UPS and the Teamsters announced a tentative contract agreement on July 25 that Teamsters president Sean O’Brien hailed as “the best contract in the history of UPS.” Even so, some UPS rank-and-file worker groups are organizing to vote the agreement down, saying it doesn’t go far enough on wage increases, guaranteed hours and full-time job opportunities for part-time workers. 

Teamsters local union representatives overwhelmingly voted to endorse the tentative agreement on July 31. The 340,000 full- and part-time UPS Teamsters workers have a voting period from today to August 22 to vote electronically on the agreement, which would run from Aug. 1, 2023 through July 31, 2028. Part-timers make up about 55% of UPS Teamsters.

The proposed contract significantly raises starting pay for part-time workers from $15.50 to $21 per hour, and phases in an additional $7.50 per hour in raises for both part-time and full-time workers over the five-year contract. It also factors in a modest annual cost-of-living adjustment to help wages keep up with inflation. 

But some rank-and-file part-time employees say it falls short of their demands set at the beginning of bargaining. 

Atlanta Civic Circle spoke with Jess Lister, a part-time UPS warehouse worker in Griffin, Ga., who belongs to Teamsters Mobilize, which is leading a “vote no” campaign against the tentative agreement. One of their sticking points is raising part-time starting pay to $25 per hour. 

Teamsters Mobilize, a grassroots group of rank-and-file, mostly part-time UPS workers, has been pushing to end UPS’s two-tiered wage system. Even with the Teamsters’ gains in the current contract negotiations, UPS pays full-time workers, who mostly drive the familiar brown delivery trucks, significantly more than part-timers, who are typically “inside” workers like Lister, sorting and loading packages. 

Lister, who makes $17.85 an hour, said the $21 minimum hourly wage for part-time workers in the tentative agreement falls woefully short of the $25 per hour that the Teamsters initially demanded. She added that raising part-time workers’ base pay to $21 doesn’t address the real problem – the disparity between part-time and full-time pay. “Until 1982, part-time and full-time workers were paid at the same rate. The goal is, at some point, to get back to that,” said Lister. “We want a good hourly wage.” 

Lister has worked for UPS for six years as a package sorter and loader. For the last four years, she’s served as a shop steward, training other employees. Under the tentative agreement, her pay would rise to just $21.50 – the new $21 base hourly rate, plus a $0.50 per hour longevity bump for over five years of employment. 

A lot of long-term part-time warehouse workers like Lister have picked up significant responsibilities, she said. Even so, a full-time inside employee can be standing right next to her in the facility and making over $10 more per hour.

The tentative agreement wins big gains for the workers, valued by Teamsters’ leadership at $30 billion over the five-year contract – but it doesn’t close the significant pay gap for part-time versus full-time workers. For part-timers, base hourly pay starts at $21 and tops out at only $23. 

But for full-time warehouse workers, base hourly pay starts at $23 and jumps to a top rate of $35.94 after four years. Full-time delivery drivers also start at $23 per hour, and Teamsters’ leadership says their average top rate will be $49 per hour under the proposed new contract. That’s more than double the top rate for a part-time worker. 

No guaranteed hours 

UPS does not guarantee part-time workers any set number of weekly hours, Lister said, which adds to the financial strain. The erratic hours and physically demanding work can prevent people from getting a second job, she added, so they need a higher hourly wage than $21. 

Lister said the average part-time UPS Teamsters employee works about 20 to 25 hours a week at her location, but these aren’t guaranteed hours. Similar to Amazon, workers’ shifts or “sorts” can be cut short at a moment’s notice if management decides sufficient packages have been loaded. 

“We actually are only guaranteed three-and-a half-hours per day. Sometimes people have to demand their daily guarantee,” said Lister.

Lister said almost all employees must start part-time to land a job at UPS. “[Part-timers] are biding their time until they can go into the driver classification,” she said. “Usually after about two years, you get a chance to go driving. So they’re kind of waiting for a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

But it’s hard to move up from a part-time warehouse position to the higher paying, full-time driver jobs, Lister said. The tentative agreement adds 7,500 new full-time jobs over the five-year contract, up from 5,000 in the previous deal. It also offers part-time employees the chance to fill 22,500 full-time positions, up from 20,000 previously. 

But those gains are not enough, the “vote no” contingent says, when UPS employs 340,000 Teamsters nationally. They want the shipping giant to add at least 10,000 more full-time Teamsters jobs through 2028.

The current contract negotiation is the first where rank-and-file UPS Teamsters workers have been a part of the bargaining committee. 

Brandy Harris, a part-time worker in Seattle who is a member of the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee, said the proposed contract hits every goal for rank-and-file workers in the Teamsters’ July 25 announcement. But some part-time workers stand with Lister in their disagreement. 

Four rank-and-file UPS workers laid out their views on the shortcomings of the tentative agreement in a joint statement from Teamsters Mobilize and Workers Strike Back, an independent worker organizing group backing the “vote no” campaign. They say it falls short on base part-time pay of at least $25 per hour, paid maternity leave, full-time job creation, and safety provisions for workers. 

What comes next?

The Teamsters is a “no contract, no work” union. That means they shouldn’t be working when they don’t have a contract in place. Their current contract with UPS expired July 31 and  UPS Teamsters members would have gone on strike Aug. 1 if the union and UPS hadn’t come to the tentative agreement. Workers will now continue to work through the August 3 to August 22 voting period. 

Teamsters Mobilize and a handful of other rank-and-file groups held “vote no” calls last weekend to encourage members to vote down the agreement. The question turns to what happens if the agreement doesn’t pass. 

“I don’t have any faith in our leadership to call a strike,” said Lister. “I think there has very much been a plan in place for a while. Even if it gets voted down, they would go back to the table and negotiate. I think it’s all for show.” 

Read the full tentative contract agreement between the Teamsters and UPS here.

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