America may soon face its biggest labor strike in decades

Posted June 5, 2018 1:07 p.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2018 6:45 p.m. EDT

— The Teamsters and United Parcel Service could be heading toward the nation's largest strike in decades.

The union is expected to announce Tuesday that 260,000 UPS workers have voted to authorize a strike if the two sides can't reach a deal before the current contracts expire on Aug. 1. UPS transports an estimated 6% of the nation's GDP, which means a labor dispute could disrupt the US economy.

At issue is how the shipping giant will expand to offer deliveries seven days a week.

UPS began offering regular Saturday delivery service just a year ago. It hasn't officially announced plans for Sunday service, but the union says the company has made several proposals to expand weekend deliveries.

One proposal on the negotiating table is to create a two-tier wage system that would take part-time workers who earn $15 an hour and make them full-time at the same wage. Existing full-time drivers now earn an average of $36 an hour, or roughly $75,000 a year.

The Teamsters are divided on this proposal, which makes it harder to reach a deal and avoid a strike.

An opposition group within the union, UPS Teamsters United, argues that the delivery company, which posted a $5 billion profit in 2017, should pay new full time workers the same as existing workers.

"Most people understand in the world of Amazon and e-commerce, UPS isn't going to be Monday to Friday or even Monday to Saturday any more, it's going to be a seven-day operation," said David Levin, spokesman for UPS Teamsters United. "But they made record profits. They don't need concessions to do that."

A union spokesperson declined to comment on the negotiations.

Even if union members do vote to authorize a strike, labor and management still have plenty of time to reach a new deal before the existing one runs out.

"The reality is that UPS and the Teamsters have already reached tentative agreements on a wide variety of non-economic issues," said UPS spokesperson Glenn Zaccara.

But those agreements could be rejected by rank-and-file members.

The last time UPS had a strike was a 16-day walkout by the Teamsters in 1997, and there hasn't been a bigger strike since then. This strike could be even larger, since there were only 180,000 Teamsters at UPS at that time.