color photograph of an outdoor protest in support of UPS Teamsters
Members of the Writers Guild of America join UPS Teamsters during a rally ahead of possible UPS strike, in Los Angeles on July 19, 2023. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

UPS and the Teamsters have reached a tentative deal on a contract that would affect 340,000 UPS workers, narrowly avoiding a strike that would have severely hampered package delivery service in the country. Contract adoption is contingent on rank-and-file members voting in favor of the agreement this month.

The proposed five-year contract raises wages for full-time and part-time unionized UPS workers by $2.75 this year, amounting to a $7.50 hourly increase throughout the contract. It sets the minimum wage for part-time workers at $21 per hour and ends a two-tier wage system that created a class of new drivers known as “22.4s” who earned significantly less than senior drivers. The agreement would also give all workers Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday and end forced overtime on drivers’ days off.

“Rank-and-file members served on the committee for the first time, so we got to show up every day to support our fellow Teamsters and share their stories,” said Brandy Harris, a part-time UPS Teamster with Local 174 in Seattle and a member of the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee, in a statement released by Teamsters on July 25. “Our hard work has paid off––from those members and leaders negotiating for more at the table to my sisters and brothers building a credible strike threat around the country.”

“This agreement continues to reward UPS’s full- and part-time employees with industry-leading pay and benefits while retaining the flexibility we need to stay competitive, serve our customers, and keep our business strong,” said Carol Tomé, the chief executive officer at UPS, in a statement.

Unionized workers at UPS were prepared to strike on Aug. 1 if UPS and Teamsters could not reach an agreement. Negotiations stalled on July 5 when the Teamsters National Negotiating Committee said UPS provided an unacceptable final offer. If the agreement had not been reached, package delivery would have been severely disrupted, causing delays and higher shipping prices across the country.

The most notable win of the contract was the abolition of the 22.4 class of drivers created in the 2018 contract between Teamsters and UPS. The widely despised provision allowed the creation of a set of new drivers with poorer pay and much less control over their schedules and resulted in Teamsters rank-and-file workers rejecting the proposed contract in 2018. Teamsters leadership used a procedural loophole to impose the deal anyway. The 2023 proposed deal would reclassify 22.4 drivers and pay them in accordance with the regular wage schedule.

The agreement includes several other impactful provisions, including allowing part-time workers to transfer to another site with the same level of seniority. It prohibits vehicles from including cameras that face the driver, although it still allows forward-facing cameras. It requires air conditioning in all new vehicles purchased after 2024, and all existing cars to get two fans and air induction vents for the package compartment.

The wins of the new contract came from an undercurrent of workers frustrated with previous union leadership and the increased pressure rank-and-file workers faced as package delivery rapidly accelerated during COVID-19. In 2020, Teamsters elected President Sean O’Brien as a reformer candidate, hoping he would aggressively push for a strong contract. In the same year, UPS workers delivered a record number of packages without hazard pay while UPS made record profits. 

“We won this historic contract through rank-and-file militancy and mass involvement from UPS Teamsters across the country, but the struggle isn’t over,” said Katherine Draken, a part-time package handler and union steward. “We need to protect what we’ve won by enforcing the contract on the shop floor, holding UPS accountable, and organizing our coworkers so we can win an even better contract next time.”

From Aug. 3 to. 22, rank-and-file UPS workers will vote on whether to ratify the contract, which Teamsters called “historic” with “zero concessions from the rank-and-file.” But some UPS workers disagree with this characterization, saying the national tentative agreement includes clear concessions, such as explicitly allowing subcontracting drivers and only requiring air conditioning to be included in new vehicles purchased in 2024. Teamsters Mobilize, a grassroots group of rank-and-file Teamsters members organizing independent of official union leadership, is urging members to reject the contract and support a strike. 

“We left a lot of money on the table, and all this hoopla that this changed the game, that this is a historic win, it’s not that historic if UPS is still making billions,” said José Francisco Negrete, a part-time UPS warehouse worker and organizer with Teamsters Mobilize. “UPS is still making record profits, and you still have members who are going to be unhoused and members who are going to be in shelters, and that doesn’t make me happy.”

During a webinar for Teamsters on July 30, leaders at Teamsters Mobilize said that the agreement fails to adequately meet several worker demands. Organizers particularly emphasized that the proposed $21-per-hour minimum-wage rate for part-time workers fails to keep up with inflation, only increasing to $23 in 2027. The contract will stand for five years, and as inflation goes up, organizers said the proposed minimum wage would become increasingly inadequate, calling for a $25 floor and 5% annual increases during the contract lifetime. 

If the majority of rank-and-file Teamsters who vote in the ratification reject the contract as they did in 2018, negotiations will resume, and the Teamsters may go on strike until they reach a more favorable deal. For right now, workers are starting to have conversations at work and online to learn more about the tentative agreement and make the best decision for them. “It’s a good motivator for some of us to talk to our part-timers and to speak power into their ears and tell them their labor has value and meaning, and [this contract] does not reflect it whatsoever,” Negrete said. “And tell them the power is in you. The power is when you vote it down, and you send it back, you tell them this is why we’re not happy. And the reason we’re not happy is you’re still paying poverty pay.”

Sravya Tadepalli is a freelance writer based in Oregon. Her writing has been featured in Arlington Magazine, Teaching Tolerance, the Portland Tribune, Oregon Humanities, and the textbook America Now. Sravya...