Fewer than three weeks remain before UPS' national contract with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters expires, and the company's chances of averting an Aug. 1 strike are shrinking as part-time wages hold up negotiations.
While UPS aims to quell customer concerns as the deadline nears, the Teamsters union is readying its members for a work stoppage via practice pickets. The risk of disruption to the U.S. economy overall even has Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su weighing in.
Read on for a quick roundup of notable developments regarding UPS and the Teamsters' national contract negotiations over the past week.
UPS urges employees to 'protect our volume'
UPS is instructing U.S. small package employees to not tell customers there will be a work stoppage, according to a company document obtained by Supply Chain Dive.
"This creates significant unease and unnecessary panic among customers," the document said. "And it threatens our business."
Competitors are after UPS' volume as negotiations remain unsettled, the document notes, and the company aims to "protect it." It also says employees should report "at-risk volume immediately" to the company.
UPS' top competitor, FedEx, has encouraged shippers who are considering shifting volume away from UPS to do so immediately to secure capacity. It laid out its capacity plan in the event of a Teamsters strike in an email to employees last week.
The U.S. Postal Service has also highlighted its availability to service shippers if a strike occurs through its new Ground Advantage offering, Government Executive reported Monday.
Labor official comments on UPS-Teamsters talks
The U.S. government is keeping an eye on the negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters, but it is confident in the collective bargaining process, Su said during the Port of Los Angeles' monthly media briefing Wednesday.
"The Teamsters have been public about their process, and so we are certainly monitoring, but we remain very hopeful that the parties will get where they need to go," Su said.
Su's comments were in response to a question about her level of concern regarding the negotiations and if President Joe Biden's administration will get involved in the process. Biden did sign legislation imposing a labor agreement on rail workers to avert a strike or lockout last year, and Su played a key role in the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union reaching a tentative deal covering West Coast longshore workers in June.
However, UPS employees being covered by the National Labor Relations Act limits what the government can do to prevent a strike, Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, recently told Supply Chain Dive.
Employees prepare with practice pickets
Teamsters have performed practice pickets at UPS centers across the U.S. this week in states including Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, South Carolina and Wisconsin.
Through these demonstrations, Teamsters-represented UPS employees are "rehearsing to make history," the union said in an announcement Sunday. They held signs that read "just practicing for a just contract," according to photos accompanying the announcement.
"Each day, rank-and-file UPSers are more hardened in their strike readiness," the union said. "Teamsters are fully prepared to hit the streets and withhold our labor in the largest single-employer strike in American history.”