The International Brotherhood of Teamsters said Wednesday that negotiations over a new contract with shipping giant UPS had “collapsed,” increasing the odds of a massive strike next month.
The two sides still have time to reach a new agreement and avoid a work stoppage, with the current contract in effect until July 31. But the Teamsters had said they wanted a new tentative deal in place by the end of the July 4 holiday to give 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 deadline.
“This multibillion-dollar corporation has plenty to give American workers ― they just don’t want to,” Sean O’Brien, the union’s president, said in a statement. “UPS had a choice to make, and they have clearly chosen to go down the wrong road.”
UPS pointed back at the union, accusing the Teamsters of walking away from the bargaining table.
“The Teamsters have stopped negotiating despite UPS’s historic offer that builds on our industry-leading pay,” the company said in a statement. “We have nearly a month left to negotiate. We have not walked away, and the union has a responsibility to remain at the table.”
The company and the union have been trying to hammer out a new five-year agreement that would set pay, benefits and work rules for hundreds of thousands of UPS drivers and other workers. It is the largest private-sector union contract in the country and helps set working standards in the logistics sector and beyond.
This year’s negotiations were expected to be contentious, as O’Brien, the Teamsters’ new leader, has promised to take on UPS and win significant gains at the bargaining table. The union recently held a strike authorization vote in which 97% of members who participated gave their leadership the green light to declare one if they see fit.
UPS plays a major role in U.S. commerce, and a strike at the shipping company would affect the economy broadly as businesses and consumers stop receiving their packages. The last work stoppage at UPS came in 1997 and lasted a little more than two weeks.
If a strike comes to pass this year, it would appear to be the largest strike ever at a single employer in the U.S., as measured by the number of workers involved. The Teamsters represent around 330,000 of the company’s workers.
Although there is no deal in place yet, the two sides have made significant headway in certain areas. The union and company agreed on points to address the serious hazard of heat in delivery trucks, including installing air conditioning in all new vehicles starting next year.
They have also reached a tentative agreement on ending a controversial “two-tier” compensation system, in which a junior class of drivers earn less than more senior drivers even though they do the same work. Getting rid of that system was among the union’s top priorities.
But major items remain, including workers’ base pay. Late last month, the Teamsters walked away from the bargaining table after UPS made what the union described as an “appalling” offer. But they later returned after the company made “significant movement” on pay and other economic issues.
The union has vowed that employees will not work a day past the current contract’s expiration on July 31, leaving a little more than three weeks for both sides to settle their differences.