As Teamsters push better deal, UPS touts pay, career development

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

World’s biggest shipper issues jobs report ahead of expected tough negotiations with largest union

As it faces criticism from the Teamsters union ahead of what are expected to be tough labor contract talks this year, UPS issued a jobs report Wednesday touting its wages and ways workers can build a career within the company.

Negotiations between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union and Sandy Springs-based UPS, which start in February, will be one of the most closely watched of 2023. Teamsters-represented workers at UPS total about two-thirds of UPS’s employees, and unions have felt emboldened coming out of the worst of the pandemic as companies struggle to attract and retain workers.

Teamsters union general president Sean O’Brien has pledged to take “a hard line” with UPS in negotiations to reduce subcontracting, increase part-time pay and improve other conditions for workers.

Workers recently have wielded more of an upper hand than in pre-pandemic times. Labor shortages have driven big pay increases by companies struggling to attract and retain enough talent, and unions have gained more influence.

“We are sending a message to UPS that the days of concessions and walking all over our members are over,” O’Brien said at the kickoff of the union’s campaign to gain support from members at UPS ahead of negotiations.

To bolster its position, UPS issued a jobs report saying its average pay after four years for full-time package car drivers, who deliver parcels in their well-known brown trucks, is the highest in the industry at $42 an hour.

The company says 49% of its full-time unionized workers have been with the company for more than 10 years. With tenure and seniority-based pay, full-time package delivery drivers earn an average of $95,000 a year, according to UPS.

The company emphasizes its focus on promoting from within, noting that a number of its managers and executives started as part-time UPS employees and worked their way up.

“UPS develops from within,” said Darren Jones, president of the Central Plains District at UPS, who started out as a part-time loader at UPS when he was 18, became a driver and used UPS tuition reimbursement to go to law school.

Jones worked as a lawyer at UPS headquarters for about 20 years before shifting to his current job managing 20,000 employees. “We have jobs, for people who want those. We also have careers,” Jones said.

But with 534,000 UPS employees, not all of the jobs at the company make for high-paying careers.

UPS says its Teamsters-represented workforce has grown to about 350,000, as explosive growth in e-commerce in recent years prompted a rapid increase in demand for shipping. But a minority of those are package car drivers.

Most Teamsters members at UPS are part-time workers who load and unload boxes and packages in warehouses or work in other parts of the operation.

Those part-time jobs are typically less lucrative, and the Teamsters now are pushing for better pay for part-timers and for more full-time jobs. Part-time union employees can make $15.50 an hour and work 3.5 hours or more each workday. Part-time operations employees make an average of $20 an hour after 30 days, according to UPS.

The Teamsters contract is set to expire July 31, and O’Brien has threatened the possibility of a strike, pledging “that we’re not going past August 1” in negotiations.

“We’ll either have a signed agreement that day or be hitting the pavement,” he said.