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UPS airline mechanics heat up talks with strike authorization

Aircraft mechanics at shipping giant UPS have voted to authorize a strike after three years of contract talks, which does not indicate a strike is imminent but is meant to increase pressure in negotiations.

Of the 1,200 airline maintenance workers at UPS, 80 percent cast ballots and 98 percent of those who voted were in favor of authorizing a strike. The workers voted by mail in October and November.

Sandy Spring-based UPS said the strike authorization vote does not give the Teamsters union representing the mechanics the right to strike. That’s because the talks fall under the Railway Labor Act governing airline labor relations and the union would have to clear a number of hurdles to be able to strike, including seeking a release from federally-mediated negotiations and requesting permission to strike.

The union’s announcement comes as UPS prepares for the busy holiday shipping season, but the company said its “customers remain in good hands during our busy holiday season.”

UPS called the mechanics’ vote a “routine show of solidarity common in many negotiations,” and said talks continue to progress.

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The main sticking point, according to the Teamsters, is the company’s proposed reduction in health benefits that would increase costs, particularly for retirees.

UPS said the mechanics are covered by health insurance with no annual contribution.

The union said health coverage for a retiree and spouse would increase to more than $19,000 in the first year under UPS’s proposal.

“The company is trying to attack our healthcare benefits,” said UPS mechanic Kevin Gawlik, who works at UPS’s maintenance gateway in Rockford, Ill. “When we get close to retirement age… that’s part of the healthcare package that we need because of the strains we put on our bodies.”

Pay is not the issue, Gawlik said. The mechanics get paid around $105,000 a year, according to the company.

Of the UPS aircraft mechanics, about 20 are based in Atlanta, the union says.

UPS in a written statement said it is “confident talks will be completed successfully, just as they have during all previous negotiations with our mechanics.”

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