UPS’s drivers will likely go on strike at the end of the month. It would be a huge disruption to the broader economy – and that’s the point.
It’s not really about a breakdown in talks. The drivers, represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, believe they have a powerful weapon at their disposal and the only way to show how powerful it really is will be to use it.
The talks officially broke down last week and 340,000 workers are currently voting on whether to authorize a strike. The results will be announced June 16. The current collective bargaining contract expires July 31.
UPS drivers transport an estimated 6% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Regular UPS drivers earn an estimated $26 an hour though the company also employs a substantial number of part-time drivers. The union is pushing for a starting wage of $25 an hour, mandatory air conditioning in all of UPS vehicles, and the elimination of on-board cameras the company uses to monitor drivers, among other demands.
The company claimed that it was the Teamsters who had stopped negotiating. “We have nearly a month left to negotiate. We have not walked away, and the union has a responsibility to remain at the table,” UPS spokesman Jim Mayer said last week.
Union leaders, meanwhile, are urging the workers to vote in favor of a strike. “This is how we win,” said Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien.
The thinking on the union side is that the stars are perfectly aligned to strike: Demand for workers remains high despite rising inflation and a generally soft economy. Businesses like UPS will feel the pain of a strike more so than at other times. The very real fear that a tie-up of the logistics industry will create a replay of 2021’s supply chain crisis that will put pressure on UPS from others in the business community to give in.
Ordinary consumers are likely to see the already-rising inflation spike even higher if the supply chain collapses again, even briefly. In other words, the union may strike simply so it can flex its muscles and show how much pain it can cause.
“[A] strike at UPS would be the largest demonstration of working-class power seen yet in the post-Covid economy. Every worker could see that they have the power to win better conditions by collectively withholding their labor,” said the pro-union news site Labornotes.
Welcome to the darker side of collective bargaining, where deliberately causing destruction is deemed a good thing if it can get you the attention you want. The UPS drivers might ultimately win, but a strike will be a bad deal for pretty much everyone else.