With less than a month left on the current Teamsters-UPS labor contract, the amount of noise ratcheting up from both sides is to be expected. I can’t deny that the odds of a labor disruption are greater than they were a couple of months ago, but I’m still in the “less than likely to happen” camp. Why? There is too much at stake for both sides, and each is keenly aware of it. For the company, a labor disruption will drive shippers into the arms of their competitors who are more than happy to take a bite out of the UPS apple. This in turn will create growth and job opportunities for UPS’ nonunion rivals (USPS being the exception to nonunion) which defeats the Teamsters’ goals of bolstering their own ranks. This isn’t some keen insight or stunning revelation. This is exactly what occurred twenty-six years ago following the last strike.
I was there. I know.
Unfortunately, the number of union workers and executives who were with UPS back then and can influence the outcome of the current negotiation will be in the minority. It’s a cliché to say that those who forget history are destined to repeat it, but I feel the need to remind everyone what many have forgotten.
People. Were. Angry.
Shippers were angry at UPS telling them for months that there was nothing to worry about in the lead up to the eventual strike. These companies felt hung out to dry as they had little-to-no options to ship their products to their customers. As a UPS Account Executive, I bore the brunt of this from several of my clients, but less so than most of my peers. During the course of the 15-day strike, UPS continued delivery service of overnight shipments for several of their most reliable Next Day and 2 Day shippers. I was fortunate enough that I was picking up and delivering parcels in my territory. My customers saw me working and sweating to keep things going as best as possible, so while they were indeed angry afterwards, little of this anger was directed at me personally. Many of my counterparts weren’t so fortunate.
Shipper anger towards UPS persisted for years. I’m talking 15+ years. After I left UPS to negotiate pricing contracts on behalf of shippers, I had far too many FedEx shippers who insisted on excluding UPS from the bidding process because of a strike that happened more than a decade earlier. Although I hear little of this today, I still have clients reference the strike when I inquire about their historical carrier relationships and how at one point they swore they’d never use UPS again.
People. Were. Angry.
They weren’t just angry at UPS. This anger was also directed at the drivers picking up and delivering packages every day afterwards. While I wasn’t seeing all my customers everyday, the drivers were. Back then as today, UPS drivers were the highest paid in the industry. $20+ per hour was a lot back in 1997 – especially compared to what their customers’ Shipping & Receiving employees were making. This generated a lot of resentment and tension that the drivers experienced daily. Such a wage gap still exists. Just today I saw an online ad touting the typical wage of a UPS driver is $95,000 plus another $50,000 in health & retirement benefits. Those who don’t realize how hard the job is will see this and feel a lot less sympathy, and if a strike occurs, lack of sympathy will give way to anger once again.
Memories are short and 1997 is a lifetime ago for those representing both parties. Much has changed in the parcel marketplace since then, but UPS is still the dominant player and a service disruption would be devastating. Hopefully there are enough that remember the consequences and the anger. There’s enough of it in society already. We don’t another excuse for it to be further inflamed.
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