UPS workers are gearing up for a potential strike that would be the biggest U.S. labor walkout since the 1950s.
Members of the Teamsters union, which represents about 340,000 workers at the package delivery company, voted overwhelmingly on Friday to strike if no agreement is reached with UPS by the time the current contract expires on July 31.
“If this multibillion-dollar corporation fails to deliver on the contract that our hardworking members deserve, UPS will be striking itself,” Teamsters President Sean O’Brien said in a statement. “The strongest leverage our members have is their labor and they are prepared to withhold it to ensure UPS acts accordingly.”
Some 97% of voting members approved a strike, although the voting turnout was not immediately known.
The union is seeking higher pay; the elimination of so-called two-tier wages, where newer workers are paid less than older employees for the same job; the removal of surveillance cameras from delivery trucks; and more full-time jobs.
Earlier this week, the Teamsters secured a major win when UPS committed to install air conditioning and two driver-facing fans in most trucks. Heat safety has been a significant concern for UPS workers, with many incidents of drivers falling sick from heatstroke.
The current contract was unpopular, with a majority of UPS workforce rejecting it, but the union’s former leadership pushed it through on a technicality. The backlash led to the ouster of the union’s leadership in favor of O’Brien, who has been vocal about his willingness to strike, including going on a national tour of union locals this year to prepare members for a walkout.
A UPS spokesperson noted that strike votes are common in contract negotiations and expressed confidence an agreement would be reached before the July 31 deadline.
“We continue to make progress on key issues and remain confident that we will reach an agreement that provides wins for our employees, the Teamsters, our company and our customers,” spokesperson Glenn Zaccara said in a statement.
The Teamsters union noted that UPS posted record profits in 2022 and issued more than $8 billion in dividends to shareholders — money they say should be spread out among workers. However, while the company’s profits boomed during the pandemic, boosted by a surge in online shopping, they fell in the most recent quarter as inflation continued to weigh on household budgets.
A strike at UPS would be the biggest work stoppage in the U.S. since a 1959 steelworkers’ strike that saw half a million workers walk out for nearly four months.
“This has just huge implications for the entire labor movement in the United States,” John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, told the Associated Press. “There’s greater assertiveness and militancy on the part of a lot of young labor activists and some sectors of the labor establishment. Sean O’Brien is representative of that.”
UPS workers last went on strike in 1997 in a 15-day walkout that crippled the company and ended in a win for the union. UPS’ workforce today is almost twice the size it was then. About 1 in 4 parcels shipped in the U.S. is handled by the company, with the company handling 24 million packages on an average day.
With millions of Americans relying on package delivery for basics like food, clothing and furniture, a strike would bring a large portion of the economy to a standstill. It also has implications for the broader labor movement, as the Teamsters try to organize Amazon workers and support high-profile union campaigns at Apple, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.