Teamsters/UPS Negotiations: Big Victory or Media Spin?

Throughout the day on Wednesday May 31, various media outlets reported a big victory for the Teamsters in its current national negotiations with United Parcel Service (UPS). According to Supply Chain Drive:

UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reached a tentative agreement to reduce the size of SurePost packages eligible for delivery by the U.S. Postal Service, according to the union.

UPS’ SurePost uses the U.S. Postal Service for the final mile of delivery and is focused on non-urgent and lightweight residential shipments. Under the tentative deal, the overall size of packages eligible for SurePost delivery will be reduced, Teamsters spokesperson Kara Deniz said in an email Friday, but she did not provide specifics.

“These tentative commitments from UPS would increasingly redirect more SurePost packages to bargaining unit regular package car drivers over the life of the contract,” Deniz said.

UPS declined to comment.

SurePost has been a source of anger and frustration for a long time. This was especially true when volume was lower during non-peak season times and drivers were being sent home, yet thousands of packages were being sorted by UPS Teamsters and handed over to the Post Office. It was another of the legacy sellouts from the James P. Hoffa era. It’s been a demand for a long time to get work back in-house to protect driving jobs. So, on one level it feels like a clear victory, but I also feel like there’s something else driving the company to make this change of course.

FedEx had a similar program with the post office called Smartpost, but announced in 2019 that it was ending it and reintegrated these packages back into its ground package delivery operation. FedEx completed that process two years ago. Both UPS and Fedex used the post office to deliver packages primarily for residential delivery because they didn’t want to go to every address in the U.S. every day. FedEx changed course in 2019, UPS appears to be following its lead partly driven by the pandemic and the historic shift to online shopping.

Atlanta Teamster steward David Courtenay-Quirk looks at it from a different angle. He told me:

If it’s an agreement to continue using SurePost that, in itself, is actually a concession. The current language states that once the competition—FedEx—stops using the post office, UPS will as well. Teamsters could end the use of SurePost right now, and that was what we proposed. UPS has no desire to end SurePost. They use it to cut routes all the time.

So, is it a victory to win something from UPS, if it is following the lead of FedEx, that it wants to do anyway? I’m not trying to diminish this win, if true, but it might be over-hyped like so much of the Teamsters media operations are these days. Also, UPS is a notorious hard bargainer and I’m skeptical that they did this without getting something in return. What that is, we’ll have to wait and see.

JOE ALLEN is the author of The Package King: A Rank and File History of United Parcel Service.