Shortly after officially receiving air conditioning and heat regulation in trucks, UPS drivers have officially voted to go on strike. 97% of drivers in the Teamsters Union voted in favor of the motion.
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Now, the UPS Teamsters National Negotiating Committee is able to call a strike if the union is unhappy with the deal that UPS ultimately presents. The union—which represents over 340,000 UPS drivers and warehouse workers—is currently in talks with the company over concessions for a new National Master Agreement, with the current contract expiring on July 31. The authorization vote doesn’t mean that the UPS drivers are going on strike just yet, but it does mean that the union members can go on strike if necessary.
“This vote shows that hundreds of thousands of Teamsters are united and determined to get the best contract in our history at UPS,” Teamsters general president Sean M. O’Brien said in a press release. “The strongest leverage our members have is their labor and they are prepared to withhold it to ensure UPS acts accordingly.”
Air conditioning is only one sticking point for the union—the other is wages. Jacobin reported in February that some part-time warehouse workers were paid $15.50 per hour, a rate that is lower than minimum wage in some states and that the union was pushing a $20 per hour floor. Similarly, senior drivers can receive up to $41 per hour with benefits, while entry-level drivers—dubbed “22.4’s” after a 2018 contract provision that established a minimum driver rate—only receive $6 per hour. Given the low pay, there is a large turnover in entry-level workers which keeps drivers from reaching senior-level pay.
“We will be negotiating the economic portion in the coming weeks. We will be sharing updates,” a Teamsters representative shared with Gizmodo in an email.
On Wednesday, UPS reached a deal with the Teamsters to add air conditioning to UPS trucks both new and old after UPS drivers have been struggling with balmy trucks for years. Air conditioning will be included in newly purchased trucks beginning on January 1, 2024. While that’s pretty far in the future and excludes legacy vehicles, UPS added that trucks with AC will be dispatched to the parts of the country most susceptible to high temperatures first. Additionally, UPS will retrofit older trucks with a cab fan within thirty days of the union ratifying a new contract with the courier service—the union’s current contract expires on August 1. Trucks without air conditioning will get a second fan installed by June 1, 2024.
“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,” UPS said in a press release on Wednesday. “We care deeply about our people, and their safety remains our top priority. Heat safety is no exception.”
The union’s contract with UPS expires in just under seven weeks, and CNN says that the strike could have significant ripple effects on the U.S. economy. According to the outlet, UPS delivers an estimated 17 million domestic packages every day. A looming strike in August, just as retailers swing into back-to-school season gives UPS plenty of incentive to reach an agreeable deal.