Ten years after the historic strike by the Teamsters at UPS that electrified workers in the U.S. and put fear into the hearts of America’s CEO’s, Teamster leader James P. Hoffa has tentatively negotiated a new national contract with UPS that can an only be described as an historic defeat, and, if passed by the membership, may permanently cripple the ability of future union activists to recover the union’s once formidable position at the world’s largest transportation company.
“While other unions are struggling against employers, this tentative agreement with UPS addresses our members’ concerns and is an example of how the Teamsters are moving forward faster and stronger than ever,” claims Hoffa. These other-worldly, bombastic boasts are a perfect example of Hoffa-speak, where defeats are portrayed as victories, and sell-outs as masterful leadership. The only direction the Teamsters are moving in is backward and at top speed with the proposed contract.
Among the major union concessions:
* The withdrawal of 44,000 UPS/Teamsters from the Central States’ Pension Fund, the largest pension in the Teamsters union that could bankrupt the fund in the future.
* Starting pay for part-timers would remain at $8.50 per hour for the life of the proposed contract (until 2013) that would mean that start pay would remain where it has roughly stood since 1981 or 32 years.
* No new full-time jobs would be created out of existing part-time positions (two-thirds of the jobs at UPS are part-timer) this was one of the important victories coming out of the 1997 strike.
* No health coverage for part-timers during their first year of employment, and no health coverage for their family members for their first eighteen months of employment.
There are a myriad of other unnecessary and mind-boggling concessions that permeate the proposed contract, which raises a big question: Who wrote this contract? Was there even a pretense of negotiations? Or did Hoffa and Parcel Division Director Ken Hall just simply accept the company proposal after it was slid across the table?
Traffic World, the semi-official voice of the transportation industry, has editorialized that this was the contract that UPS wanted in 1997 but was stymied by then Teamster General President Ron Carey, elected as a reformer in 1991 and re-elected in 1996, who called a three week strike against the transportation giant, popularly known as Big Brown. The strike was solidly supported by UPS Teamsters across the country and won a major victory over UPS.
Ten years later the tables have been turned. Hoffa came to power in 1999 following a federal government sponsored witch-hunt that drove Ron Carey permanently out of the union. Hoffa, the son of the notorious union racketeer Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975, has been the leader the of the most reactionary and mobbed-up elements of the Teamsters union. Many of his closets advisors and supporters have been permanently barred from the Teamsters for corrupted practices including his former running mate William Hogan and his former special assistant Dane Passo. Carroll Haynes, a Hoffa slate member and a Teamster vice president, is being forced to repay more than $100,000 in improper payments he received from the company that manages his former local union’s health plan.
Hoffa, who ran for office on the slogan of “Restore Teamster Power,” has been attempting to return the union to its alleged glory days of cozy relationships with Republican presidents and sweetheart deals with the big trucking and freight companies. He was always the preferred candidate, especially by UPS, to lead the “old guard” Teamsters in the battle against reformers led by Carey during the 1990s.
As soon after Hoffa came into office, Traffic World ran a major article on his emerging relationship with UPS called “In Love with Hoffa.” This love affair has blossomed into one of the great corrupt marriages of our time to the detriment of the 235,000 members of the Teamsters union at UPS, the largest private sector unionized employer in the country today.
UPS over the last decade has morphed into a global behemoth. It is familiar to most Americans, with its brown delivery trucks that dot the landscape of the country and its “what can Brown do for you?” commercials. It has one of the largest privately owned airlines in the world, and an army of employees that load, unload, sort and delivery hundreds of thousands of packages a day. It has one of the largest political action committees in Washington and has long been a player in Republican Party politics. UPS is one of the most profitable corporations in the United States; its after tax profits of $2.4 billion in 2002 grew to $3.9 billion in 2005, and leaped to over $4 billion last year.
“During that same time,” according to the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), the longstanding reform organization, “the base wage for UPS part-timers remained $8.50. That wage was frozen in the 2002 contract, and has gone up just 50 cents in 25 years! Some 29 states have minimum wages above the federal level, and some of them could soon pass up our base part-time wage. Net profits of $4 billion. That’s about $20,000 per year for each part-time and full-time Teamster. That’s more than many part-timers make in a year.”
Don’t expect opposition to come from the local officers of the Teamsters. On October 11, 300 local officers unanimously endorsed Hoffa’s proposed contract at a national meeting addressed by Ken Hall. Not only have reformers been marginalized or muted on a local level, but the current crop of officers are gorging themselves on the dues money with bloating salaries and maintaining a go along to get a long attitude. TDU reports that ninety-six Teamster officials now make over $150,000 a year. “Hoffa doled out an incredible $8.4 million last year to 164 Teamster officials who already earn at least one other union salary. Multiple salaries have skyrocketed by 764 percent since Hoffa took office. These salaries function as a patronage system to officers who are expected to turn out the vote for Hoffa in return,” according to the TDU website.
At the same time, Hoffa and Hall, in a conference call on October 2, reported to local unions that there is a “card check” deal with UPS Freight (formerly Overnite transport), where if a majority of workers at a UPS Freight terminal sign Teamster cards, the company will recognize and bargain with the local Teamsters union at that terminal. This, however, is contingent, according to TDU, “on ratification of the UPS national contract, including the break-out of 44,000 Teamsters from the Central States Fund. That was management’s central demand in national bargaining. As reported on the call, signing of cards cannot start until after the whole UPS contract process is done.”
There seems to be no limit to the duplicity of the Hoffa administration, and he is hoping for a quick national vote on the proposed contract. It will take an all-out effort by rank-and-file activists at UPS around the country to defeat the greatest threat to their union and their livelihood in a decade.
JOE ALLEN is a former member of Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago. This article is taken from the forthcoming Nov.-Dec. issue of the International Socialist Review.