Unionized workers at UPS Freight, the less-than-truckload (LTL) division of UPS Inc., over the weekend overwhelmingly ratified a five-year collective-bargaining agreement a bit more than six months after they rejected an earlier version by an equally decisive margin.
The roughly 13,000 UPS Freight workers, which are represented by the Teamsters union, approved the contract by a margin of 5,222 to 2,107. In late June, workers rejected the company's initial proposal by a margin of 4,244 to 1,987. About 69 percent of eligible voters cast ballots for the current contract, while 58 percent cast ballots in the first go-round.
Under the contract, workers will get $2.50 an hour in wage increases over the life of the contract; the Teamsters said that will make UPS Freight workers the highest paid in the LTL industry. The contract improves pensions and health benefits, according to the Teamsters. It will reduce the number of subcontracted drivers by an unspecified amount, the union said; according to union estimates, UPS Freight currently subcontracts about half its driving work.
The contract creates a separate "line-haul driver" division designed to reduce the frequency of subcontracting. When the rank and file rejected the initial proposal in June, they cited dissatisfaction with the structure of the new division, arguing it created a two-tier wage scale that paid the new unit's drivers less per mile than others at the company.
The Teamsters said the contract contains language making it easier to convert line-haul driver runs to higher-paid "road driver" runs. The contract gives the union the right to reject any line-haul driver run, the Teamsters said. In addition, laid-off road drivers would be recalled to full-time work within 90 days of contract ratification at all terminals that utilize subcontractors, according to the union.
The ratification vote came less than a week after leaders of Teamster locals representing the rank and file voted Jan. 6 to approve the contract proposal and send it on to the members. The rank and file's change of course and the wide margins of both outcomes led a high-profile Teamster to criticize union leaders and the company for putting undue pressure on members to ratify the contract.
Sandy Pope, head of New York-based Teamster Local 805 and an unsuccessful Teamster presidential candidate in 2011, said members had heard little about the status of negotiations for seven months only to then be given just five days to vote on the contract. The voting was also conducted at union halls and terminals rather than through the mail, which would have required a longer turnaround and given workers a better chance to study the language, she said. This proved a hardship for drivers who are on the road and often miles away from a union hall or terminal, Pope said. The first contract vote was conducted by mail ballot.
Pope also criticized the union for calling the weekend's balloting tantamount to a "strike vote," meaning that workers should be ready to walk off their jobs as early as today if the contract was rejected. Pope said Teamster leadership knew there had been no preparation for a possible strike.
Pope had harsh words for UPS, which she said called in workers individually or in pairs to warn them the union would call a strike if the contract was turned down. Pope said UPS was aware that many members were holdovers from the old Overnite Transportation Co., a non-union company bought by UPS for $1.25 billion in 2005, and had relatively scant exposure to the often rough-and-tumble world of labor contract talks. UPS took advantage of this lack of seasoning by "wearing people down, discouraging them, and then scaring them."
Pope, whose local does not include any UPS Freight workers, said there was nothing different in the two contract versions other than minor changes that were mostly cosmetic in nature.
"It's a ridiculous contract" for a company as profitable as UPS, she said. "We're not bargaining with YRC here," she said in a reference to the financially troubled LTL carrier whose Teamster members rejected a five-year contract extension proposal last Thursday.
In a statement, the Teamsters denied that any "conspiracy" existed between UPS and union and called the allegations "pathetic and laughable." The short turnaround between the local leaders' approval and the rank-and-file vote was required because the contract had to be ratified by Jan. 15 for the pension improvements to take effect, according to the union statement.
The Teamsters said that most contract votes are conducted in a union hall and not by mail ballot. The union noted that the 69-percent turnout for the second vote was higher than the 58 percent of members who voted by mail the first time around.
UPS did not comment, referring questions to the Teamsters.
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