Some 340,000 UPS employees are inching toward a strike that appears increasingly likely, threatening the largest work stoppage in over half a century that could upend a part of the broader package delivery system that Americans have come to depend on.
On Wednesday, UPS and the Teamsters, the union representing UPS workers, announced that after a two-week impasse, they had agreed to resume negotiations next week with time running out before the August 1, 2023 deadline.
While the two sides have resolved most of their issues, with UPS agreeing to install air conditioning in vans and eliminate a lower paid class of workers, they remain at odds over pay and benefits for part-time workers who make up more than half of UPS’s workforce.
It’s likely a work stoppage will occur and the key question at this point is how long it will last.
As the strike deadline has neared, so-called practice pickets, or dress rehearsals for the potential strike, have sprung up outside UPS facilities from Hawaii to New York, with hundreds of Teamsters UPS members in brown work uniforms marching and chanting.
A strike at UPS would have far-reaching implications for the U.S. economy, as well as the country’s labor movement. When UPS went on strike in 1997, businesses large and small strained to keep shelves stocked.
But now far more companies, as well as a bigger percentage of Americans’ consumer spending, depend on delivery infrastructure that can get packages across the country within days of purchases.
And though its overall market share has dropped, UPS plays a big role in that, with an estimated quarter of the 59 million packages shipped in the United States each day passing through UPS’s brown delivery vans, split equally between homes and businesses.
The consulting firm AEG has estimated that a 10-day strike would result in losses of more than $810 million for UPS.
The company’s operations would probably continue in the case of a strike at a limited capacity, with corporate employees and its fleet of gig workers taking on warehouse and delivery roles.
During the 1997 UPS strike, which lasted 15 days, UPS lost more than $600 million in business. But the biggest blow was losing loyal customers, who sourced exclusively with UPS, to other shipping companies, such as FedEx.
Over the years, FedEx, Amazon and regional carriers have mushroomed.
But the 1997 strike resulted in major wins for UPS workers, including increasing starting pay for part-time workers for the first time in over a decade and 10,000 part-time jobs converting into full-time positions.
More than 170,000 actors and screenwriters in Hollywood are currently striking, and another 150,000 autoworkers employed by Ford, General Motors and Stellantis could strike as soon as September 14, 2023.
There’s a reason to have a strike, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at University of California Santa Barbara. Workers want to demonstrate the power of labor, and this is the time to do it.
Washington Post / ABC Flash Point News 2023.