UPS Training Nonunion Workers to Hedge Against Possible Strike

UPS delivery driver feature

A UPS delivery driver in Toronto (credit: Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash)

UPS has begun training nonunion workers among the manager ranks to step in as drivers and package handlers, should a contract settlement with the Teamsters fail to materialize before the July 31 deadline, a move that has angered the union as talks remain stalled with about two weeks remaining.

In a webinar Sunday attended by 20,000 members, Teamsters president Sean O’Brien said what he termed “scabs” could never do their work if it came to a strike. UPS estimates it handles 6% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 3% of the global GDP every day.

“They can’t train enough managers to do what you do every day,” a defiant O’Brien said. “They can’t stand in the heat in the back of a truck, they can’t load package cars, they can’t unload trailers. We will win this fight and force UPS back to the table, but we have to stay united.”

He also made it clear the union doesn’t need intervention from the White House to settle the labor dispute.

“In my neighborhood where I grew up in Boston, if two people had a disagreement, and you had nothing to do with it, you kept walking,” O’Brien said. “We’ve echoed that to the White House on numerous occasions. We don’t need anybody to get involved in this fight. All we need is 340,000 Teamsters fighting every day. UPS needs to come back to the table.”

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su stepped into negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and port operators last month, and was credited by President Biden with helping the parties reach a tentative agreement.

Negotiations were suspended in the early morning hours of July 5, with each side saying the other walked away from the table. A Teamsters demand for increased pay for part-time UPS workers appears to be the major sticking point.

The CEO of supply chain software firm project44 told Bloomberg a UPS strike would cause “massive harm to the U.S. economy.” The Anderson Economic Group put the price tag of a 10-day strike at $7 billion dollars, including $4 billion in losses for consumers and small businesses; the 1997 strike lasted 15 days.

FedEx has been telling shippers to move volume over now if they want contingency service, and that they will give preference to existing accounts. The U.S. Postal Service, for its part, said it’s ready to take on volume through its new Ground Advantage program

“While we have made great progress and are close to reaching an agreement, we have a responsibility as an essential service provider to take steps to help ensure we can deliver our customers’ packages if the Teamsters choose to strike,” UPS said in a statement explaining the move.

The company stressed the training will not affect operations, but is just focused on business continuity. Other media reports say the plan targets management employees across the network.

“These activities also will not take away from our ongoing efforts to finalize a new contract that increases our employees’ already industry-leading wages and benefits, allows UPS to remain competitive and provides certainty for our customers and the U.S. economy,” the company said.

“UPS should stop wasting time and money on training strikebreakers and get back to the negotiating table with a real economic offer that respects and fairly compensates 340,000 UPS Teamsters,” the union said in response. “What an insult this is to the hardworking men and women who do backbreaking work every day to make this company $100 billion a year. The full-time drivers, and the part-time workers making poverty wages, deserve better from this company.”