CATEGORY: EDT Editorials
Editorial, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 1997
The apparently successful conclusion of negotiations between the Teamsters union and United Parcel Service late Monday should mean UPS's vast fleet of brown delivery vehicles rolls across most of the nation again today.
The parcel delivery company was virtually idled two weeks ago when about 185,000 union-member workers went on strike in a dispute over wages, benefits, pensions and full time positions.
America's consumers felt the effects of the strike because UPS carries millions of parcels daily. Its presence in the American workplace and at millions of residences illustrates dramatically the massive shift in parcel delivery and movement from the postal service to the fully privatized sector during recent decades.
The strike's settlement (expected to have been approved by most of the people whose votes count by late Tuesday night) means a certain kind of normality will return, probably within days, to familiar business patterns.
UPS, however, can't assume everything will be exactly as it was before the strike and neither can the Teamsters union.
Many businesses shifted delivery to other companies and to the postal service when the strike started. Some of that business will stay put with the new delivery systems because customers will have become satisfied with the alternatives. It becomes UPS' private-sector marketing and business development problem to convince old customers and new ones that it offers the best service and the best deal on parcel delivery. Its competitors like Federal Express and the postal service can be expected to fight to keep any gains they might have realized during the labor dispute.
The Teamsters union, which does not have a sterling reputation across the years for its conduct during strikes or for the conduct of some of its leaders in official capacities, didn't win any public relations points during this labor stoppage. Some members were charged with violence. The rhetoric was hot, provocative and accusatory from the Teamsters side. Few analysts of the American union movement see the strike as any kind of major breakthrough for organized labor's long decline in the American workplace.
However, it's also safe to assume that neither side would have settled had there not been enough movement on both sides to make an agreement workable. The employees of UPS got some of the points they demanded. The company prevailed in some of its demands.
The price may be higher costs for those who ship on UPS. Those costs have not yet become apparent, but they are certain to surface as the costs of new contracts are factored into UPS' financial situation. The company, it should be remembered, lost a reported $300 million every week of the strike. The workers put off work by the strike were without regular incomes, and that cost has not been fully calculated. It is safe to say it was significant on a per household basis because the average full-time driver for UPS was paid $19.95 per hour before the settlement. That will go up $3.10 per hour during the next five years.
Strikes are a right in our free society, but the labor market and the workplace would be better off without them. Most American workers enjoy and earn a good standard of living without union representation - and the orders to strike that can disrupt thousands of people, whole companies, and scores of communities for weeks and even months at a time.
It's good that the UPS strike is over. It's not necessarily good that it happened.