Monday, August 25, 1997

Week of 08/25/1997

UPS vs Teamsters: Who Really Won?
- by David Matthews 2

I realize that this is a dated issue, but in all conscience I could not talk about the strike by Teamsters members against United Parcel Service until it was in its aftermath. I have been placed in the middle of some very heated disputes between unions and management in the past, and to be brutally honest this was one issue I couldn’t "shoot from the hip" and comment about as it happened.

From UPS’ standpoint, the issue was clear - they presented what they called their "last, best and final offer" for the employees, addressing all the issues the Teamsters said they wanted to clarify. The Teamsters refused to address the offer and instead acted as though they were told to drop dead. They didn’t even allow the offer to be put to a vote by the rank-and-file before ordering the strike. And as I understood it, it was a sound offer. UPS workers get paid more than the average cop on the beat as is, and the offer would’ve even given them a pay raise and maintain job security.

But the Teamsters had a different plan: get UPS to settle on THEIR terms, not to acquiesce to the terms set by management. Standard union plan. So they called for a strike, and that night they put the hurt not just to UPS, but also to the whole country. Small businesses that depended on those brown trucks to handle their packages suddenly found themselves either on the brink or in full-fledged bankruptcy because they could not get their products out.

Other carriers like Federal Express and Roadway Parcel Service either could not or would not pick up the slack. This was their opportunity to shine and they dropped the ball. I guess it would be understandable. After all, here was this torrent of customers who wanted their packages delivered and they couldn’t handle them AND remain faithful to their current customers. They were thinking long-term compared to a short-term situation and they simply weren’t prepared.

Then there was the issue of the Teamsters not letting the union members vote on the "last, best, and final offer" from UPS. This caused some serious dissension in the ranks, and forced some five thousand employees to quit the union and cross the picket line. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and even some libertarians like WSB radio’s Neal Boortz were perplexed how Teamsters could call for a strike without letting the rank-and-file decide on the issue. It’s simple: union leaders speak, members fall in line. Standard collective mentality, no different than that seen in the gangs or in the mob or in a church congregation. If Teamsters president Ron Carey told them to walk off a cliff it would be an even bet that most of them would, especially if they didn’t know what was on the other side of that cliff. Some successful individuals have a hard time understanding the collective mentality.

Now I could go on and on about why I think the Teamsters wouldn’t let the members vote on that offer, but at this point it’s sort of moot. I’d rather vent some of the actual things that came out of the strike.

To the credit of the Teamsters, Ron Carey put on a good PR show. That Frank Gorshin look-alike made sure the radio talk shows were hit every day with union members to counter conservative arguments. He even pulled out a part-time mother and paraded her in front of the cameras to emphasize the human element of the strike and had her talking about the old tried-and-true "family values" and how supposedly UPS wasn’t allowing her to do that. And they had an eager-to-appease media to manipulate at their disposal. It was a good campaign, no different than any of the political campaigns they support.

Yet the messages the Teamsters spoke of often were either outdated or meaningless. One reported Teamsters member constantly spoke of job security. Job security? That’s a myth! Everyone from the CEO to your average wage-slave out there in the real world knows that there is no such thing as job security anymore! Maybe once upon a time it existed, but not any more. That’s reality!

When talk came about the pension, the Teamsters wanted to retain full control of that pension program instead of letting UPS manage it. As I understood it, under the Teamsters’ program, UPS would be funneling pension funds to the union to put in a general fund. That fund would then pay the pensions of retired UPS members. Problem being that UPS would fund even Teamsters that don’t work at UPS! (That IS the definition of a general fund.) How would you like to be forced to fund the pension programs of people who could very well work for your competitors? Of course, UPS never capitalized on that thought. So UPS offered their own pension program, which naturally the Teamsters rejected outright. After all, this was THEIR cash cow! And they said the union members couldn’t "trust" UPS? THEN WHY WORK FOR THEM??????

Personally, I know that pensions are yet another program that will soon be entering the extinct list. The pensions have been abused so many times that there’s no guarantee it’s still solvent, no matter WHO controls them. Not to mention they were created in an era when lifetime employment was alive. With today’s shifting job base, the concept of someone staying with one particular company long enough to draw a pension from will shortly be a rare sight indeed.

UPS could have had what they wanted.. but they fumbled the ball big time. They waffled worse than any politician ever could. Here’s a hint guys: Unless you’re elected to Congress, you NEVER use the words "last" and "final" unless you really mean them! The first sign of management’s waffling was their reluctance to hire replacement workers. That should have been the first thing UPS did after the strike. The Teamsters played a game of attrition, and unless you want to kowtow to them your strategy should be Mutual Assured Destruction!

Well, UPS did kowtow to them, and the strike is over.. for now. But who really won?

Ron Carey and the media both say that it was a big win for "workers." But was it really? There are plenty of UPS workers that are still out of work, some of them permanently laid off. They are now realizing that when UPS said there will be layoffs that it wasn’t just an idle threat.

And this whole affair may be repeated in a couple of months when the contract between UPS and the pilot’s union runs out. Carey said that the Teamsters will honor any walkout by the pilot’s union. "We reward our friends and punish our enemies," he said. So UPS will once again be forced to deal with a shutdown by unions unless they’re willing to kowtow to them.

I shed no tears for any future calamity that faces UPS. You get the union you deserve, and UPS got theirs by choice. Nobody forced UPS to acquiesce to the Teamsters. They did that themselves. It’s time for consumers to start looking at other cargo services that aren’t unionized. Build up their customer base now so when UPS and the unions start screwing with us we can tell both groups to drop dead not just by words but by our business.

Once upon a time there was a need for unions. You can’t deny that. They were needed in an era when both management abuses and lifetime employment were the norm. But that was a different era. A different society. It may still exist in third world countries, but not those in the Information Age. The workplace is too fluid and opportunities too numerous to allow such abuses to continue for long. But now the unions are nothing more than an anchor to the past, dragging down progress in the name of… what? By all accounts, unions are only doing it for its own futile self-survival.

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