We can’t let UPS push us around

September 6, 2018

Teamsters members will vote in the coming weeks on a tentative five-year agreement with UPS covering some 260,000 workers across the country.

The deal negotiated by the James P. Hoffa administration contains many concessions to management, including creating a new, lower-paid “hybrid” driver status and failing to address violations of overtime rules. It offers little in the way of increased wages and benefits for most workers.

UPS is experiencing record profits, and can afford to deliver for its workers. Teamster members showed the Hoffa administration that they are willing to fight for the contract they deserve when they voted in May to authorize a strike. Now many are taking part in a “Vote No” campaign called by Teamsters United to show the company and union leaders that they want a better contract.

Local 804 in New York City is one location where workers have organized “Vote No” rallies. It’s the former local of reform leader Ron Carey, who helped lead the 1997 UPS strike as Teamsters president. Flynn Murray sat down with three UPS workers from Local 804 to discuss the conditions at work and why they’re voting “no.” Anthony Rosario started working part time at UPS in 1994 loading trucks, and has spent the last 20 years as a full-time driver for the company. Juan Acosta has worked as a full-time UPS driver for 21 years and is currently a shop steward. Duquesneson Pierre is a full-time driver and has worked for UPS for about 14 years.

LET’S START by you telling me a little bit about your jobs. What is the pacing like and how many hours do you usually work?

Juan: We deliver, pick up, do a lot of bulk work. Lately, we’ve been getting out over 200 to 250 pieces a day with about a hundred stops a day. We usually work anywhere between eight to 14 hours a day, depending on the routes, depending on the area, depending on the amount of volume. Usually it’s about a five-day workweek, and we work about 50 to 60 hours a week.

Anthony: At the end of the week, some guys end up with 50 hours, some guys with over 50 hours. Every once in a while, we get a couple of packages that are considered over-weights. Some of them weigh over 70 pounds, which we need somebody to help us with. Sometimes, they can’t get somebody to help us, and a lot of times we are stuck trying to do it by ourselves or asking the customer if they can help.

Teamsters rally for a “No” vote on a concessionary contract with UPS
Teamsters rally for a “No” vote on a concessionary contract with UPS (Teamsters United | Facebook)

This time of year, we get a lot of air conditioners, some of them are very big, very heavy. Sometimes they’re on the border line of that weight, 60 to 65 pounds, and you still have to go up three flights with it. Makes it pretty difficult.

THAT SOUNDS tough. What are some of the other main frustrations that workers have on the job?

Anthony: I have to say harassment — guys being harassed, them following drivers. Guys that are hardworking guys just doing their jobs, they don’t need to be babysat out there. We’re out there just trying to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, you know?

Juan: I would say a hostile environment. We are trying to prevent a hostile environment.

We have these instances where some workers don’t have a hand truck, and it’s like, “Look, listen I’m not leaving without a hand truck,” because under the contract, we’re supposed to have tools to do our job. And they’ll come and tell drivers, “Hey, either you go out or you’re out of a job,” and you know we don’t need that.

We want a safer work environment where we’re not hurting ourselves doing the job, or coming into work thinking, “What’s going to happen to me today?” And also as Anthony said, out on the road, we’re constantly followed or constantly monitored for just doing our jobs.

Pierre: It’s a different company from when I started. Now it’s like you’re working, but you’re working with fear. Our work environment is not supposed to be like that. It’s like every day you come to work, but you don’t know about tomorrow. While you’re doing your work, you try your best.

I live all the way in Suffolk County. You know, “quality of life” — I don’t have that. I have two kids. One of them is 10 and the other one is 4, going to be 5. I never have a chance to have time with them. Which is unfair to us because we provide too much for the company. Everything is on our back. Why should we work with fear? It’s like harassment every day, we’re not safe on the street, you know?

Juan: If I want to work a certain way and want to be treated a certain way, and I treat management a certain fair way, they should do the same with drivers. That’s basically my feeling.

Anthony: The technology that these managers have at their disposal today is hindering the way we do our job. They want us to work in a certain manner, they want certain stops per hour from us.

We also have to follow all these safety procedures. We have to pull our mirrors in when we park so we aren’t hit. We have to get off the truck a certain way, and get on the truck a certain way, we have to lift and lower our packages a certain way.

I’m 44 years old! It’s not easy at a certain age to do this job anymore. They’re just trying to shove guys like me out the door, and as far as negotiations go, they haven’t even said anything about increasing our pensions.

Pierre: People used to be appreciated, but now they say, “I don’t want you in the company anymore,” while you’re killing yourself. You’re trying your best for the company, but they don’t appreciate it.

Juan: In years before, the company thought more about customer satisfaction. You had a route, that was your family, and you knew everybody on the route. You had the same stops, the same area, every single day. This was before all this technology came in, and changed my route and everything. You knew the person you delivered to, you knew their kids, you knew their grandkids, and you took pride in that.

Now the company seems to have gotten away from that, because when the technology came in, everything is all about the numbers. It’s not all about the service to the customer, it’s not all about the quality, it’s not about customer satisfaction. Now it’s all about how much work you can do in a certain amount of time.

For many years, we were working 60 hours a week, which is federal law within a certain amount of days. Now they’ve found a loophole so they added 10 more hours. Ten more hours!

How much time do you get home with your families? I don’t mind Monday through Fridays doing what I have to do to support my family, I get that. But it’s gotten to a point that a system is telling us how to do our jobs, and the people running it don’t have a fraction of the experience that we have, but they tell us that we could do this amount of work and do it safe, when in fact we cannot.

Pierre: They don’t take into consideration the traffic, the load. They expect you to do the work in the least amount of time, without taking all this into consideration.

Juan: It’s all about money. It’s all about how much more work you can do and them making more of a profit. Because if you’re familiar with UPS’s profit margin over the years, they’ve made profits in the billions. In the billions! And they still want more. And who made those profits for them? The worker, the union worker.

ONE OF the things I wanted to talk about is the legacy of the 1997 strike. Is there is still a memory of the strike, and how is it affecting this “Vote No” campaign?

Pierre: I wasn’t there, but from what I learned, that was the best one we ever had. But right now, the union isn’t trying to protect the last strike we had. It’s like all the effort Mr. Carey put in, his legacy, is going in the air. That’s what they’re trying to do.

Juan: The 1997 strike was very significant in our history because it actually showed that we had the backbone, the guts, to go out in the street and stand up for what we believe is right. We were willing to say, “Hey, you know what, I love working for UPS, but what’s right is right, and we’re going to fight.”

I mean, if it was up to the company, the average worker would be making $8 an hour, working 70 hours a week, seven days a week — they don’t care. But that’s why there are unions. That’s why there are contracts. That’s why there are laws to protect the average worker.

The whole point of being in a union and having contracts and having laws is so that we can establish safe workplaces, hostility-free workplaces, where you don’t come to work and have to worry about “Oh, am I going to have a job?” Enough is enough — I believe 1997 established that.

Anthony: I started in 1994. Guys like me were working two different part-time shifts and not getting full-time pay.

They actually wrote an article on me back in the Teamster magazine. I remember they had a big picture of me, and the guy asked me “How do you feel about it?” And I told him, “It’s unfair that I have to work two separate shifts at a part-time rate. When I’m working full-time hours, I should be getting paid full-time wages.” This strike was a big deal for me because...

Juan: It established 22.3 [the jobs named for the article of the 1997-2002 contract agreement that forced management to combine two part-time jobs to create a full-time position].

Anthony: Right. After that strike, I was finally able to start working full-time as a UPS driver and making some decent money. I was one of the guys who was able to slip in after that time period. From what I see from these negotiations now, they are basically trying to get these guys to work at a lower pay.

Juan: And less protection.

Anthony: And less protection. Yes! And it’s been a fight, and it happened in 1997 and we went on strike for it. Ron Carey was the president of 804 — this guy was our guy. He stood up for what was right. He knew that we needed to negotiate a good contract and he said, “You know what, if we’ve got to walk, we will walk, and we’re not scared to do it.”

And we did. And I’ll never forget it. I was out there with the other drivers. We had a bullhorn and we let them know how we felt, and it was a way for all our union members to show the company that we’re not afraid to stand for what we believe in.

This year, I don’t understand what’s happening, because as far as I know, the union gave the company a little cushion, and they told them we’re going to extend. Because as you know, when the contract is up, that’s when we’re allowed to get our stuff together, and we strike. The contract was up, and there was no strike talk. They said let’s give them to August 9. OK, we’re well past the 9th now.

Juan: And that’s with a 93 percent strike authorization.

Anthony: We all voted yes for a strike.

Juan: Let me tell you, I believe in good-faith bargaining to a point. And when you keep bargaining, and you keep negotiating and keep negotiating, and there is no action taken, I mean look at the municipals — how many contracts are they negotiating now, and they can’t strike.

WHAT ARE the worst things in this contract and what kind of “vote no” efforts are being organized?

Juan: I believe the worst things in this contract are the 22.4 jobs. The 22.4s are going to be the earliest form of union busting in this company, because when you have a person doing the same job as us, and doing two different functions in the company...

JUST TO clarify, the 22.4s are the hybrid drivers, right?

Juan: Yes. They’re driving, but they’re also working inside. They could work them from eight hours to 14 hours a day, and they have no protections against working overtime.

Anthony: Working straight through the weekends, Saturdays and Sundays.

Juan: And they can’t put in for what they call “request loads” where they could put in for an eight-hour day. They have none of that protection. So basically, they are at the mercy of the company.

Anthony: This is going back to what I was saying. Same thing with the strike in 1997 — it’s basically them trying to pull the same thing again. It’s like having two part-time shifts and paying hybrid drivers a lower rate.

Juan: Well, it’s two-tiered. It’s a two-tier system, and we don’t believe in it, because if you do what we do, you should get paid the money we get paid.

Anthony: Right. If they’re going to be doing our job, they should be getting what we get paid.

None of us really want a strike. We know that at the end of the day, a strike is going to hurt everybody. Nobody wants that, but there are times that, I’m sorry, you can’t let the company push you around.

We’re the backbone of this operation. If it wasn’t for us, there would be no UPS. Let’s be real. They can’t do this job without us. They need us, and obviously we need them. So they can come sit at the table, listen to what we have to say and come to a mutual agreement.

All they care about are numbers that need to be met, and they have to see that we as drivers, we are human beings, and we need to be treated as such. That’s how I feel about it.

Juan: Also, there’s no discipline for managers who harass you. There’s no kind of oversight on excessive harassment. If you’re out there bullying drivers or bullying employees inside the building, what’s the penalty on management?

Pierre: Now the contract doesn’t say anything about the 9.5 language — nothing, no protections. Now the company can work you as long as they want.

Juan: Under the contract, UPS has to make every effort to make you work 9.5 hours — everything over that is called “excessive overtime.” But the way they’ve regeared it, you have to go to management and verbally request you want to be on the 9.5. In other words, you want them to work you 9.5 hours a day.

And then for that week, if they work you over 9.5 hours a day, you give them a list of the days you work and how many hours you worked, and then you’re officially on the 9.5 list, and they have to work you 9.5 hours a day. If not, anything over 9.5 hours, they get penalized.

Anthony: They’re also making it a lot more difficult for guys to get on the 9.5 list now. They’re trying to make us jump through hoops if we want the 9.5. A lot of guys don’t mind the overtime, so they wouldn’t even ask for 9.5, but the guys who have families who want to go home to their children, those guys want the 9.5, and even they are being given a hard time to get it.

SO HOW is the campaign to vote “No” on the latest contract proposal being organized?

Juan: There have been conference calls all over the country. We’ve established signs on our vehicles, in the parking lots, around the area, around UPS and the parking areas. We’ve put signs up saying “Vote No! Fair Contract!” We’re doing a rally tomorrow and are going to send out a mass text today. There’s going to be a rally on Foster Avenue and tomorrow’s Founders’ Day.

We’re being very proactive on it. The stewards on Foster Avenue, where I’m based at, we all go out there: “Vote No!” We show our faces. We’re very together. And we feel that we have a right to a fair contract, fair wages, a decent workplace, a hostility-free workplace, a fair work environment.

Pierre: My hope is that the company and us get together and work something which is going to be positive for the company and the workers. We have a lot of young kids that are working for the company, and the company left them out.

They don’t think about them, they just use them, and then they don’t think about their future. These kids are the company’s future, and we ask the company to think about them and do something for them.

Anthony: Management is actually trying to hinder the “Vote No” push. In UPS parking lots, they were trying to stop us from having signs in our personal vehicles to push the “no” vote, saying, “You’re not allowed to put those signs in your car.”

We’re trying to show some solidarity. We’re trying to show some unity. We’ve also got the Teamsters United bands. So for them to try to push back and tell us, “You know you shouldn’t have those signs,’ it’s like, seriously?

Anthony: Guys are coming to work seeing it on people’s windshields, and they’re recognizing that a lot of us are trying to let everybody know that this is not a good contract. What we’re seeing right now we don’t like, and we’re willing to try to have everybody vote no.

I WANTED to ask you about the recent teachers’ strikes. They also were doing things like putting #RedForEd messages on their cars to build solidarity because teachers have been facing massive austerity cuts across the nation. I wanted to ask you what you’ve heard about the recent educators strike wave, and if it has influenced conversations around the “no” vote?

Pierre: I get inspired by the teachers because when that happened, they risked their jobs. They risked their jobs, but in the right way, you know — for a better life. To be a president, you need a teacher, to do anything in life, you need a teacher. They are very inspiring to me, I’m with them all the way.

Anthony: Teachers are molding the minds of young adults, and it’s important that they be taken care of. I have young kids. I want their teacher not to have to worry about her livelihood when she goes to school to teach my children.

You can’t help a kid learn when you’re going through your own stress in life, trying to deal with not being paid enough. It’s not fair for any worker. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to do a hard day’s work for decent pay and take care of your family. So, teachers, keep up the fight. We’re there with you guys, and I hope you guys are there with us, because we’re both fighting the same fight.

And they don’t have...I don’t know if they have a union like us?

THE PLACES that were on strike this spring are right-to-work states, so they’re not legally allowed to strike, but they went out anyway. And in places like West Virginia, they won 5 percent raises for teachers and for all state employees.

Anthony: See, that’s the kind of support that we’re talking about. That’s unity.

Today, you had three guys speaking to you — one is a Puerto Rican guy, Juan Acosta. Great man, great shop steward. This guy was a Marine, he fought for this country. He’s a stand-up guy.

To my right, I have Pierre, a Haitian immigrant. He came to this country with everybody else, you know, and we’re here for the American Dream. We’re here, we just want to do our jobs, raise a family and try to live a good life. As they say on Instagram and Facebook, “We’re living our best lives.” That’s what we’re trying to do [laughter].

Pierre: Like the bosses that are living their good life [laughter].

Anthony: You could share a little more with us, share the wealth a little bit.

Pierre: Because we’re the ones that make the wealth.

Transcription by Charles Holm

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