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After months of hand-wringing over the potential for a strike by UPS workers, the masses who would’ve been affected breathed a collective sigh of relief on July 25.

“Today, the Teamsters reached the most historic tentative agreement for workers in the history of UPS, protecting and rewarding more than 340,000 UPS Teamsters nationwide,” the Teamsters announcement said. “The overwhelmingly lucrative contract raises wages for all workers, creates more full-time jobs, and includes dozens of workplace protections and improvements. The UPS Teamsters National Negotiating Committee unanimously endorsed the five-year tentative agreement.”

There’s been plenty of coverage of negotiating dynamics and the looming threat of a potential August 1 shutdown — so news of a tentative agreement is music to the ears of all concerned.

But we’re wondering about something else: whether the headline on the announcement may signal a broader trend that could impact labor negotiations in other industries.

Negotiations that “changed the game”

“’We’ve changed the game’: Teamsters win historic UPS contract,” the headline reads, perhaps signaling a potential power shift in labor negotiations.

“Rank-and-file UPS Teamsters sacrificed everything to get this country through a pandemic and enabled UPS to reap record-setting profits. Teamster labor moves America. The union went into this fight committed to winning for our members. We demanded the best contract in the history of UPS, and we got it,” said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien in the statement. “UPS has put $30 billion in new money on the table as a direct result of these negotiations. We’ve changed the game, battling it out day and night to make sure our members won an agreement that pays strong wages, rewards their labor, and doesn’t require a single concession. This contract sets a new standard in the labor movement and raises the bar for all workers.”

“UPS came dangerously close to putting itself on strike, but we kept firm on our demands. In my more than 40 years in Louisville representing members at Worldport — the largest UPS hub in the country — I have never seen a national contract that levels the playing field for workers so dramatically as this one. The agreement puts more money in our members’ pockets and establishes a full range of new protections for them on the job,” Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman added. “We stayed focused on our members and fought like hell to get everything that full-time and part-time UPS Teamsters deserve.”

“Rank-and-file members served on the committee for the first time, so we got to show up every day to support our fellow Teamsters and share their stories,” said Brandy Harris, a part-time UPS Teamster with Local 174 in Seattle and a member of the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee. “Our hard work has paid off — from those members and leaders negotiating for more at the table to my sisters and brothers building a credible strike threat around the country. Our union was organized and we were relentless. We’ve hit every goal that UPS Teamster members wanted and asked for with this agreement. It’s a ‘yes’ vote for the most historic contract we’ve ever had.”

Agreement highlights

Highlights of the tentative 2023-2028 UPS Teamsters National Master Agreement include:

  • “Historic wage increases. Existing full- and part-time UPS Teamsters will get $2.75 more per hour in 2023, and $7.50 more per hour over the length of the contract.

  • Existing part-timers will be raised up to no less than $21 per hour immediately, and part-time seniority workers earning more under a market rate adjustment would still receive all new general wage increases.

  • General wage increases for part-time workers will be double the amount obtained in the previous UPS Teamsters contract — and existing part-time workers will receive a 48 percent average total wage increase over the next five years.

  • Wage increases for full-timers will keep UPS Teamsters the highest paid delivery drivers in the nation, improving their average top rate to $49 per hour.

  • Current UPS Teamsters working part-time would receive longevity wage increases of up to $1.50 per hour on top of new hourly raises, compounding their earnings.

  • New part-time hires at UPS would start at $21 per hour and advance to $23 per hour.

  • All UPS Teamster drivers classified as 22.4s would be reclassified immediately to Regular Package Car Drivers and placed into seniority, ending the unfair two-tier wage system at UPS.

  • Safety and health protections, including vehicle air conditioning and cargo ventilation. UPS will equip in-cab A/C in all larger delivery vehicles, sprinter vans, and package cars purchased after Jan. 1, 2024. All cars get two fans and air induction vents in the cargo compartments.

  • All UPS Teamsters would receive Martin Luther King Day as a full holiday for the first time.

  • No more forced overtime on Teamster drivers’ days off. Drivers would keep one of two workweek schedules and could not be forced into overtime on scheduled off-days.

  • UPS Teamster part-timers will have priority to perform all seasonal support work using their own vehicles with a locked-in eight-hour guarantee. For the first time, seasonal work will be contained to five weeks only from November-December.

  • The creation of 7,500 new full-time Teamster jobs at UPS and the fulfillment of 22,500 open positions, establishing more opportunities through the life of the agreement for part-timers to transition to full-time work.

  • More than 60 total changes and improvements to the National Master Agreement — more than any other time in Teamsters history — and zero concessions from the rank-and-file.”

“On July 31, representatives of the 176 UPS Teamster locals in the U.S. and Puerto Rico will meet to review and recommend the tentative agreement,” the statement noted. “All UPS rank-and-file members will receive a list of improvements in the contract. Locals will conduct member meetings and Teamsters will have several weeks to vote on the offer electronically. Member voting begins August 3 and concludes August 22.”

It added that the UPS Teamsters National Master Agreement is “the single largest private-sector collective bargaining agreement in North America.”

In a significantly shorter announcement, UPS confirmed that a tentative agreement had been reached.

“UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union representing about 330,000 UPS employees in the U.S., have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement,” the July 25 statement said.

“Together we reached a win-win-win agreement on the issues that are important to Teamsters leadership, our employees and to UPS and our customers,” said Carol Tomé, UPS chief executive officer. “This agreement continues to reward UPS’s full- and part-time employees with industry-leading pay and benefits while retaining the flexibility we need to stay competitive, serve our customers and keep our business strong.”

“The five-year agreement covers U.S. Teamsters-represented employees in small-package roles and is subject to voting and ratification by union members,” the statement noted.

Coverage of the negotiations

There’s been extensive coverage of the contract negotiations and associated dynamics. If you’d like to dig into those more, here are a few resources to check out:

A shifting trend in labor negotiations?

Within all the coverage about the contract negotiations, that from Labor Notes may have captured a potentially shifting trend in labor negotiations dynamics.

In a July 19 post by Alexandra Bradbury and Luis Feliz Leon, the writers described the power the workers held within the negotiating process — largely due to their absolute willingness to strike.

“The profound seriousness of the strike threat, light-years from the dynamic in 2018 bargaining, is why the Teamsters have won so much already,” Bradbury and Feliz Leon wrote. “And if they reach a deal by the deadline, this will be the reason why—that UPS knew, Wall Street knew, the workers knew, everybody knew how very ready they were to walk.”

Describing various factors related to the negotiations, they said the Teamsters’ “powerful spot” was partly created by electing new leadership.

“The Teamsters United slate, backed by the rank-and-file movement Teamsters for a Democratic Union [TDU], won the 2021 election 2 to 1, closing the book on the long concessionary reign of James P. Hoffa,” the post authors wrote. “O’Brien made a campaign theme of his willingness, even enthusiasm, to strike UPS. His administration has reversed the Hoffa-era brownouts on bargaining updates and made a UPS Teamsters app. The international union encouraged member participation in the contract campaign, and gave locals and members the tools to mobilize themselves—campaign kickoff rallies, contract unity pledge cards, MLK Deliver on the Dream Actions, practice picketing. …”

“But it was up to locals and the rank and file to pick up those tools and use them,” they added. “The power was built in tens of thousands of conversations in UPS hubs, parking lots, and cafes over the past year. …”

Referring to TDU as an “accelerant,” the authors said the organization worked “by networking Teamsters together, spreading the contract campaign, and training new activists how to implement it. As the campaign went on, more members and locals jumped in. TDU webinars to swap info and ideas grew from 500 participants to 1,500 to 5,000. By the time talks broke down, the practice picketing tactic had spread nationwide.”

Bradbury and Feliz Leon provided rich detail about the impact of TDU to deepen workers’ interest and actions related to the negotiations — as well as how all that activity helped to strengthen their relationships with each other.

But they also described how the energy generated is spreading.

“The Teamsters campaign at UPS is reverberating throughout the labor movement,” they wrote. “United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, elected this year with the backing of a TDU-inspired rank-and-file movement, traveled to New York to rally with O’Brien.”

“All of our paths are parallel right now,” Fain told the outlet. “It’s the same issues—ending tiers, the abuse of temporary workers, and low wages.”

One UPS worker cited in the article said he believes there will be a “ripple effect” to Teamsters at other employers.

“They want that kind of energy in their contract,” he told Labor Notes. “We can do practice picketing, strike authorization, meetings on rotating schedules. We’re going to keep bringing this more intense UPS national model to all our local shops. It raises everyone else up, so that’s our plan.”

On September 14, union contracts will expire for 144,000 auto workers at the Big 3: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler).

“A company-wide strike at one of the three looks likely, especially after United Auto Workers members elected a reform slate to lead their union,” according to Labor Notes. “The new president, Shawn Fain, has pledged a contract campaign and a strike–if needed–to end wage tiers, and to put workers at the wheel of the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).”

In addition to reporting on the new UPS contract, the following NBC News video captures labor dynamics across various industries that are both upcoming and currently in play.

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