TOPICS > Economy

UPS On Strike: Return to Sender

August 4, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Last night, Teamster Union members at the United Parcel Service stopped delivering packages and went to picket lines, disrupting delivery of millions of packages across the country. UPS and its 300,000 employees deliver more than 80 percent of the nation’s parcels, about 12 million packages a day. About 2/3 of their workers are members of the Teamsters Union.

This first nationwide strike in the company’s 90-year history has reduced it to operating at about 30 percent of its capacity, according to UPS. The Atlanta-based company announced medical and pharmaceutical supplies and emergency deliveries are getting priority as non-union and management workers carry on business. Over-land UPS deliveries already have been slowed. Air freight shipments could come to a complete standstill as the union representing the company’s 2000 pilots said it would honor the Teamsters’ picket lines. With the strike just 18 hours old, businesses that rely on UPS for day-to-day service already are impacted by the slow down.

This Nine West shoe store outside, Washington, D.C., is trying to move to another location but can’t because doors and fixtures for its new store are being shipped by UPS and haven’t arrived. This morning, President Clinton told reporters the White House would not intervene in the strike, even though no further talks between the two sides are scheduled.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: UPS is a very important company to our country, and they have a lot of employees there. And I hope they’ll go back to the table. But at this time I don’t think any further action by me is appropriate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Teamsters officials walked away from the negotiations at 10 last night, after intensive last minute talks produced no agreement, precipitating the largest strike against a single company in the union’s history. The Teamsters’ current contract expired on Thursday.

The stalemate involves three main issues: Union demands for more full-time workers; a company proposal to take over the workers’ pension plan; and proposals for improving workplace safety. The union wants a large number of part-time jobs converted into full-time positions, with full benefits in order to provide more job security.

Of the 46,000 workers UPS has hired over the last four years, more than 80 percent are part-timers. The company says it will create 1,000 full- time jobs over five years and convert 10,000 existing part-time positions into full-time ones. But UPS says, in order to keep up with its non-union competitors, it has been forced to hire more part-time workers.

TEAMSTER WORKER: We have to let ’em make the money if they’ll make it, and then we want them to just share the profits with the people. But we have people here working for half wages in 1997, and you can’t live on half wages in 1997.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Teamsters also want their UPS workers to remain in a pension plan administered by the union, even though UPS says its plan could increase workers’ pension payments by more than 50 percent.

SPOKESMAN: Right now the pension and the health and welfare system is run by Teamsters, so we have a way of controlling it. It’s in our control. If UPS gets control of it, they can dictate what the terms are and what you will get, not get, and it’s up to their discretion basically what will happen.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile UPS’s main competitors–Federal Express and the U.S. Postal Service–have reported dramatic increases in business due to the strike. But the two companies insist they don’t have near the capacity to absorb the volume of packages handled by UPS.