UPS spares no expense in attacking workers
July 12, 2002 | Page 5
ON JULY 31, the union contract will expire for some 210,000 Teamsters at United Parcel Service (UPS). Five years ago, the Teamsters went on a 15-day strike against UPS that won wide support with its slogan "Part-time America doesn't work!" This year, many of the same issues from 1997 remain--full-time jobs, decent wages, respect at work.
UPS likes to promote a squeaky-clean image. But the realities of working for Brown are very different. ELIZABETH SCHULTE looks at UPS's crimes--and why the company needs to be taught another lesson.
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UNITED PARCEL Service is one of the largest and most powerful companies around. The package delivery giant carries about 7 percent of the country's gross domestic product on any given day.
As they enter negotiations with the Teamsters, UPS bosses are pleading poverty in the wake of September 11 and the recession. But this company has money to burn. Take its new $45 million advertising campaign--"What can Brown do for you?"
UPS CEO Michael Eskew may pinch pennies at the negotiating table, but he was ready to squander cash on commercials during the Academy Awards ceremony--which typically cost $1.3 million for a 30-second spot.
Over the last four years, UPS has raked in more than $7 billion in profits. It can afford to spend more on its workers. After all, it always has money for executives. According to financial statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, UPS increased the salaries of its top five executives by 13 percent on average last year. This during a year in which the company's net income shrunk by 18 percent.
Retiring chair and CEO James Kelly got a 14 percent salary boost in 2001--as a reward for what the UPS compensation committee called his "strategic vision and leadership"--bringing his total haul for that year to $1.1 million.
Meanwhile, UPS pays its part-timers a pitiful $8.50 an hour to start. Kelly's income last year could have paid the annual wages of more than 140 UPS part-timers.
It always helps to have friends in high places--and UPS has that and more. Company officials were on hand for the 2000 Republican National Convention--on board a special train with luxurious vintage rail cars, located just steps away from the convention floor.
Organized by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the "money train" gave big-ticket donors--like Coors, Philip Morris, AT&T and, of course, Enron--a chance to mingle with thankful members of Congress.
UPS handed out more than $3 million for the 2000 elections--73 percent of it for Republicans. And they got a big bang out of every buck. In January, after almost two years of lobbying, UPS finally got the Department of Transportation's okay to start a route to China.
And it's not just financial but political favors that are traded. Last month, Bush used UPS's Jefferson Street hub in Chicago as the backdrop for selling his welfare-to-work program. Bush is pushing for even more punitive work requirements than those imposed by Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare "reform" law, and UPS is an eager supporter--having hired about 50,000 welfare recipients since the program began in 1997.
"In a growing economy, welfare to work is a smart solution for businesses looking for entry-level workers," boasted former CEO Kelly a few years ago. But while part-time jobs at UPS for $8.50 an hour might move people from welfare to work, they do anything but move people out of poverty.
So in exchange for the cheap labor provided by workfare, UPS gave Bush a nice photo op. And Bush's appearance gave management the opportunity to send a message to workers at contract time: "We have the president on our side.
Their side might have Bush, but ours has the power of hundreds of thousands of Teamsters who can shut down this greedy company.
How UPS greases palms in Washington
WHEN IT comes to gutting regulations protecting workplace safety, money is no object for UPS. Years of lobbying and greasing politicians' palms paid off when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was blocked from implementing serious ergonomics regulations.
In 1995, for example, UPS's political action committee held 55 "meet-and-greet" sessions with members of Congress, spending about $450 per member for food and drink and giving each lawmaker a direct campaign contribution of $4,550, just under the maximum legal contribution of $5,000.
But in the long run, all this is still a bargain. UPS has one of the worst injury rates among trucking and delivery companies. For every 100 full-time workers at UPS, some 15 of them have missed work because of an injury, according to statistics released in the early 1990s. Heavy lifting, pressure from supervisors to work harder, and repetitive motion were the most important factors in causing the injuries.
No price is too high for UPS to pay in avoiding its responsibility to provide a safe, injury-free workplace.
Behind the strike victory in 1997
"WE ALL won, not just the Teamsters," Eddie, a Warwick, R.I., UPS driver told Socialist Worker after the Teamsters strike victory in 1997. "The whole working class won." This was the sentiment among people both inside and outside the labor movement--a new sense of confidence after one of the world's biggest companies was beaten.
The 1997 strike captured the imagination of many U.S. workers who spent the 1990s struggling to make ends meet on part-time wages while corporate greed ran rampant. Under the leadership of reform President Ron Carey, the Teamsters made the most out of this sentiment by preparing for the strike under the slogan "Part-time America doesn't work!"
The strike cost the company $750 million. It forced UPS to agree to create 10,000 new full-time jobs and to back off an attempt to grab the Teamsters' pension fund.
Of course, not everyone was happy. The attitude of employers was probably best expressed by the Wall Street Journal: "The AFL-CIO should by all means enjoy this triumph over UPS. There won't be many more."
Employers dug in, as did their servants in Washington. Carey came under federal charges for alleged financial misdeeds during his re-election campaign for union president. He was forced out of the leadership--and the Teamsters. Carey was cleared of all accusations against him last year, but the damage was done.
Current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa is a CEO's dream. A corporate lawyer who has never been a working Teamster, Hoffa is more comfortable on the golf course than on a picket line. As you might guess, this has changed the character of negotiations. "UPS and the Teamsters have demonstrated an ability to work together on issues that enhance business opportunities," UPS's corporate Web site gleefully reports.
Hoffa says that he'll "do whatever it takes" to win a good contract at UPS. But rank-and-file members will have to force him to keep his word.
Nothing comes easy from a company like UPS. Well after the last strike, UPSers had to fight tooth and nail to get the full-time jobs that UPS had conceded. And with the economy unpredictable, UPS will likely get a lot of mileage out of claiming that it's worried about losing business to competitors like FedEx.
The 93 percent vote in support of authorizing a strike is a good indication of members' potential willingness to fight, but it can't be the end of the story. Contract rallies are needed to build solidarity, and members have to be informed about what's going on in negotiations. A good contract will have to be built from the bottom up.
And Teamsters should be able to expect more from their leaders than promises to "settle early" and "strike if they have to." UPS workers deserve better.