Living in New York City and working full time without a car, Jessica Ray and her husband rely on deliveries of food and just about everything else. To them, home deliveries mean more free time with their young son on weekends—instead of standing in line for toilet paper or dragging heavy bags of dog food back to their apartment.
“I don’t even know where to buy dog food,” Ray says about the specialty food she buys for the family’s aging dog.
There are millions of families like the Rays. They’ve swapped in-person store visits for doorstep deliveries in recent years.
That means that upcoming labor negotiations at UPS could become much more disruptive than the last discussions in 1997.
UPS ships 24 million packages on an average day. That amounts to about a quarter of all U.S. parcel volume. Its 350,000 union workers still seethe about a contract they feel was forced on them in 2018.
Now those workers want things to change. If UPS and union members don’t agree quickly, workers will strike. That likely means higher prices and long wait times for package receivers like the Rays.
Remember the supply chain breakdown of the coronavirus pandemic? In the second half of 2021, the phrase “global supply chain” entered casual conversation as the world emerged from the pandemic. (Read Supply Chain Bottlenecks.)
Businesses struggled to get what they needed. Automakers held vehicles just off the assembly line because they didn’t have all the parts. Builders ran short on materials for finishing construction. Jewelry, electronics, appliances—even baby formula—disappeared from store shelves. As a result, businesses raised prices and wait times.
Some of those issues still linger. The looming strike at UPS threatens to extend the problems. So those who count on doorstep deliveries for basics may have to rethink weekly schedules.
UPS workers feel they’ve played a part in transforming how Americans shop while helping make UPS a much more valuable company. Union leaders say frontline UPS workers deserve some of the payout.
“Our members worked really hard over the pandemic,” says Teamsters Union spokesperson Kara Denize. “They need to see their fair share.”
In addition to addressing part-time pay and allegedly extreme overtime, the union wants to standardize pay scales, hours, and benefits. Driver safety, particularly the lack of air conditioning in delivery trucks, is also part of the discussion.
Teamsters are also attempting to organize Amazon workers. And there are rumblings at Apple, Starbucks, and Trader Joe’s.
“This has just huge implications for the entire labor movement in the United States,” says John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies.
When dozens of UPS workers met with Teamsters leadership early this year, President Sean O’Brien delivered a message of urgency. “We’re going into these negotiations with a clear message to UPS that we’re not going past August 1,” O’Brien told the gathering.
It would be the first work stoppage since a walkout by 185,000 workers crippled the company a quarter century ago.
It’s true that “the laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18) Still, no one wants to worry about toilet paper and infant food again.
UPS CEO Carol Tomé remains optimistic—at least publicly. She told investors that the company and the union aren’t far apart on major issues, saying she “expects to reach agreement by the end of July.”
If Tomé is wrong, Americans may need to put aside more time to shop like they once did.
(A UPS driver loads his truck next to a UPS store in New York on May 11, 2023. AP/Richard Drew)