UPS Freight workers approve new labor contract, avoiding strike

UPS Freight

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UPS Freight

UPS Freight workers have approved a new labor contract, averting the risk of the company’s first strike in more than two decades.

The company said it will resume normal operations “and will immediately begin accepting new volume from UPS Freight customers.”

During the days leading up to the Teamsters contract vote count on Sunday, Sandy Springs-based UPS had stopped picking up shipments from freight customers to empty its network of freight in case there was a strike.

With no freight to handle, workers were temporarily laid off. UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara said workers will be called back to work “as we receive orders from our customers.” The number of workers called back to work will depend on the orders that come in, he said.

There’s “a possibility,” Zaccara said, that could be less than the previous workforce.

The Teamsters contract covers about 11,600 workers at UPS Freight, which trucks bulk shipments to stores and other locations.

It’s not yet known how much impact the temporary disruption had on UPS Freight’s business.

The contract was approved with 77 percent of votes cast in favor, according to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The union said 84 percent of eligible members voted.

Freight workers at UPS in early October voted down an initial proposed labor contract, with 62 percent against that agreement. The two sides returned to the bargaining table and wrapped up negotiations Oct. 25 after UPS made what it said was its best and final offer.

UPS Freight workers had earlier voted to authorize a strike, and the Teamsters union told members that if the contract was voted down, a strike could start as early as Nov. 12. The last strike at UPS was in 1997.

As a result, UPS a week and a half ago told its freight customers to make alternative shipping arrangements because service could be disrupted.

Kris Taylor, co-chair of the national UPS freight negotiating committee for the Teamsters, called that “an unprecedented action.”

He told members during a conference call Sunday evening that there would be a ramp-up period for the company to get freight back into its system.

After narrowly avoiding a strike, “there could be that impact of a customer saying, ‘Yeah, forget it. We’re not interested. We don’t want to be your customer anymore,’” said logistics analyst Cathy Roberson, who founded Logistics Trends & Insights in Atlanta. “At the same time, there may be some customers saying, ‘Oh great, you handled that wonderfully, so please take our freight.’”

Taylor told Teamsters members at UPS Freight that those not called back to work should file for unemployment compensation “just like any layoff.” He also said other unionized freight companies are hiring, and UPS Freight workers who are not recalled within a week should apply for jobs at other companies.

“I am hopeful that the company will get back to full operations quickly. I expect, however, that there will be some lost customers. It’s unfortunate, but that is the boat we’re in,” Taylor said.

The labor deal approved Sunday includes some reductions in subcontracting — a key issue for workers — and would also improve pension and vacation benefits.

The freight agreement approved Sunday is just one being negotiated at UPS.

A labor agreement with about 240,000 UPS drivers, package sorters, loaders and others who handle small packages failed to get a majority vote in favor but was deemed ratified by the Teamsters union because of a provision that applies when there’s low voter turnout.

Local supplemental agreements for that larger contract still must be hammered out. A Chicago local representing more than 10,000 Teamsters UPS workers is demanding better terms, raising the possibility of turmoil later this year if a contract deal is not reached.