If that happens, it’s going to be the country’s biggest and most disruptive strike in decades.
Teamster’s union no longer has a chokehold on the nation’s truck system, as it did in the 1960s when Hoffa’s father ran it. But it still represents 327,000 employees at UPS, which is by far the country’s largest transportation and supply management company.
O’Brien seems to be spoiled for choice. “You’re not going into any situation that wants a strike,” he told CNN Business this week. “But these employers need to understand that we will not be afraid to pull the trigger if necessary.”
“UPS has been successful. We want to leverage that success,” O’Brien said. “People are tired of seeing these companies make billions in profits and not share the wealth.”
Despite record profits, UPS says it needs a competitive deal
UPS would not comment directly on O’Brien’s position, but said the company believes it can find a way to work with the union.
“UPS and Teamsters have worked together for nearly 100 years to meet the needs of UPS employees, customers, and the communities in which we live and work,” the company said in a statement to CNN Business. “We believe we will continue to find common ground with the Teamsters and reach an agreement that is good for everyone involved.”
The company’s statement seems to suggest that it will not go on to undo some of its gains in previous contracts that outraged critics of Teamster management such as O’Brien, such as the two-tier pay system for some union members at UPS.
“The delivery and logistics industry is becoming more and more competitive. Our focus during the negotiations will be to agree on a contract that provides the flexibility UPS needs to maintain its industry-leading track record for reliable service,” the company added.
A strike ‘almost certain’
Some external observers believe that a strike at UPS next year is inevitable.
“I do not have a crystal ball, but unless the UPS reads the writing on the wall, a strike is almost certain,” said Todd Vachon, an assistant professor and director of vocational training at Rutgers University.
Vachon points to other recent strikes in which workers rejected lucrative tentative pacts between their own union leadership and corporate leadership.
The current contract with UPS was signed in 2018 due to objections from 54% of the rank and file Teamsters who voted against it. The union’s rules at the time allowed the pact to enter into force if less than two thirds of all members participated in the ratification vote.
Brown trucks with 6% of US GDP
A strike at UPS would be big enough to take a bite out of the overall U.S. economy. UPS estimates that their trucks carry more than 6% of US gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the country’s economic activity. The company also handles 2% of global GDP.
UPS has grown significantly since its last strike, a 16-day strike in 1997 in which the union represented 180,000 employees. It was the largest U.S. work stoppage in 30 years, according to Labor Department statistics.
A UPS strike now would be the largest in decades – and perhaps the largest US strike ever against a single company.
O’Brien’s background is vastly different from that of James Hoffas, who was a union lawyer before he became president. O’Brien is a fourth-generation Teamster who joined the union at the age of 18 as a heavy equipment driver in the greater Boston area.
“One thing is, we get a leader who has worked his way up through the congregation,” O’Brien said when asked about the biggest difference between him and his predecessor.
O’Brien is pleased with the latest signs of strength in the U.S. labor movement and believes the current environment is likely to be a turning point in the relationship between labor and management after years of unions accepting concessions, such as two-tier pay systems.
“There’s an appetite to fight the boss,” O’Brien said. “[Workers] want to reap the benefits of their work and not be a victim of the bottom line in a balance. “