As drivers passed by the UPS Smart Hub on July 21, the sight of UPS workers waving signs and chanting, “We are the Teamsters – the mighty, mighty Teamsters,” prompted many to slow down to honk their horns and get a better look at the commotion. At a closer glance, the signs read “Just practicing for a Just contract.”

About 40 UPS workers who’re members of Teamsters Local 728 turned out at 7:30 a.m. to practice picket for a potential strike, joining the picket line after their night shift or before their morning shift to show support for the Teamsters’ ongoing contract negotiations with UPS. 

The current Teamsters contract expires July 31, and rank-and-file members have voted by 97% to strike if UPS doesn’t meet their demands. 

“Don’t be afraid of the fight because what we’ve gotten and gained all these years with the company is because of the fight,” said Teamsters member Jeptha Preston, who’s worked as a tractor-trailer driver for UPS for 31 years. Preston said he joined the practice picket to show support for the part-time workers, whose wages start at just $16.20 an hour. 

The UPS-Teamsters negotiations just restarted July 19 after a stalemate over sticking points like raising wages for part-time workers, which the Teamsters say haven’t kept up with inflation and other costs. Part-time workers, who make up about 55% of the 340,000 UPS Teamsters, work as package handlers and sorters in warehouses, not as drivers. 

Natalie Smalls, a warehouse worker, said working conditions are another issue. The warehouse workers can’t leave when their shift is over, but have to stay until the work is complete, she said, adding that there is no air conditioning at the Smarthub and the water and ice machines are down sometimes.

Natalie Smalls (Photo: Liz Rymarev/ @lizardshots)

“Right now, it’s hurting – because I can’t understand how we did so much and [UPS] is not giving back to us the way that we support each other,” Smalls said. “Every day we come in here and work tirelessly and [UPS] isn’t supporting these part-timers on what they are doing.”

Teamsters Local 728 President Matt Higdon said that if UPS does not agree to a new contract with more benefits for part-time workers, the Teamsters will strike nationwide on Aug. 1. “This company made $100 billion for the last year. All we’re asking for is a fair and living wage and a retirement [package so] we can retire with dignity,” Higdon said. 

Higdon said the Teamsters’ practice pickets around the United States, including in Atlanta, where UPS is headquartered, are to show the shipping giant what a strike will look like, if that time comes. 

A study by Anderson Economic group found that a 10-day strike could cost UPS close to $7 billion and affect 30% of packages shipped out.

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