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
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..
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.
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"?
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.
I've explored the crisis in the Teamsters at length on GANGBOX, at :
One aspect of this crisis is financial..as I said above, the union's welfare and pension funds are in crisis..since the contributions by current members cannot cover the obligations of the existing retiree pool.
UPS is a major help in dealing with this crisis..because most UPS workers quit after just a few weeks on the job, the contributions for pension and health insurance come in on their behalf..but never get paid out.... That money then gets used for other, non UPS, Teamsters.
Also, the initiation fees paid by those 920,000 new hires a year go straight to the international union treasury at the "Marble Palace" in Washington..and all that cash really comes in handy for a rapidly shrinking union.
That's the reality of the ugly relationship between big brown and the leadership of the Teamsters, a reality that the union bureaucracy doesn't like to talk about.
Let's take a look.
The corporation now known as United Parcel Service was founded as the American Messenger Service in Seattle in 1907, by one James E. Casey, a 19 year old bike messenger. Yes, back then, they didn't have the familiar dark brown "package car" trucks of today..they were a humble bicycle messenger service.
Casey started out with 6 messengers and a customer service-oriented attitude..his slogan was "Best Service, Lowest Rates". The company that would later become UPS was in the department store delivery business.
Back in those days, most folks didn't have cars. So, when people went shopping, they had to lug all their purchases back home on the trolley or bus..which could be really inconvenient if you'd brought a lot of stuff that day.
Enter Jim Casey's company. They'd pick up your purchases, and deliver them to your house, while you took the bus or trolley home.
UPS rapidly expanded during these years..by 1916, the firm was big enough that Casey asked the Teamsters to organize his firm. At that time, nearly all local delivery companies were organized by the IBT, so it was a business necessity for UPS to be a Teamster signatory firm. By the end of the 1920's UPS was a national firm, and the leader in it's market segment.
Unlike today, UPS at that time wasn't that much different from the average unionized local drayage company. Like all Teamster-represented trucking companies, UPS paid it's workers an 8 hour minimum, and, except for a few casuals and seasonal helpers hired during the Christmas holidays, all of the Teamster workforce had a full time 5 day a week schedule. Also, almost all UPS workers got the same pay scale.
The only thing that really made UPS stand out was Casey's "welfare capitalism" type corporate structure.
UPS was not a regular corporation...instead, they were structured as a partnership..with only the founders, supervisors and other management personnel as the partners. No members of the general public were permitted to have an equity stake in United Parcel.
UPS would remain that way well into the late 1990's.
The company's private corporate structure gave it's management an independence from bankers and capital markets that's rare in Corporate America..
By contrast, the management at public corporations (firms that let anybody buy their stock) are subject to constant outside pressure, routinely dictated to and micro-managed by investment banks, brokerage houses, and major stockholders.
This independence made United Parcel Service uniquely flexible to deal with changes in their business environment...a flexibility that really came in handy during the late 1950's.
The department store business had changed, and so had UPS's customer base. Most Americans now owned cars, and no longer took public transit to go shopping. Also, the GI Bill had led millions of people to move to the suburbs..and, with the rise of the shopping mall, the department stores followed them. These factors greatly shrank the market for deliveries from downtown stores to consumer's homes.
That might have killed United Parcel Service as a business...but, Jim Casey and his management team decided to seek out a whole new market. UPS management decided to get into delivering mail order packages.. And, to do that, they'd have to go head to head with the United States Post Office Department for Parcel Post packages.
For UPS to do that successfully, the company had to be transformed. UPS needed a network of local service centers, and over the road tractor trailer trucks (in UPS jargon "feeder trucks") to deliver packages between centers. They also needed a much more rigidly disciplined workforce, to meet very tight time deadlines...and the ability to ruthlessly punish, and if necessary, fire, anybody who didn't run fast enough.
Above all..UPS needed a large pool of labor to quickly unload the "package cars" (UPSspeak for delivery vans) in the afternoons ..another pool of labor to sort those packages, and load and unload the feeder trucks in the middle of the night..and, in the early morning hours, a third pool of workers to load the package cars with the next day's deliveries.
This could have been done with workers on traditional 8 hour shifts. But, it would be easier to have 3 crews of night workers on 4 hour shifts. And, to beat the Post Office on labor costs..the part timers would have to be paid absolutely rock bottom wages, far below Teamster scale.
By the time Jim Casey retired in 1962, UPS was able to implement this plan. The Teamsters signed a special agreement, allowing UPS to use part time workers for the loading and sorting operations. UPS still had to pay those part timers the same scale as full timers, (they didn't get a two tier wage deal until 1982).
But, big brown was allowed to impose a brutal regime of almost prison-style discipline on it's employees, with the assurance that the union would let the firm do whatever it wanted to it's workers.
At the time of this agreement, the Teamsters was still run by the legendary James R. "Jimmy" Hoffa.
Unfortunately, Jimmy Hoffa the man has been eclipsed by JIMMY HOFFA the myth...the HOFFA of American labor folklore has become a larger than life figure, famous for his alleged militancy, and "always standing up for the little guy".
To this day, 27 years after his disappearance and likely murder, probably at the hands of his former associates from the world of organized crime, most Teamsters, and many other union members, firmly believe in the legend of Jimmy Hoffa.
The problem with folklore is...as exciting and romantic as the story may be...it's usually not true.
That's exactly the problem with the Jimmy Hoffa legend.
During his long years as a union boss, first with local 299, then with Joint Council 43, and later as general president of the IBT, Hoffa Sr. carefully built up this media myth that he was some kind of super militant, who always stood up to the companies and fought for the rights of the working man.
However, in the real world..it was night and day different.
Hoffa, like any business unionist, always carefully followed the lead of the employers..trying to never advocate for an independent position on behalf of his members unless he had no other choice.
That doesn't mean that Hoffa Sr was a bad guy..far from it..that's just how business unionism works.
The bosses of business unions believe in the capitalistic system, they believe in business, they believe that the employer knows best.. These labor leaders generally view workers who complain about management abuses are "troublemakers" or "malcontents". Business unionist labor bosses simply cannot envision workers having their own ideas about how a company should run it's business..that's just beyond their comprehension, it doesn't fit into the business unionist worldview.
That's exactly what happened in the UPS case...a "good union employer", UPS's Jim Casey, wanted concessions..and the union gave him what he wanted, no questions asked. It didn't matter to Hoffa that UPS Teamsters would be adversely affected...he felt that he was obligated to do what the bosses asked.
UPS's workers were not able to mount any kind of concerted answer to Casey's proposals, of course...they were scattered across the country, with no union body uniting them on a national level.
It almost goes without saying that the Teamster locals that represented UPS workers also never dreamed of resisting these massive concessions. That's just not the business unionist way.
Also, for years Casey had cultivated this whole elaborate "welfare capitalist" image of himself and his management team.. Many UPS workers, heavily influenced by years of this propaganda, looked upon the company as a "family", and wouldn't dream of questioning company policy.
At that time, UPS didn't even have a national agreement..just a series of local agreements, bargained separately. It was just a matter of getting every local to agree to the concessions..and, with Hoffa's support, that wasn't a problem. The local union bosses, themselves business unionists, would have probably agreed to these concessions anyway.
In fact, some of the local unions gave UPS deeper concessions than the international did. The Southern locals were the first to allow UPS to use unlimited part timers..by 1975, all UPS local agreements allowed unlimited use of part timers.
Those 1962 givebacks were a watershed in UPS history...post 1962 UPS became a very different company to work for.. While the old UPS was kind of a "family business"..the new United Parcel Service was run like an Army regiment..or a prison camp.
The company began rigidly timing every move it's employees made. The company ended up with a massive rulebook of "methods". There are several volumes of UPS "methods"..which are so rigid that they even define what hand you're supposed to hold your truck keys in!!!!
UPS also developed a "least best employee" method of discipline.
That is, if you are the slowest worker, EVEN IF YOU MEET THE PRODUCTION STANDARDS, you will be subject to intense harassment by supervisors, numerous "counseling" sessions..and, ultimately, you will be fired. Then, the next "least best employee" gets put in the hot seat.
Hand in hand with the "least best employee" system, United Parcel also imposed an incentive pay system..that is, drivers would be paid more if they got their work done faster. That is, if your route was, according to UPS "methods", supposed to take 9 hours, and you got it done in 8 1/2 hours..you'd get paid as if you worked 9 hours.
Along with incentive pay, came mandatory OT for full time workers. 10 hour days became a way of life for package car drivers..with 12, 13 and even 14 hour days not unknown during the busy part of the year.
For part timers, there was the reverse..you got as few hours as possible..some UPS workers actually have 3 1/2 hour work shifts.
The company also became very rigid about dress codes...uniforms, hair length, beards, etc. Workers were even forbidden to wear American flag pins or Teamster buttons.
And, UPS began employing private detectives to spy on their employees..and even working with the FBI and local police, allowing law enforcement personnel to work undercover at the company, and keep "suspicious" workers under surveillance without benefit of a warrant.
And, the company began aggressively promoting what can only be described as a "cult of productivity" among UPS workers, you might even call it a secular "religion" built around UPS "methods".
UPS had long encouraged an almost dependent loyalty from it's workers, even back in the Jim Casey days.. United Parcel wasn't just a company, it was supposed to be a "family".
But, from the 1960's until today, the post 1962 totalitarian UPS barraged it's workers with torrents of propaganda, to attempt to brainwash them into really BELIEVING in UPS "methods" in a sick, codependent, David Koresh-type of way.
Reportedly, some UPS full timers have actually have internalized this propaganda, and a few poor souls even view themselves as personal failures if they don't live up to the "methods"...
Of course, this whole ideology was meant to break down worker solidarity..to make UPS Teamsters think it was OK for the company to bully the "least best" workers..and to make people accept, and even believe in, the two tier separation between high paid full timers and low paid part timers.
UPS supervisors are also carefully trained in what can only be described as psychological warfare..
Here's how it works...the company trains it's supervisors to keep track of how the workers interact with each other. When the company wants to put the heat on a "least best" worker, or a union activist, or an injured worker [they started having a LOT of those, due to the speedup] or somebody who takes "too many" sick days, the supervisors divide that worker from his/her coworkers.
Once isolated, they then move in for the kill.
Now, the obvious question is..where the hell was the Teamsters when all of this happened?
The union was right there...AND LET IT HAPPEN, without ever trying to organize any kind of resistance.
The union even used "methods" as a legal fig leaf for allowing workers to be fired for failing to meet UPS production quotas. Technically, under almost all Teamster agreements at the time, nobody could be fired for not meeting a production quota. But, according to the lawyers, being fired for not carrying out UPS "methods" is, supposedly, not the same thing as being fired for working "too slow".
That allowed the IBT to sanction all of UPS's production quota firings.
Incidentally, by the 1980's, Teamster employers in the union's largest industry, grocery warehouse, had learned from UPS, they imposed a rigid system of production quotas, enforced by company production "methods". And, they used the same legal dodge of, technically, firing workers for violating "methods" rather than failing to meet production quotas.
The union let these companies get away with that..just like they did UPS. Today, thanks to that concession, the 400,000 Teamster grocery warehouse workers have some of the most miserable working conditions in the IBT..some warehouses actually push their people harder than big brown does.
Many UPS workers began to "vote with their feet" against big brown's abuses.
Mainly, it was the part timers..because all that UPS pro company brainwashing may have worked on some of the drivers...(who make damn good money in return for their 70 hour workweeks), but, the part timers make chump change...so they have a tendency to just up and quit when they get tired of big brown's bullshit. UPS was also quick to fire "least best" part timers.
Of course, big brown had the last laugh..since the high turnover of part timers keeps average wages really low..for the simple reason that most people quit or get fired very early in the wage progression.
The union didn't care..hell, every new hire pays an initiation fee...some of them even stick around long enough to pay a couple of months dues.. But, most UPS workers quit or got fired quickly enough that the union never has to bother representing them..and, above all..UPS pays into the pension fund for them, but they never get to collect..and, the company pays for health benefits that they also never get to collect.
The Teamster bosses actually had a direct cash money stake in high employee turnover at "big brown", and continue to benefit from that turnover to this day.
The 1982 UPS-IBT national agreement accelerated the high turnover for UPS part timers.
Up til that time, UPS paid all it's workers the same pay rate, $ 23 an hour. But, in 1982, UPS imposed a drastically lower wage for it's part time loaders..the paltry sum of $ 8.50 an hour.
Now, 20 hours a week @ $ 23/hr = $ 460/wk.
On the other hand, 20 hours a week @ $ 8.50 an hour = $ 170/wk.
That's a massive pay cut..the kind of income takeaway that leads to a major decline in the lifestyle of workers and their families.
But the IBT just let it happen.
Of course, this kind of employee abuse, along with union boss neglect, tends to breed workplace militants.. Some UPS workers were driven to become union reformers, and many ended up in the Trotskyite socialist-led Teamster reform caucus, Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
By the late 1980's, TDU was able to join forces with the somewhat shady president of the largest UPS local union in America, New York local 804's Ron Carey. Carey, who'd always CLAIMED to want to fight big brown's abuses, and, in reality, who's local riders to the national agreement were always better than most other UPS locals, was TDU's faceman in the 1991 IBT general officer elections.
Carey has since become something of a "secular saint" to many union activists..in particular to many union reform supporters. But, as usual, the truth is a lot more complex than the hero-worshiping mythology.
The socialist led caucus had long desperately tried to hid it's left wing politics..so, they wanted somebody who was a nice respectable conservative to run for the top spot. Carey was perfect, as he was an ex Marine and registered Republican.
Also, Carey, while no wiseguy, was on speaking terms with the gangsters who controlled most of the Teamster locals in New York's Joint Councils 16, 18 and 46; New Jersey's Joint Council 73 and New England's Joint Council 10.
He could use that influence to get those guys to be neutral in the general election.
That was really important, especially in light of the fact that, at that time, 10% of the entire IBT membership, about 150,000 workers, were in the New York City and Long Island-based Joint Council 16.
In any event, Carey won the presidency of the union that year.
Over the years of his "odd couple" relationship with the Trotskyite controlled TDU, Ron had learned to "talk the talk" of labor militancy..while rarely having to actually "walk the walk" of class struggle, of course. After all, Carey may be a REFORM business unionist..he's still a business unionist.
Carey did bargain a pretty decent UPS IBT national agreement in 1994, that was somewhat better than the really horrible pacts his predecessors had bargained.
Most notable about that agreement was that, for the first time in American labor history, a company was required to prove that it had good cause to fire somebody.
That was the "innocent until proven guilty" clause, and, except for certain 'cardinal sins', like theft, if big brown wanted to fire somebody, the union could keep that person on the job until the company had proved to an arbitration hearing that they had good cause to fire that worker.
That was a giant step forward..and, unfortunately, no other union in America has anything like it. In most other labor contracts, the company gets to fire the worker..and then the burden of proof is on the union to prove that the firing was unjustified.
That did stop UPS's 32 year reign of terror..that is, firing for failure to meet "methods". Of course, innocent until proven guilty didn't change the culture of employee abuse that caused so many UPS part timers to quit after a very short time on the job.
Carey's team also put some ergonomics language in the agreement...requiring that no UPS worker have to lift a package that weighed more than 70 pounds by themselves..and, that nobody have to lift anything heavier than 150 lbs, even when assisted.