The settlement of the United Parcel Service strike could mark
a significant shift in American employee/employer relations and the
possible start of widespread worker demands for higher wages.
If nothing else, the terms of the UPS deal seem to be a
tremendous victory for unions in general and the Teamsters and
their leader Ron Carey in particular. The strike's outstanding
issues appear to have been settled largely on Teamster terms.
"For years we've been accustomed to unions giving in first,"
says Neil Bernstein, a labor law professor at Washington University
in St. Louis. "It's been a long time since a major employer was the
one to make the concessions."
The challenge now facing UPS is to restore efficiency and
teamwork in its familiar brown-suited work force, while winning
back the loyalty of its customers.
The relatively quick end to the strike means UPS remains
financially solid. Its vast route network and cheery service are
still unchallenged by upstart competitors.
But the inconvenience of the work stoppage might mean many
firms are now looking for ways to diversify their shipping.
"UPS may no longer be a near monopoly," says labor economist
At time of writing the agreement to end the 15-day old UPS
walkout was still tentative.
But all indications were that Teamsters Union officials would
ratify the deal.
Union negotiators won big on their key issue: conversion of
part-time jobs to full-time positions. UPS agreed to create 10,000
full-time jobs over the five-year life of the proposed contract.
UPS officials also agreed to significant raises in worker
pay. Part-time workers would see their wage packets increase by
$4.10 an hour over five years. Full-time workers - who already make
substantially more than their part-time counterparts - would get a
Labor's only concession?
UPS did not win Teamster agreement to withdraw from the union
multi-employer pension plan and set up a system solely for UPS
workers. About the only aspect of the proposed agreement that
seemed favorable to UPS was its length - five years, as opposed to
the shorter pact union officials would have preferred.
The manner of the settlement reflected the relative public
strength of the two sides, say labor law experts.
Polls showed that a majority of the US public supported the
union and its contention that it was fighting for the rights of
part-time workers in an economy prone to heartless downsizing. The
UPS position - that it was a generous employer that needed worker
flexibility to deal with today's tough business environment -
generated less citizen sympathy.
In addition, the Clinton administration refused the request
of many businesses to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act and order the
strikers back to work for a cooling-off period. Teamster unity,
which was in question at the strike's beginning, remained solid
throughout two-week walkout.
Given that context, UPS officials may have simply decided to
give in before an extended walkout depleted cash reserves and
permanently alienated customers. …