BEHIND THE BROWN CURTAIN.... Food Stamp Unionism and It's Discontents at United Parcel Service By Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter Originally published Aug. 2, 2002 Reprinted From Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center https://web.archive.org/web/20051216222131/http://www.ucimc.org/newswire/display/7258/index.php On July 18, 2002, James P. "Junior" Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, announced a "historic" collective bargaining agreement, covering 230,000 American Teamsters employed by the world's largest package shipping company, United Parcel Service. It was a historic pact, alright.. Historically bad. The "raise" in the agreement is only $ 5 dollars over the life of the pact for the company's 97,000 $ 23.50/hr full time employees, with $ 6 dollars for the 133,000 part timers, who start out at only $ 8.50/hr for a workweek that can be as short as 17.5 hours. Depending on inflation, UPS workers might actually be making less in constant dollars when this proposed pact expires in 2008 than they are now. And, that $ 6 dollar raise for the part timers comes with a Catch-22 attached...new hires won't have the progression raises built into their base pay...they'll still start off at $ 8.50 an hour, even in the last year of the new agreement, 6 years from now... They'll get a 50 cent raise, if they manage to remain on the job for 90 days..no mean feat in a company with a 400% annual employee turnover rate and the worst OSHA record of any company in America. To top that off, it's a 6 year agreement, the longest term for a UPS-IBT agreement since the company first signed with the Teamsters way back in 1916. This accelerates a bad trend..the 1997 pact was for 5 years, rather than the customary 3...who knows how long the 2008 collective bargaining agreement will be? In fact, this is the longest collective bargaining agreement that the Teamsters have ever entered into with a transportation firm in the entire 102 year history of the union. Most of the economic gains in the pact go right into the bottomless pit of the IBT's shaky Taft Hartley welfare and pension benefit funds, many of which have been, in effect, subsidized by UPS for most of the last 2 decades. Those benefit funds are a cruel joke for many employees of big brown. Most UPS part timers will never get a dime of pension coverage, or even one doctor visit from the health insurance..for the crudely simple reason that most United Parcel Service part time workers quit, or leave on disability, long before they are eligible for benefits, let alone vested for a pension. Besides the money, the non economic issues get short shrift too. UPS full timers will still face mandatory OT and 60 to 70 hour workweeks. A handful of high seniority part timers may get full time jobs at the end of the pact, but, the core of the company's truck load and package sorting operations in the centers will still be based on part time labor, as it has been for the last 40 years. And, UPS will still be allowed to continue it's abusive work practices, that give it the highest lost time injury rate in all of American industry, plus a 400 % employee turnover rate every year. At the end of the day, NON UNION workers at FedEx will still have a higher starting pay rate. FedEx non union package handlers start at $ 11...their Teamster counterparts at UPS only get $ 8.50. And, the average FedEx part timer earns $ 13.50 an hour..at UPS, $ 10.72. Since the average UPS part timer only gets 4 hours of work per day...many of these eight dollar Teamsters are actually eligible for food stamps, Section 8 housing assistance and state insurance for their kids. Which is really pathetic....union members paying dues to get wages so low that many of them are eligible for food stamps. To add insult to injury, the UPS Teamsters, along with the rest of the union, actually got a 14% DUES INCREASE this summer. The Teamster bureaucracy will claim that, although FedEx workers make more in the envelope, UPS Teamsters get better benefits. Yes..and no. On paper, UPS 133,000 part timers have a great health benefit package, probably one of the best welfare plans in America. But, out in the real world, the company's working conditions are so harsh and abusive, and the pay is so God damned low, that, as I mentioned above, big brown has a 400% annual employee turnover rate. That is, they have to hire 920,000 people a year, just to maintain a headcount of 230,000. Which means that MOST UPS TEAMSTERS DON'T STICK AROUND LONG ENOUGH TO EVER COLLECT ANY OF THOSE BENEFITS. That's why the benefits are so good on paper....most of the beneficiaries never collect one red cent of bennies.... The contributions made on their behalf by UPS go to, in effect, subsidize the union's financially sinking benefit and pension funds. The fact is, Teamster Taft Hartley funds are on the rocks because the union has shrunk by 900,000 members in the last two decades, from 2.3 million members down to 1.4 million. Most of that membership loss was in the union's onetime core jurisdictions - freight, warehouse, and local delivery drivers. Many Teamster employers either ripped up their union agreements outright..or, they used a "special commodity" agreement with the IBT to set up non union subsidiary..and then gradually shifted all of their business to that non union division. But, a lot of those workers are still eligible for Teamster pension coverage. Even though their employers no longer pay into Teamster funds. Somebody's got to pay for those benefits....and UPS's contributions play a major role in plugging that hole...especially since most UPS Teamsters will never collect a dime in benefits. That is the dirty little secret of the UPS-Teamsters relationship...the union bureaucracy actually financially benefits from high employee turnover at big brown..and has no incentive to make the place a better company to work at. Now, some may say at this point..well, didn't the Teamsters win this great strike victory at UPS in 1997, led by the secular saint of the labor movement, the great Ron Carey? Well...that's the official story, that you'll hear from the AFL-CIO leadership, labor studies professors and labor reporters from the mainstream corporate media. Problem is, like most "official stories", it's just plain not true. The famous 1997 agreement, despite the propaganda, was NOT about getting full time jobs for the company's then 80,000 part timers. The issue was, UPS wanted to use it's pension and welfare fund contributions as investment capital..and the union wanted to keep control of those funds, to shore up the leaks in it's Taft Hartley funds, which were having the same fiscal problems they are today. The part time issue was eyewash..intended to make the union look good in the media..and, to keep the part timers from scabbing en masse. Only a handful of high seniority part timers would have gotten jobs out of Carey's 1997 deal..no more than 10,000 at most. At the time, UPS was expanding..and created 100,000 new Teamster jobs....47,000 full time...53,000 part time. The union could have demanded that the company create no new part time jobs..and reduce the number of new full time jobs by 13,500. The remaining 1.6 million new hours could have given every single one of UPS's 80,000 part timers an 8 hour day, and 40 hour week. But, that would abolish UPS's whole part time labor-based truck loading and package sorting system, in effect since 1962..and, would have only added 32,500 new dues payers to the IBT. Of course, neither Carey nor UPS would want such a deal...the part timers surely would..but, after all, neither the union nor the company gives a damn about what they want. So, that idea was never considered. I'll talk about that in more detail below. The cold hard fact of the story is, UPS' part time Teamsters are the victims of a Rikers Island-style no Vaseline screwjob by the bosses of the Teamsters union, and have been taking it in the shorts from their own union since 1962. That was the year that another union boss hero, Jimmy Hoffa Sr, let UPS use an unlimited number of part timers, and pay them a lower pay scale. That deal has continued in every UPS Teamsters agreement from that day to this...yes, even in the great Ron Carey's 1997 national agreement. Bottom line, UPS pays Burger King wages to it's part time Teamsters, and treats all of it's employees like they are inmates in a minimum security correctional facility. The union knows it..and they're in on the scam. Why does the Teamsters, "America's strongest union", knuckle under to "big brown"? Simple. The cold hard fact is, thanks to years of making "deals" with unionized employers at the expense of the membership, the Teamsters union is, tragically, in a tailspin. As I mentioned above, the union has shrunk from 2.3 million members to 1.4..and that membership loss crisis continues unabated. Especially in road freight..where union density has fallen from 80% to under 10%..and just about every "union" trucking employer openly operates non union subsidiaries. The sad fact about that is, as I mentioned above, the union actually signed a rider to the 1973 National Master Freight Agreement [NMFA] that LET THESE UNION COMPANIES OPENLY OPERATE NON UNION SUBSIDIARIES. Even UPS, the "largest Teamster employer", has non union subsidiaries. One of which, UPS Logistics, is rapidly becoming the leading non union carhauling firm in America..taking away hundreds of Teamster jobs from union carhaul outfits like Allied and Ryder.