effective. The issues that are before us are issues about creating more low-wage, throwaway jobs; subcontracting work out; and taking control over the pension. There are some other issues there that are just important.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Let me go through those issues first. Let’s go to the part- time/full-time work issue first. Why is that so important to the union?

RON CAREY: In 1962, Jimmy Hoffa introduced the concept of part-timers, permitted the company to put them in. Today they’re almost 60 percent of the work force–low-wage jobs that do not provide opportunity, do not provide the kind of dreams and aspirations that work has had for a full-time job to be able to go out there and to purchase a home. And so what we are talking about is areas where the company can convert jobs into good, decent, full-time jobs. The company wants to expand more part-time jobs eroding the dreams of workers in this country.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, when you say that the part-time jobs don’t allow people to realize the dream, there are workers that move into full-time jobs from part-time jobs, right?

RON CAREY: That happens, but the growth in terms of full-time jobs is minimal. The growth in part-time jobs is just unbelievable. As I indicated in ’62, here we are today, and it’s 60 percent of the work force, company proposals, demanding more expansion into these good full-time jobs. That’s not what America needs. That’s not what our communities need.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you answer the company’s argument that it won’t be competitive with say Fed Ex, whose drivers make less than UPS drivers do, if they can’t have these part-time jobs?

RON CAREY: I don’t think the competition question blends into that. You’ve got a company here that’s made a billion dollars in profit. They can afford to create these jobs where these jobs make sense, where there are eight hours of work. And that’s what that issue is about, the issue of subcontracting, as tractor-trailer drivers driving down the road, they were given some relief in the past on the contract, and, as a result, it’s been an abuse. And I think work that originates in UPS, the subcontracting issue–subcontracting out the future. And what we’re talking about is work should be done by those that drive those tractor-trailers, and they should be UPS employees and members.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. On the pension issue, briefly, why is this such an important issue? UPS says that they can give workers a better deal if the run the pension plan, themselves.

RON CAREY: Well, it’s ironic. They have had a pension plan for part-timers for over 25 years. There really has been no increases in that pension plan. They cover that now. Twenty years of no increases, and now they want to take control of this. And the argument is that you save money. The fact of the matter is when moneys are put into these funds, there are increases that take place as a result of investments. These funds are Taft-Hartley funds. They are funds that are run efficiently in the benefit of the members and the employees. As a result the company wants to stick their hand right into the members’ pockets, family’s pocket, and take away some of those benefits by not putting those investments back into the plans to provide protection and provide increased benefits.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And briefly, the safety issue.

RON CAREY: Well, I just noticed a little while ago Dave Murray made the comment about getting government involved. Yet, when UPS is fined by the government, it says too much government. Now it wants the government involved. This is a process that we have tried to work through for the past five months.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You’re talking about safety here.

RON CAREY: That’s correct. But it’s a process we had to work–tried to work through. I mean, if you want to do something about health and safety, it ought to be done at the bargaining table. Don’t ask to get government involved. And yet, when government does get involved with respect to the fines that have been levied against UPS–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is for–

RON CAREY: Safe working conditions–the result is the company says it’s too much government; let’s get the government out. Well, you can’t have it both ways.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You don’t want the government; you don’t want the President to get involved in this now?

RON CAREY: I don’t think he should. It’s a crime that it had to end up that we had to be forced to take the fight to the street, but what it’s about, it’s about the future of America. It’s about my grandchildren and yours. It’s about working people. And they’ve been taking it on the chin, and enough is enough.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And do you think the key significance of this strike right now is really this battle about part-time/full-time work, and about contracting, which is a bit of a separate issue, we haven’t gotten into, but you mentioned it?

RON CAREY: Yes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that’s a key thing?

RON CAREY: I think all of them, there are a number of issues that are out there that we have to deal with. But I think America’s future depends on good, decent jobs. That’s what this country needs. That’s what our communities and that’s what our members need. That’s what the fight is about.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How long would this strike last?

RON CAREY: Well, that’s in the company’s hands. And, as I say, it’s tragic that we had to take this fight to the street. No one likes a strike, and we’re going to do our best and stand ready to talk to the company at any time.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do your figures show the damage–what could be the effect on the American economy, according to the union’s figures?

RON CAREY: Well, I haven’t looked at that. I do know that for the past five months our members, who have a very close relationship with customers, have talked to them about it. That’s also important for them because when you have decent jobs, you can buy homes, you can purchase through catalogues. That’s what it’s about. It’s about the future, and the short- sightedness of low pay and throwaway jobs is not an answer to America’s needs.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Carey, there haven’t been a lot of big strikes in American economics seen recently. Does this signal a new strategy on labor’s part?

RON CAREY: I think what it signals is that working people have been taking it on the chin. Enough is enough.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you very much for being with us.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, we turn to UPS vice president and chief negotiator, Dave Murray. Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Murray.

DAVID MURRAY, UPS Negotiator: Good evening.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You heard the general statement here that this is about working people no longer taking it on the chin. Just, generally, how do you assess the significance of this strike?

DAVID MURRAY: Well, I believe that we have made the Teamsters a fine contract proposal that does reward our people quite generously, and we feel that that proposal does have a lot of rewards for the people who have worked hard to make UPS what it is, and we believe the Teamsters should take that proposal and vote it with the people; let them decide if it’s a good proposal or not.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On the part-time issue, explain why UPS finds it necessary to have so many part-time workers.

DAVID MURRAY: The nature of the work that the part-time workers do at UPS has not changed over all these years. They basically sort and load the packages inside the buildings. UPS has not shifted work heretofore done by full-timers to part-timers. The fact of the matter is there’s a whole lot of part-timers who only want part-time work. There’s been hundreds of thousands of college students who earned their way through college, achieving the American dream, if you will, by working nights part-time at UPS and getting the funds necessary to go through college when their families couldn’t afford to put them there.

There are many women who choose–with children–who choose to work partial days, that work at UPS, get the benefits that we provide, health care benefits for their children, and are quite happy in that work. Now, there are people who do want to go to full-time jobs. We have the greatest full-time jobs in the country. We also have pretty good part-time jobs. You hear a lot about the $8 rate. That’s the entry level rate. Part- timers with five years or more average almost $14 an hour.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And full-timers are averaging about $20?

DAVID MURRAY: $19.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: $19.

DAVID MURRAY: That’s correct.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me interrupt you one minute. What about Mr. Carey’s point that the percentage of part-time jobs has grown so much, why is that?

DAVID MURRAY: Because in recent years UPS’s primary source of growth, that is increased packages, has been in the air business. The air business is much more part-time intense because the windows of opportunity to sort those packages and get the planes back in the air are much closer–two and three hour sorts, where things have to happen real fast, move them back onto the airplanes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you bring people in just for that amount of time?

DAVID MURRAY: That’s correct.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On the pension issue, why is this important to the company, that you have a pension plan which basically you run–or explain it for us.

DAVID MURRAY: Well, first of all, it’s not a company-run plan. The proposal we put on the table is for a jointly-trusteed plan, with Teamster trustees, UPS trustees, which is the same as the multi-employer plans that they’re in now.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is currently a plan that involves many employers that they’re in–

DAVID MURRAY: Yes. Our plan that we’re proposing would be a single employer plan but still with Teamster trustees, UPS trustees. The reason we want to do that is to do that is because if we spend UPS money on UPS employees, it provides much, much better benefits than they are getting from the multi-employer plans. In fact, on average, the pension plan increases, the pension benefit, by 50 percent. It has a top benefit of $3500 for someone who works 35 years. It’s a great plan. And it’s–it makes sense if UPS is going to fund the plan, the benefits of that funding should go to UPS employees, who work very hard for us, and deserve all they can get in their retirement.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about the safety issue?

DAVID MURRAY: Well, the safety–UPS is the safest transportation company on the road. We have a record envied by every other transportation company. The safety issues that have been raised by the Teamsters revolve around a lot of changes they want us to make in procedures in our buildings. And we have, by the way, agreed on a whole lot of changes that they’ve asked us to do. We have agreed to create safety committees made up of Teamster members and UPS management people dedicated to improving the inside safety record for worker injuries.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Your figures show that this strike could have a really severe effect on the economy, is that right?

DAVID MURRAY: That’s correct?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can you give us some figures there?

DAVID MURRAY: The numbers vary between 5 and 7 percent of our Gross National Product, which moves by UPS every day. So we believe that is a significant impact on the economy if that stops.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is that why you’re asking for presidential involvement?

DAVID MURRAY: Yes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is there any indication that might happen?

DAVID MURRAY: No. The White House statements of today indicate at this time they are not going to get involved.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Murray, what do you think the chances are that this can be resolved in the near–not the long-term but the next week say?

DAVID MURRAY: Well, I think the chances are very good if the Teamsters–we have the last fast and final proposal on the table, which we believe that under study by our employees, the Teamsters’ members, they will find it favorable. There are some new things in there that haven’t been seen before, and we haven’t seen them in other Teamster contracts. For example, there’s a profit-sharing plan. The first award under the profit-sharing plan gives 41 percent of our 1996 profit, which was 1.1 million, to our Teamster employees. Each full-time employee would get $3,060; each part-time employee $1530. And we believe that our people will find that in favor. Plus there’s wage increases and all the traditional things you find in a contract.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think are the biggest stumbling blocks at this point, the part-time issue, or the pension plan?

DAVID MURRAY: I think the biggest stumbling block is that the Teamsters won’t mail the offer out to our people for ratification. Should they do that, and if we’re wrong, then that’s the time for them to consider their economic action, not before the people get an opportunity to exercise a democratic right to tell the Teamsters Union and UPS that they like or don’t like the contract.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And do you have the feeling that Mr. Carey did, that this is about bigger issues than just your company and the Teamsters, that this is also a sign of something shifting in the American economy, or the economic scene?

DAVID MURRAY: I think that’s an appeal to the public that they’re somehow defending the American way. UPS has not changed what we do with part-time employees. We’ve negotiated 15 labor agreements since part-timers went into our contracts, and they have always done the same work. So they continue to do the same work. We’re not one of those corporations that’s contracting out all of our work or laying off our full-time employees and giving that work to part- timers. To the contrary, we guarantee all of our full-time jobs–from that thing happening to them.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay.

DAVID MURRAY: We cannot do that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Murray, thank you very much for being with us.

DAVID MURRAY: Thank you.