Teamsters/UPS Negotiations: Is Air Conditioning Coming to UPS?

Ninety-seven percent of UPS Teamsters voted to give strike authorization to the national negotiating committee after a week of voting across the country. The results were announced on June 16th. One hundred and seventy local unions organized votes and held in-person at union halls and UPS hubs. Right in the middle of the voting, the Teamsters and UPS announced that they had reached a historic agreement on providing air conditioning for long-suffering package car drivers.

“Air conditioning is coming to UPS, and Teamster members in these vehicles will get the relief and protection they’ve been fighting for,” said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien. UPS posted on their website:

We have reached an agreement with the Teamsters on new heat safety measures that build on important actions UPS rolled out to employees in the spring, which included new cooling gear and enhanced training. We care deeply about our people, and their safety remains our top priority. Heat safety is no exception.

The story spread quickly and uncritically across media platforms, similar to the Teamsters’ over-hyped claim of victory on SurePost, UPS’s subcontracting deal with the United States Post Office. Not to be left out, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), the longstanding reform group that is now firmly allied with the O’Brien administration, gushed, “Strike Threat Makes UPS Deliver Air Conditioning!” In an effort to counter criticism of the deal on social media by rank-and-file Teamsters, TDU declared:

“A generation of brownouts and givebacks under Hoffa have left some Teamsters skeptical, even cynical. It’s understandable. But cynicism doesn’t win change. Organizing does.”

TDU went even further and claimed, “We didn’t give up anything to win this victory.” That statement may prove to be a real hostage to fortune. We’ll see what future negotiations reveal.

The Tentative Agreement (TA) on air conditioning, according to the Teamsters website, calls for:

The new contract language would mandate UPS to equip in-cab air conditioning systems in all larger delivery vehicles, smaller sprinter vans, and all of UPS’s most recognizable brown package cars purchased after Jan. 1, 2024. Regular package cars make up the majority of the company’s 93,000 vehicles within its fleet.

Two fans would also be installed in the cab of all package cars following the ratification of a new contract. All newer non-electric UPS package cars and vans would be installed with exhaust heat shields, further protecting Teamsters from dangerous heat. Additionally, newly existing and purchased package cars would be retrofitted or equipped with air induction vents in the cargo compartments to alleviate extreme temperatures in the back of the vehicles.

On one level, it feels like a big win but in an era of accelerating climate change it feels pretty underwhelming. If this was proposed and adopted twenty years ago, it would have been a different story. Any movement on A/C is a relief, but it does feel like this all on the company’s timeline with little effect for the next few months. Another long, hot, and deadly summer is approaching, in what could be a repeat of the last several years at UPS.

Meanwhile, Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien and Rick Bauer, Teamsters National Pipeline Director, are supporting energy policies that are an environmental disaster. They applauded the Biden administration’s approval of the Willow Run project in Alaska, which is clearly a foreseeable environmental disaster, much like Hoffa did with the Keystone XL pipeline project. As Joshua Frank wrote previously in CounterPunch.

The Biden administration approved ConocoPhillip’s enormous $8 billion Willow oil project on federally-owned land in Alaska. If the drilling plan is able to overcome forthcoming legal challenges, the massive oil development could produce 180,000 barrels of crude per day over 30 years. In other words, more CO2 to come. Lots of it.

We can see the direct result of those policies during the last several weeks when the smoke from Canadian wildfires smothered U.S. cities, especially in the Northeast, creating scenes straight out of apocalyptic Hollywood films. Workers, including UPS package car drivers, were forced to scramble for protective gear when no one should have been working or outside.

If anything, recent negotiations reveal that the Teamsters are not rising to the challenge of climate change-driven workplace hazards and are contributing to them with their energy policies. A more fundamental change in the political direction of the union is needed.

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