Big win for UPS workers and unions

The Teamsters union that represents UPS workers yesterday came to a tentative deal with the company. Although the deal still has to be ratified by the members, that appears to be a formality because it looks like a big win for the 340,000 workers in the company, one of the largest workforces in the country. This new contract replaces a despised one that was forced on the workers five years by the former union president James Hoffa. A subsequent revolt by workers forced Hoffa out and replaced him with Sean M. O’Brien who negotiated the new deal. The deal resulted in many of the things that the union had demanded being agreed to by company management.

“The biggest win is finally getting the air conditioned car,” Rodriguez added, referring to a key provision of new heat safety measures the two sides came to terms on last month. The Teamsters hailed those changes as a major breakthrough after years of complaints that working in hot weather has grown more dangerous, as climate change fuels extended stretches of record-high temperatures across the country.

“I work in Arizona. Today is gonna be 114 degrees,” Rodriguez said. “These conditions are getting tougher and tougher.”

The tentative deal unveiled Tuesday also eliminates a feature of the current labor agreement that many rank-and-file members had reviled from the outset: a class of driver known as “22.4s,” named for the section of the contract that created them.

Disapproval of that two-tiered system contributed to UPS workers voting down the contract negotiated by Teamsters leaders in 2018, but union brass used procedural measures to impose it anyway. The infighting triggered a leadership shakeup that brought O’Brien to power.

Under the new deal, 22.4 drivers would be reclassified as regular drivers and see their pay adjusted accordingly. UPS will also be prevented from requiring drivers to work overtime on their scheduled days off.

The five-year contract deal also includes what the union called “historic” wage increases. Current full- and part-time union workers are guaranteed a $2.75 hourly pay increase this year, the Teamsters said, amounting to a $7.50 hourly increase through the duration of the contract.

Pay for existing and starting part-time workers — which UPS and Teamsters leadership described as the last hurdle for contract — would be raised to at least $21 per hour immediately, advancing to $23 per hour.

Current part-timers also won longevity wage increases of up to $1.50 per hour. Wage increases for full-time drivers bring their average top rate to $49 per hour, the union said.

A strike by UPS would have been hugely disruptive to the economy and so it is no surprise that Joe Biden, who has been courting union support, applauded the deal.

Industry groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor leaders and the White House applauded the deal.

“This agreement is a testament to the power of employers and employees coming together to work out their differences at the bargaining table in a manner that helps businesses succeed while helping workers secure pay and benefits they can raise a family on and retire with dignity and respect,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

I hope this gives a big boost to the union movement in the country, especially for those workers in union-busting companies like Amazon and Starbucks.

Meanwhile the strike by writers and performers in the entertainment industry drags on with no end in sight. Unlike with UPS where a strike would cause an immediate disruption in almost every area of life, the work of writers and performers has a long lead time before it appears before the public. The media companies had prepared for the strike by stockpiling scripts and shows in advance and they clearly hope to grind the union down. The last writers strike lasted more than three months, from November 5, 2007, to February 12, 2008, so the union is also prepared for this.

This article describes how difficult the working conditions are the vast majority who are not big-name stars, and the importance of ‘residuals’, the money they get when their work is shown later in reruns and son on. (This article explains what residuals are, why they are so important, and how streaming platforms are killing that source of income.)

Many say they fear the general public thinks all actors get paid handsomely and are doing it for love of the craft, almost as a hobby. Yet in most cases it’s their only job, and they need to qualify for health insurance, pay rent or a mortgage, pay for school and college for their kids.

Recently Jennifer Van Dyck got a couple residual checks in the mail — one for 60 cents, one for 72 cents. But she’s seen worse.

Still, Van Dyck counts herself lucky. With many appearances on network shows like “The Blacklist,” “Madam Secretary” and especially ”Law & Order,” where she’s appeared as a guest star 13 times, plus voiceover work, she’s been able to make a living for more than 30 years without having to take a job outside the industry.

“You just keep jumping around,” she says. “When things get dry in one area you move to the next. It’s keeping all the balls in the air: theater, film, television, voiceover, audiobooks. Call us journeypeople: Half the job requirement is looking for work.”

Van Dyck says the emergence of streaming has cut into an actor’s income alarmingly, because streamers give tiny residuals, if that. And when it comes to negotiating a rate to appear on a show, the studios don’t seem to care if you have 37 years of experience. “They say, “This is what we’re offering, take it or leave it.’”

Kravits says there used to be room for negotiation on everything, including billing and dressing rooms, but no longer: “You’re negotiating with Wall Street. And Wall Street is all bottom line.”

The toughest change has been with the all-important residuals. “I don’t think people realize outside the business how important residuals are to being able to afford being an actor,” he says.

“My dad was part of SAG back in the day and his residuals paid for a home,” says Dejoie, who was manning the picket lines in Los Angeles last week. “It’s the same business, and (yet) it’s completely different now.”

Her father, Vincent Cook, was a boxing double for Will Smith on “Ali,” and had a role in “B.A.P.S.,” with Halle Berry. “He was not a main character, but his residuals were great and they still are,” Dejoie says, nothing that recently, after undergoing a medical issue, he discovered that SAG had a check waiting for him. “If it’s up to the studio, they’re not going to hunt you down to pay you. SAG will,” Dejoie says.

Dejoie also is concerned about how artificial intelligence will affect the industry and her work as an extra, where she makes about $150 a day to be available for background shots. Actors fear studios want to scan their images and use them repeatedly after paying for just one day of work.

“Also, if I’m not present on the set, I’m not there making connections for other jobs,” Dejoie says.

The big stars are coming out in support too.

Union are essential to protect the livelihoods of workers, even if they are in jobs that are seen as glamorous (like acting) even though the reality for many is a far cry from what many people imagine.


  1. says

    My college had a very active and effective faculty/staff union. I would never have had the pay, benefits, and worker protections I enjoyed without them. The demise of the American middle class followed the trajectory of union membership, and its mirror image was the growth in wealth inequality.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Jimf @ 1
    ..And this is why people in western Europe have a standard of living that has caught up with that of most Americans.
    Europe does not have quite as many billionaires, but those are not all that productive anyway.

    USA (and now Britain) *chose* to regress in important aspects of their societies. The results should be obvious.

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