BUSINESS

Teamsters Union Faces Revolt From Members Over UPS Contracts

Local unions in Pennsylvania say their national leaders seek to implement an agreement they voted down.

When UPS workers in western Pennsylvania held a vote on their new collective bargaining agreement earlier this year, 96 percent of them voted against it and told their union, the Teamsters, to go back to the bargaining table to get a better deal.

But it appears union leadership plans to implement the contract anyway.

“Everybody’s outraged,” said Gary Piso, a UPS driver in Pittsburgh and trustee for his local, which is one of nine Teamsters affiliates covered by the contract in Pennsylvania.

Those locals are now in a dispute with their international union, which is headed by Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa. The union is close to settling all its contract negotiations with UPS across the country. The local leaders in Pennsylvania said the union’s national negotiating committee informed them last week that they plan to approve the offer turned down for the region.

That, in turn, has prompted accusations that the union is violating the will of members. Jon Bedillion, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 585 near Pittsburgh, told UPS workers in a letter Saturday that he and others were looking into legal action against the union if it moves forward with approving the contract.

“We are at a loss to understand the National Committees [sic] reasoning as to why they would implement such a substandard agreement for Western Pa.,” Bedillion wrote. “However, we want to also let you know that we are in the process of having legal counsel research what actions, if any, that we may pursue against the International.”

A Teamsters spokesperson declined to comment on the spat.

The conflict in Pennsylvania is just the latest sign of dissent among UPS drivers within the Teamsters’ ranks.

Late last year, the Teamsters settled on a new national or “master” contract with UPS ― one of the most far-reaching collective-bargaining agreements in the U.S., covering more than 200,000 workers and impacting working conditions throughout the logistics industry. But most voters gave it a thumbs down, largely because it created a two-tier wage system with lower pay for a new category of drivers.

Teamsters leadership opted to ratify the contract anyway, relying on a provision in the union’s constitution: If less than 50 percent of eligible members cast votes, the union’s leadership can override them and implement a contract, so long as the “no” votes didn’t reach a two-thirds threshold. Nationally, only 44 percent of affected members had cast ballots, and 54 percent had voted against the contract.

Everybody’s outraged. Gary Piso, UPS driver and union trustee

The contract under dispute in Pennsylvania is what’s known as a “supplemental” one ― a secondary accord, specific to a region, that deals with issues not laid out in the master contract. The Teamsters have dozens of supplemental contracts with UPS around the country. The vast majority of them have been resolved.

The sticking points in Pennsylvania, though, are that members wanted UPS to contribute more to their pension fund, which is in financial trouble, and assure time-and-a-half pay for part-time drivers on weekends, according to Kevin Schmitt, president of Teamsters Local 249 who has been negotiating the supplemental contract. Schmitt said UPS’ offers became worse over the course of negotiations, after members rejected the company’s first proposal.

Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa.

Leaders of the western Pennsylvania locals urged members to vote down the most recent offer and authorize them to go back to the bargaining table. The members did so in resounding numbers: Out of 1,817 votes cast, 1,752 came down against the contract.

Schmitt said he and others argued the need to negotiate with UPS further, but were told by national Teamster negotiators that what the locals were asking of UPS wasn’t attainable. He said he isn’t sure what authority the union has to override the member vote, given that 63 percent of eligible voters participated, and the “no” votes far surpassed two-thirds. He said he was told the issue now goes before the union’s executive board.

″[UPS] coming out and being a hard-ass, we can understand,” Schmitt said. “But for our own international to hang us out to dry is terrible. They’re the ones implementing it, not the company.

“To tell you the truth,” he added, “I’ve gotten literally a hundred-plus telephone calls from people asking me why they’re paying dues. … It’s just a bad thing.”

Many drivers bristled at the way the union approved the master contract. Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform group critical of the labor group’s leadership, said it was the first time in decades that a national contract was implemented despite a majority of member votes against it.

One of the biggest sticking points in that contract was the introduction of “hybrid” drivers at UPS. These drivers will both sort packages in UPS facilities and deliver them on trucks, doing so on a lower pay scale than regular full-time drivers. Many Teamsters members feared the new classification would drive down pay for others over the long term and create discord within the union, since some workers would start and top out at lower rates than others.

Schmitt said he viewed the hybrid drivers as a concession to UPS that would save the company lots of money over the years. By comparison, he argued, the demands made by the teamster members in Pennsylvania aren’t that expensive.

“It’s not going to break this company,” he said. “Our international should stand behind us.”