The International Brotherhood of Teamsters lobbed a strike threat at UPS in the thick of peak season, with the union’s leader saying members in Louisville, Kentucky, may hit the pavement over unfair labor practices.
Sean O'Brien, the union's general president, said in a statement Thursday that the delivery giant laid off about 35 specialist and administrative workers at its Centennial hub in Louisville, Kentucky, "falsely claiming their labor should be performed by management."
Specialists and administrative workers at the package sortation hub had organized in the fall with Teamsters Local 89, which represent more than 2,000 UPS workers at the facility and more than 12,000 at the company's primary air hub in Louisville. The local is now filing unfair labor practice charges against UPS, O'Brien said.
“UPS has been given notice it has until Monday to rectify this situation," the union leader added.
In a statement Thursday, UPS said it's committed to working with the union to resolve the matter and doesn't expect disruptions to its Louisville operations.
"We regularly align our staffing with the needs of our business, and as a result a small number of employees are being laid off at our Louisville Centennial Hub," the company said. "UPS respects our employees’ rights to organize and we have not committed any unfair labor practices."
The layoffs have reignited tensions between UPS and Teamsters leadership after a five-year contract agreement reached by the two sides was ratified by union members in August, the culmination of a contentious, monthslong stretch of negotiations. Many UPS shippers proactively diverted volume to other carriers in fear of a strike that never came.
The job cuts also come after UPS and the Teamsters battled over the eligibility of specialists and administrative workers to form their own bargaining unit in October.
UPS argued that specialists shouldn't be eligible since they are supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act, according to an opinion issued by an independent arbitrator, which the Teamsters shared with Supply Chain Dive. Additionally, the company said administrative employees cover five distinct business groups at the hub and they don't "share a community of interest" across those groups.
Arbitrator David W. Stanton sided with the Teamsters in his Oct. 24 opinion, saying that specialists aren't supervisors and the proposed unit does indeed have "an internal community of interest" given their job classifications and duties.
"In both regards the Employer has failed to meet its burden of proof and persuasion as such," said Stanton, who ordered an election take place within seven days of the opinion.
The workers "voted overwhelmingly to join the union," O'Brien said. He added that UPS' actions against employees at its Centennial hub are similar to practices taken by DHL, which is currently dealing with a strike among 1,100 Teamsters-represented workers at its Americas global hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
"If UPS doesn’t get its act together, they’ll be on strike next," O'Brien said.