- UPS’s contract with the drivers union expires in July 2023.
- Teamsters CEO Sean O’Brien will lead the union in negotiations for the first time.
- O’Brien told Insider that the union has never been more prepared for a strike.
UPS drivers will be ready to go on strike next summer, Teamsters CEO Sean O’Brien said.
It’s been a tough four years for the 360,000 UPS drivers and warehouse workers represented by the Teamsters union, and not just because they had to move packages during the pandemic. Since 2019, the drivers have been working under a contract that made them one of the best paid in the last mile business, but contained a number of unpopular provisions.
The majority of UPS drivers who voted opposed the deal, but the (now voided) union bylaws allowed it to pass due to low attendance. The process has left many members disillusioned with their relationship, many UPS drivers told Insider.
Partly as a reaction to these complaints, lifelong Teamsters member Sean O’Brien was selected to take over the leadership of the union last year. He operated on a fiery platform of reclaiming the union’s power and increasing its membership.
O’Brien has promised to undo some of the disliked elements of the UPS deal, namely a new tier of drivers the company has created to handle deliveries on Saturdays, driver-facing cameras in trucks, and a new type of seasonal rental of personal vehicles. He’s also determined to raise part-time pay.
For months, O’Brien has been open about the strike of UPS drivers for the first time in 25 years.
Prepared to strike
“Everyone tells great stories about the company’s success and how great it is to work for it, but it’s simple,” O’Brien told Insider in July. “If we hit UPS, it’s UPS’s fault.”
The union raised a strike fund of $350 million and reduced the time it took for members to receive paychecks from eight days to one.
“It’s pretty good leverage,” O’Brien said.
“UPS and Teamsters have worked together for nearly 100 years to meet the needs of UPS employees, customers and the communities where we live and work,” a UPS spokesperson told Insider in July. “Together, we have built UPS as the world’s leading package delivery company, which has also strengthened Teamsters membership over the years. We believe we will continue to find common ground with the Teamsters and reach an agreement that is good for all involved.”
O’Brien enters negotiations later than previous leaders – just four to five months before his contract expires – and brings in a different crew.
Traditionally, the Teamsters side is around 80 people, consisting mostly of union leadership. O’Brien is determined to get more member votes and make sure the rank and file are in the room.
This will be the first union negotiation for UPS CEO Carol Tomé, who is taking a much more restrained approach.
“We’re going to leave the negotiations at the negotiating table,” she said during the company’s earnings call on July 26, according to a Sentieo transcript. It also drew a line between UPS and the rest of the delivery workforce.
“Our workforce is very different from many of the workers you hear about in the media every day who try to be organised. They are not remunerated like our Drivers. These are wonderful works that we greatly appreciate,” she said.
O’Brien has publicly said several times that he plans to use UPS’s contract negotiations as an example to other workers who have not yet unionized – especially Amazon.