The sun was hot on the UPS picket line, but the heat had not weakened the resolve of the strikers I spoke with. These Teamsters were determined to narrow the wage gap between part-time and full-time workers. The men I spoke with (I didn’t see any women strikers), last Wednesday, said they are committed to staying out on strike until their union’s demands are met. Montgomery is not known as a union town, so why are local Teamsters so committed to the UPS strike?
Robin Arnold, a full-time UPS driver said, “the Teamsters is a brotherhood, we just want all the drivers to get paid the same.” As a full-time driver Arnold makes $19.90 per hour. He says that he wants to see the part-time workers doing full-time work get paid full-time pay.
Johnnie Jackson, a 25 year UPS veteran, says that he can retire next month. He earns $19.98 as a regular UPS route driver and under the current contract would receive about $1,500.00 per month as a retiree. Jackson says he started with UPS working part-time. He worked part-time for four months before he moved to full-time status.
Union officials hope the willingness of senior workers, like Jackson and Arnold, to suffer the heat of the picket line while going without a regular pay check will make the outcome of this strike successful.
Dreski Nichols, a part-timer at the plant for 7 years, said he works 8 to 9 hours a day. For this, Nichols is paid $13.09 per hour. He wants to see the college students that work the night shift receive better pay. Nichols says the workers on the night shift are required to do the equivalent of 8 hours work in five hours. Michael Smith agreed, he says turnover rate among night shift workers is high. Most of them only remain on the job a few months.
Louis Means, a student studying business at AUM, says that he earns $8.50 per hour. He works the night shift and agreed with Nichols and Smith about the demands the job places on workers.
Rodney Tucker has been a part-time UPS employee since October 1986. He says he started at $8.00 per hour working inside the plant about 17 hours per week. Today, he is paid $16.98, as a cover-driver, someone who drives a route when the regular driver is off. Tucker says he drives a regular route but after 11 years, still has part-time status and benefits.
These are comments from some of the local Teamsters about the UPS strike. On a larger scale, what message are the 185,000 Teamsters who walked off their jobs at United Parcel Service sending the rest of us?
Jeff Madrick, author of the book, “The End of Affluence” says it is time that American workers end their long self-destructive silence. Writing in a column in the Washington Post, Madrick says America has unquestionably returned to prosperity. He says the current 4.8 percent unemployment rate, with low rates of interest and inflation, and record corporate profits, all point to a prosperous economy.
“This strike is more than an inconvenience,” he says; “It is a much needed wake-up call, the issues behind this strike will force Americans to take a second look at an economy whose performance is far more uneven than is widely recognized.”
In the recent past, American workers were intimidated into accepting low wages because they were told that low wages were the only way for American companies to compete in a global economy. Corporations employed various strategies to reduce labor costs. These strategies included, use of part-time workers, contracting to outside companies to do work normally done by in-house employees, and use of temporary workers. Corporations used these tactics to reduce costs. Part-time, contract, and temporary employees are paid lower wages and provided fewer benefits than full-time workers. However considering our current prosperity, they may have reduced employee costs too far.
If the strikers I spoke with are representative of the typical UPS worker, company executives better take another look at the union’s demands. Because as 20 year UPS veteran, Robin Arnold pointed out, UPS is one of the most profitable companies in America. The company’s management is among the highest compensated executives of any American corporation. UPS can afford to share more of their profits with their employees by bringing more of these part-timers on as full-time workers. And on day 10 of the strike, in this essentially “non-Union” town, only 55 of the of the 713 Teamsters employed at the UPS’s Montgomery plant have crossed the picket-line to return to work.
Originally Published: August 20, 1997, Montgomery Advertiser