Email Exchange on the Teamsters-UPS agreement #3

Peter Solenberger

August 7, 2023

A response to a contribution by Barry Eidlin replaced in this dossier, at his request, by his The UPS Contract in Context.

My main points were: 1) “A Teamsters strike against UPS on a principled issue like stable full-time jobs could have been an inflection point in the class struggle in the US, as the 1997 strike was,” and 2) “The fact that we’re discussing the TA in business union terms shows the missed opportunity.”

Thinking in business union terms, however, the tentative agreement is better than I had understood. Your message caused me to look more carefully.

Apart from labor market adjustments, a part-time warehouse worker brought to $21 per hour in August 2023 would make $25.75 per hour in the last year of the contract, according to the TDU Summary of Key Changes. But few part-time warehouse workers last that long. A worker who lasted three years would get a cumulative wage increase of $2.50 per hour, for an annual rate of increase of 4.0 percent. A worker who lasted two years would get a cumulative increase of $1.50 per hour, for an annual rate of increase of 3.6 percent.

A top-paid Regular Package Car Driver made $40.51 per hour before this contact, according to How Much Do UPS Truck Drivers Make? That seems plausible to me, although you may have better information. A driver who stayed five years would get the full $7.50 increase, for an annual rate of increase of 3.7 percent.

The increases are good by business union standards, but part-time on $21 per hour doesn’t eliminate “part-time poverty.” The gap between the relatively well-paid full-time drivers and the majority of UPS workers remains.

The slogan of the 1997 UPS strike was “Part-Time America Won’t Work.” It inspired workers and helped loosen the grip of the “there is no alternative” mentality that the capitalist offensive and working-class retreat had inculcated.

You write:

But, for all his militant rhetoric and threats of striking (which went far beyond what Ron Carey did in 1997, I might add), the fact remains that O’Brien settled for a negotiated agreement instead of leading UPS Teamsters out on strike. That disappointed many among the activist layer of UPS Teamsters, who felt that a strike was necessary not only to win more at the bargaining table, but to send a message to UPS and galvanize the broader public. I assume it also disappointed socialists across the country, including those on this listserv, for those reasons and more.

You’ve studied Teamsters history extensively. In your view, why did the 1997 strike occur? Why no strike this year? The economy was at a similar high-point both years. There was a similarly triangulating Democratic Party administration and divided Congress. What do you see as the differences in the working class, the Teamsters ranks, the Teamsters leadership, and TDU?

You write:

Like many socialists, along with many rank and file Teamsters, I share the disappointment that we didn’t end up seeing one of the largest strikes in U.S. history, which could have had a galvanizing effect on the labor movement and the balance of class forces. Instead, we have ended up with a negotiated tentative agreement that has real and significant gains, but that has left a number of rank and file Teamster activists feeling that they could have won more. Even though a strike would have been preferable, to me this mitigated sentiment should give us cause for optimism. That’s because it signals rising worker expectations, which is a key factor that must be present if we expect to see any meaningful uptick in the broader class struggle.

That the Teamsters leadership demanded as much as it did and that UPS conceded as much as it did are cause for optimism. But, as I wrote, “1997 it is not.” Socialists need to consider the question, Why?