The International Brotherhood of Teamsters said on Wednesday that negotiations for a new deal with shipping giant UPS had “broke down”, raising the possibility of a massive strike next month.
The two sides still have time to reach a new agreement and avoid a work stoppage as the current contract is in effect until July 31. However, the Teamsters had said they wanted to finalize a new tentative deal by the end of the July 4 holiday, giving workers time to digest and vote on it.
On Wednesday morning, the Teamsters accused UPS of refusing to give them a “last, best and final offer” by that date.
“This billionaire corporation has a lot to offer American workers — they just don’t want it,” Sean O’Brien, the union’s president, said in a statement. “UPS had to make a decision and they clearly chose to go down the wrong path.”
UPS rejected the union and accused the Teamsters of leaving the negotiating table.
“The Teamsters have halted negotiations, despite UPS’s historic offer built on our industry-leading pay,” the company said in a statement. “We still have almost a month to negotiate. We have not given up and the union has a responsibility to stay at the negotiating table.”
The company and the union have tried to negotiate a new five-year agreement that would set wages, benefits and labor rules for hundreds of thousands of UPS drivers and other workers. It is the largest private sector union agreement in the country and helps set labor standards in the logistics sector and beyond.
This year’s negotiations were expected to be controversial as O’Brien, the new Teamsters leader, has promised to take on UPS and make significant gains at the negotiating table. The union recently held a vote to authorize a strike, with 97% of participating members giving their leadership the green light to call such a strike if they saw fit.
UPS plays a vital role in US trade, and a strike at the shipping company would have a far-reaching impact on the economy, with businesses and consumers unable to receive their packages. The last work stoppage at UPS was in 1997 and lasted just over two weeks.
If a strike occurs this year, it could be the largest strike ever by a single employer in the United States, based on the number of workers involved. The Teamsters represent approximately 330,000 employees of the company.
Although there is still no agreement, both sides have made significant progress in certain areas. The union and the company agreed on points to counteract the serious danger heat in vans, including installing air conditioning in all new vehicles from next year.
You have also achieved one preliminary agreement to abolish a controversial “two-tier” pay system whereby a younger class of drivers earns less than older drivers despite doing the same job. Getting rid of this system was one of the union’s top priorities.
But key items remain, including workers’ base pay. Late last month, the Teamsters walked out of the negotiating table after UPS made what the union called an “appalling” offer. However, they later returned after the company made “significant progress” on pay and other economic issues.
The union has pledged that the workers will not work a day beyond the current contract’s expiry date of July 31, giving both sides just over three weeks to settle their differences.