Can “Vote No” on the UPS Contract Win? What’s Driving the Opposition to the UPS/Teamster’s Deal

Photograph Source: Ryan McKnight – CC BY 2.0

On August 3rd, ballots were mailed to Teamster members covered by the union’s national contract at United Parcel Service (UPS). Nearly 320,000 UPS Teamsters, both fulltime and part-time, will potentially cast their votes online on the single largest private-sector contract this year. Two independent contracts covering UPS Teamsters in the greater Chicago area will also be voted on following the ratification of the national contract.

A Tentative Agreement (TA) between the UPS and the Teamsters was reached on July 25. It was hailed as a “historic victory” by Teamster leaders Sean O’Brien and Fred Zuckerman. However, it has been greeted with less enthusiasm, if not outright hostility by a sizable minority of rank and file UPS Teamsters. Even the mainstream media, notable for its fawning profiles of Sean O’Brien has picked up on this. “A lot of us are frustrated and disappointed,” Jose Francisco Negrete, a part timer and twenty-five year veteran of UPS in Anaheim, California, told CBS News.

Negrete, who also works part-time as a classroom assistant, is part of a small network of activists among UPS part timers called Teamsters Mobilize pushing for a new $25 hourly minimum for newly hired part-timers. “$21 is still poverty pay — it’s $1.50 more than the In-N-Out, which is a two-minute drive away,” he said. “Is that really going to move the needle for you? Are you still going to be working two or three jobs? Are you still going to be on government assistance?”

But, opposition is not confined to part timers. Greg Kerwood, a longstanding Teamsters activist and package car driver, whose credits include being a union steward in Local 25 and a member of the steering committee of the longstanding reform group Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), recently came out against ratification. “I personally cannot vote yes on this contract,” he recently announced on Dave Allen’s popular Roswell Hub YouTube channel.

While Kerwood developed a social media profile as an advocate for Sean O’Brien, he has also been an early and consistent supporter for a national strike at UPS. Kerwood hit the nail on the head during his last contract review broadcast, he said:

“This company owns us. It owns us fourteen hours a day. And we are not willing to accept that anymore. As one driver put it to me the other day, ‘I want to have a life. I want to do things outside of work.’ The way I judge a contract. The day the contract goes into effect. How is my day-to-day existence in this company going to change. I just don’t to see those items I can’t point to and say these are the things that are going to change for you.”

While Kerwood clearly told his audience that he was not telling them how to vote, his stance will have some influence, but at the same time it is always hard to judge the direct impact of social media.


Discontent, however limited, has popped up in the Teamster officialdom. Fourteen of the 176 local unions with UPS members failed to show up in Washington, D.C. to endorse the national contract on July 31, according to Sean O’Brien. Representatives from Local 89 in Louisville, Kentucky, the home local union of General Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman, voted not to endorse the TA. One attendee told me that people were shocked by their no vote. Local 89 soon after made it clear in a public statement, “This was NOT a vote against the contract itself.”

Within a few days quickly reversed its position and endorsed the TA. The source of conflict was over the status of the Market Rate Adjustments (MRAs), the above union scale wages UPS has been paying newly hired part timers since the beginning of the Covid -19 Pandemic. Local 89 posted:

“Nearly half of our local’s 12,000 UPS Teamsters currently benefit from MRAs. As a result of this information gathering, we can now say with confidence that our existing seniority members who currently enjoy MRAs will also receive general wage increases on top of their MRA rates under the new tentative agreement. UPS would be acting in bad faith and violating the National Master Agreement if the company attempted to reduce MRA wages in the future.”

Bad faith, however, is a hallmark of UPS’s labor relations. If UPS sees an opportunity it will seize it. Disputes and an avalanche of grievances over MRAs and general wage increases await stewards and union representatives across the country. Despite widespread media belief that Teamsters have ended a two-tier wages at UPS, the current TA will actually increase the number of tiers among part time workers, and will do nothing to close the wage gap between part time and full time workers.

Dennis Fritz, a Chicago-area UPS part timer, posted recently:

“Warehouse workers hired under the terms of the new TA would start out at $21 an hour. After FIVE LONG YEARS of sweating and straining and slaving away loading and unloading trucks, their pay would top out at $23 an hour. A $2 an hour raise for five years of service.  Meanwhile, under the terms of the same TA, UPS drivers would top out at $49!

Can “Vote No” win?

Organizing a Vote No campaign is always difficult, especially at such a large and far-flung company like UPS, but there has been success over the last decade. In 2013, UPS Teamsters nearly defeated the national contract. It passed with only 53% of the vote, while eighteen supplements were voted down. In 2018, UPS Teamsters voted down the national contract with a 55% no vote. The Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) were central to these two campaigns.

Now that they are part of the leadership of Teamsters, along with several leading members on the paid staff of the Teamsters, they have placed themselves in the unenviable position of selling the contract—warts and all.

This is quite a role reversal from just a handful of years ago. But this was an inevitable outcome of TDU’s decision to uncritically endorse the Sean O’Brien and Fred Zuckerman’s “OZ” slate for the leadership of the union in 2019. Since there is no well-rooted national network of rank and file activists among UPS Teamsters, Vote No campaigners  face a steep uphill climb to defeat the contract.

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