Will the Teamsters Finally End Their Love Affair with UPS? A Concise History of Teamster-UPS Relations

Date: 2023-03-10T05:01:02+00:00

Location: cosmonautmag.com

Edgar Esquivel details the long and tumultuous history of Teamster relations with United Parcel Service, showing a story of both class collaboration and rank-and-file resistance. 

In May of 2000, John Shultz of Traffic World magazine authored an article titled “In Love with Hoffa,” where he wrote about the cozy relationship between the then-sophomore Teamsters General President (GP) James P. Hoffa Jr. and United Parcel Service (UPS) CEO Scott Davis.1 Eleven years later and several weeks before the 2011 Teamsters Convention, DC Velocity reported in another article that Davis told a gathering of CEOs and financial analysts that, “the relationship with the Teamsters is better than it’s ever been before.”2 It further added that UPS was “happy with the way things are” and would like to negotiate the next contract [2013] with Hoffa. Both logistics magazines correctly assessed the “love affair” between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the package king. 

Whatever relationship Hoffa and UPS may have developed during his twenty-three-year reign, it’s important to note that the business-friendly affair between the company and the Teamsters can be traced back over 100 years to Seattle, where the logistics company was founded in 1907 by Jim Casey. Hence, the history of Teamster-UPS relations has transpired through nine Teamster presidents: from Dan Tobin to Hoffa Jr. With the exception of Ron Carey (1992-1998), the other eight administrations combined on multiple occasions to cut sweetheart and backroom deals with the company.  

Today serving approximately 290,000 UPSers, Sean O’Brien will be the tenth Teamster GP to negotiate the next National Master Agreement due to expire at the end of July. Approximately 14% or 40,000 of those 290,000 workers are “freeloaders” from Right-to-Work states that do not pay union dues but reap the same benefits. Already, the information brownout O’Brien promised to end during his run for office has been thrown out the window Hoffa-style.3 With regional supplemental contract negotiations underway, it’s important to look at the tragic history of Teamster-UPS relations to better understand the challenge ahead. Using a variety of very limited sources this article will analyze a frustrating history of unnecessary concessions, hope, and betrayals from its first local and regional contracts—to the creation of the first National Master Agreement in 1979 and beyond. But ultimately, it will be an active or apathetic membership that will decide the fate of a 107-year Teamster-UPS affair in this year’s contract negotiations.      

In 1916, fearing the militancy of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies which had become the most powerful industrial union in America by wreaking havoc across the nation through massive strikes, Jim Casey invited the conservative and reactionary Teamsters union in Seattle to organize his American Messenger Company (predecessor to UPS). In the July issue of the 1915 International Teamster magazine, Teamsters GP Dan Tobin had written: “Our international union is a business institution and must be run on business lines or it cannot continue to exist.”4 Such a declaration was appealing to Casey and his business plans. His main objective was to fend off the trade union militancy and radicalism the Wobblies had espoused during the first two decades of the twentieth century. For example, when the Seattle General Strike of 1919 broke out, 110 Seattle union locals voted to strike.5 Pathetically, the conservative Teamsters Local 566 which represented UPS workers in the city was the only local chapter not to participate and opted to scab during the five-day work stoppage. 

As a response to the general strike, Tobin, a poster child of American business unionism played an important role in joining Washington’s First Red Scare crusades against union militancy and radicalism. The Palmer Raids, coined after Attorney General Alexander Mitchel Palmer and administered by future FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was a series of raids that followed the Seattle strike in 1919 and 1920 to capture, arrest and/or deport suspected anarcho-syndicalists, socialists, and other radicals in the labor movement. In a violent manner, Washington succeeded in smashing the old militants of the IWW and the new militants of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA).6 The government had the full support of a “red-baiting” Tobin at the IBT and his rising disciple in Seattle, Dave Beck. Concerned with his expanding enterprise, Casey again invited the Teamsters to organize UPS workers in Oakland.7 With the assistance of a collaborating Teamsters union, UPS expanded its business down the Pacific coastline in the 1920s. The company was able to successfully establish itself in major metropolitan areas like Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.  

During the 1920s, Casey moved UPS’s headquarters from Seattle down to Los Angeles—a city that was surprisingly “open-shop” or anti-union through the first half of the 1930s.8 Simultaneously, Beck ascended through the Teamsters hierarchy to become the head of the Western region. By the 1930s he succeeded in developing a business-friendly relationship with Casey and UPS. In The Package King: A Rank-and-File History of UPS, former UPS Teamster Joe Allen writes that Beck was “a professional anti-communist and opponent of militant trade unionism.”9 A correct assessment, considering Beck’s strong opposition to the general strike in his hometown in 1919. 

Beck was met with some trouble organizing in Los Angeles until the spontaneous series of strikes that broke out in 1934 led by radical Trotskyist Teamster Farrell Dobs in Minneapolis and Longshoreman Harry Bridges of the CPUSA on the San Francisco docks forced the city’s powerful anti-union Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association (MMA) to capitulate to the conservative Teamsters. In 1934 approximately 1.5 million workers in different industries led by militant Trotskyists and communists went on strike.10 In fear of becoming targets of the Marxian-type of militant trade unionism, the Los Angeles MMA much like Jim Casey in 1916 opted for the labor peace of the Teamsters. Under Beck’s conservative brand of pro-business unionism, the Teamsters were able to consolidate the unionization of UPS workers along the West Coast.

After successfully establishing itself along the West Coast, in 1930 UPS made its way into the financial capital of the world, New York City. After arriving in the citadel of modernity, Casey invited Teamsters Local 804 to organize its new employees. By the end of the decade, the local totaled more than 1,800 UPSers in their ranks. They quickly gained a reputation for acting independently of Tobin and his conservative brand of business unionism. Without the consent of the IBT, the New York local struck UPS in 1939 after the company violated the grievance procedure following the suspension of a sorter.11 In defiance of the pledge signed by the AFL-CIO not to strike during World War II, Local 804 again struck the company in 1942 after the suspension of over 300 drivers refusing to work overtime and then struck again in 1945 after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract.12 

In September of 1946 a wild-cat strike broke out over lost wages during a Macy’s drivers’ strike. The work stoppage led by a former Macy’s militant rebel Leonard Geiger amassed 2,000 drivers and package handlers, carrying on until November when a settlement was finally reached.13 Geiger’s ability to mobilize members forced Local 804 to hire him as an organizer. In 1949 he was elected principal officer of Local 804. But as was common in the Teamsters union, Geiger accommodated himself with the most reactionary elements of the Teamsters old-guard shortly after taking office. By the early 1950s, he had become a close ally of Dave Beck who had taken over the IBT in 1952. A proposition to raise union dues at Local 804 brought Geiger’s popularity to an end in 1957 when the same members that had put him in office turned on him. By then, Geiger had fallen under the spell of the new Teamster GP Jimmy Hoffa—who quickly gained international notoriety for inviting the most infamous members of La Cosa Nostra to take control of locals across the nation and corrupting the union to its core. Geiger’s unpopular dues increase was defeated by 1,400 to 100 votes.14 

Geiger died a few months after his dues increase proposal was defeated and was succeeded by Jack Mahoney, who served one term, and then Thomas Simcox. In 1962, acting against Hoffa’s wishes, Local 804 again struck UPS for seven weeks. Finally, after rejecting the contract twice, the older members grew exhausted on the picket line, and unfortunately for the younger members, voted to ratify the terms it had previously rejected. Among those young members was Ron Carey. This was the same sweetheart contract negotiated by Hoffa in the Southern California agreement that introduced the rapid expansion of a UPS part-time workforce. As Joe Allen explains, the ratification at Local 804 of a similar deal in Southern California would lead to the destruction of full-time jobs during the next two decades.15

Much anger and animosity from Local 804 members brewed after the 1962 agreement that in 1967 running for a third time at the young age of thirty-three, Ron Carey finally defeated Simcox for the local’s leadership.16 The election of Carey marked a turning point not only for Local 804, but for the entire Teamsters union. Carey quickly gained a reputation for going against the grain by not only challenging UPS at every turn but also challenging and defying the Mafia-entrenched pro-business union bureaucracy. Despite death threats, Carey carried on with his reform agenda. Ironically, in the same year that Carey won the Local 804 leadership, Jimmy Hoffa had entered federal prison for jury tampering and embezzlement of union pension funds. The IBT was left under the tutelage of his own personal gofer, Frank Fitzsimmons who went on to become just another puppet of organized crime. 

When Carey took the helm of Local 804 in 1968 the UPS contract was due to expire. He immediately made demands the IBT leadership viewed as “unattainable.” Those unattainable demands included stopping the expansion of more part-time workers, better wages, and more importantly a “25 & Out” retirement clause that would allow UPSers to retire after twenty-five years of service.17 Despite the opposition from Fitzsimmons at the IBT and the Mafia-controlled New York Joint Council, Carey called a strike in May 1968. An enraged Fitzsimmons using his GP powers forced a vote on UPS’s last and final offer in a last-minute effort to put the strike to a halt. But his efforts fell short when the membership overwhelmingly rejected the offer.18 Carey took his 4,000 UPSers out on strike and kept them there until the company capitulated to every single demand nine weeks later. Carey went on to lead his members to three more strikes against UPS during his reign as head of Local 804.   

As UPS expanded across the continental United States, by the 1970s it became the largest Teamster employer in the country. At the same time, a pragmatic rank-and-file began to organize against their own business-friendly locals and corrupt leadership. Active Teamsters like Anne Mackie, a member of the International Socialists (IS) that started her career in Portland before transferring to Cleveland founded UPSurge in 1975. Mackie was later joined by a natural-born leader Vince Meredith of Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville. As the historian and former Teamster activist Dan LaBotz wrote, “Vince Meredith brought to UPSurge what was probably the best organized, strongest, and most militant group of workers in the country.”19 In the 1960s Meredith had led the fight against package car drivers wearing bowties and won. Mackie founded the reform group’s monthly newsletter UPSurge in September 1975 and released a total of twenty-seven monthly issues during its circulation. The newsletter was produced to prepare UPSers for the 1976 central states regional contract covering thirteen states.20

In 1976 UPSurge, working in conjunction with Teamsters for a Decent Contract (a reform caucus within Teamster freight members), called for a joint conference to be held in Indianapolis. Mackie and Meredith expected about 250 members to show, but on the day of the event, they were shocked to see approximately 650 Teamsters arrive at the Marriot Hotel.21 Teamsters across the nation arrived at the conference with huge delegations from nearby Ohio, Kentucky, and even Detroit which chartered a bus that was followed by a car caravan. Meredith was able to bring half of the full-time workers from Louisville and all seven shop stewards.22 The demands of these members were directed not only at UPS but also at the bureaucratic degeneration of the IBT.

The activism and pressure generated by UPSurge forced the Teamsters to call a strike in the central states that lasted two weeks and in the summer a strike on the East Coast that carried on for thirteen weeks.23 After the union ordered its members back to work, UPSurge called for wildcat strikes that took place in several locals in the Midwest. When UPSurge was dismantled at the end of 1977, the majority of its militant activists joined a broader reform coalition of all Teamster crafts—the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). Since its birth in 1976, TDU worked as an instrument for educating members, fighting against corruption, and organizing the rank-and-file against givebacks. Their fight against nepotism, gangsterism, thuggery, bullying, sexism, homophobia, racism, bloated salaries, the collection of multiple salaries and pensions, and every other negative element that has reigned the halls of the most bureaucratized and corrupt union in North America made it a unique organization. For forty-three years TDU remained the most important reform caucus. In 2019 they betrayed the principles they were founded on when they endorsed a byproduct of all these inadequacies in Sean O’Brien. 

It was the tumultuous Teamsters of the 1970s, as coined by Dan LaBotz, that produced UPSurge and then TDU in the decade,24 forced UPS with the help of a corrupt IBT leadership to collaborate in a plan to crush militant rank-and-file activism. This type of militancy had produced trouble at UPS from regional areas like the central states and Local 804 which had acted independently of the IBT bureaucracy in bettering their working conditions through direct rank-and-file action. In 1979 UPS demanded a national contract from the union with the goal of lowering the standards militant activists had fought against. 

After succeeding in replacing retired full-time inside workers with part-timers in the Southern, Central, and Western regions during the 1976 contract, UPS left both the collaborationist IBT and UPS to fight the East Coast and Chicago locals alone.25 In June 1979, UPS succeeded in getting what it wanted from the Teamsters when it landed its first National Master Agreement (NMA) covering 220 locals and 70,000 employees.26 However, two Chicago Locals: 705 and 710, and New York Local 804 led by Ron Carey, refused to give up their bargaining rights to the international union. In order to persuade many reluctant locals to agree to the NMA, Frank Fitzsimmons had to agree to the creation of nearly two dozen supplements and riders which allowed for the bargaining of a wide range of issues not covered by the NMA such as pension plans, job bidding, work preservation, etc.27 

The 1982 NMA negotiations were even more detrimental for the membership. The Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) clause was eliminated despite a 1981 inflation of over 10%.28 The union also agreed to wage freezes during the first two years of the agreement and a lousy 33 cents in 1984. UPS also succeeded in reducing the starting wage of part-time workers replacing retired full-time employees from the $11 or $12 they were earning depending on geographic location, down to $8.29 By the time of the agreement, about half of the UPS workforce was constituted by part-time workers. TDU launched an effort to defeat the 1982 NMA in what it coined a complete “sellout.” Unfortunately for rank-and-file members fearing the uncertainty of a rising unemployment rate that surpassed 10% that year, the TA was ratified by a close 52% to 48% vote.

Following the ratification of the 1982 contract, UPS made an ultimate push to expand into the overnight or air market in a challenge to Federal Express (predecessor to Fed Ex). By 1985, UPS’s Next Day Air (NDA) service became available in the continental United States and began the shipment of international packages to six European countries.30 UPS’s NDA operation was able to quickly take off and succeeded thanks to what Joe Allen refers to as “permanent concessions from the Teamsters.”31 To add insult to injury, in August 1984 members were caught by surprise when they received ballots via mail on a two-year extension GP Jackie Presser had negotiated in secret. As UPS expanded its “air” system with no language whatsoever pertaining to it, the company was able to do as it saw fit with the new operation. In return for the sweetheart agreement, workers received a 50-cent raise in 1985 and again in 1986.32 In exchange for giving up COLA on the two-year extension, full-time workers also received a $1,000 bonus and part-timers $500 after ratification.     

The 1987 tentative agreement (TA) turned out to be an even bigger disaster than the previous two agreements. It further expanded the part-time workforce by creating new classifications: Air Drivers, Air Walkers, Air Hub, and Air Gateway employees.33 To make matters worse, the TA had no language around creating full-time air employees for a service that generated more wealth than its ground operation. The TA was rejected by an enraged 53% of the membership. But as a pro-business unionist, the corrupt Presser used the two-thirds rule in the Teamsters Constitution (the need for a two-thirds majority to reject a contract) to impose it on the members anyway. Shortly after, it was revealed that Presser had been under the control of Cleveland mob boss Angelo Lonardo—and under pressure from the FBI became an informant to stay out of prison.34  

The 1990 contract negotiations were left under the direction of William McCarthy. McCarthy succeeded to become Teamster GP in 1988 following the death of Jackie Presser and after a divisive political struggle within the mob-controlled general executive board of the union. More importantly, McCarthy was not promoted to the highest office of the IBT based on his merits and pro-worker credentials. He had been a loyal puppet of New England mob boss Raymond Patriarca and he himself had allowed gangsters and Winter Hill Gang goons and thugs to infiltrate the ranks of Boston Local 25 and New England Joint Council 10 going back to the days he gained control of their offices in 1955 and 1972.35 In fact, New England’s infamous motion picture division had fallen under the full control of the gang. McCarthy, who praised the Winter Hill Gang, also used them to enforce his policies against any dissenters—a unique trademark of the Teamsters old-guard.  

When McCarthy ascended to the highest office in the IBT, the union had already been placed under federal oversight. From 1988 when McCarthy was appointed GP till the election of 1991, he proved to be weak and incompetent. The 1990 UPS contract negotiations were no exception when the TA turned out to be a great disaster for the Teamsters. The concessions filled contract not only tarnished McCarthy’s record but also derailed his plans to seek reelection as head of the Teamsters in the 1991 general election. Although McCarthy threatened to strike, his inability to mobilize the membership allowed UPS to beat the union at their game. Nationwide UPS set up district contract ratification coordinators who lobbied workers to vote in favor of ratification.36 Unfortunately for himself, McCarthy, who was hoping for a second offer from the company, was left stranded when the contract was ratified on the first vote by over 55% of the membership. The three-year agreement covering 146,00 members gave workers 50 cents per year and increased the top rate from $16.10 per hour to $17.60.37 The same starting wage of $8 for an expanding part-time workforce set under the 1982 agreement remained intact. 

More detrimental was that the new agreement allowed UPS the unlimited use of the low-rate Special Air Drivers. The company’s victory over the Teamsters enabled it to build its air “empire” through the erection of air hubs and air recoveries across the nation.38 These new facilities were all staffed by part-time workers. And much like the 1987 concessionary agreement, in 1990 again the union failed to bargain any full-time worker language into its Air Operation. By 1990 approximately two-thirds of the total UPS Teamster employees were part-time workers due to the incompetence of corrupt and weak IBT bureaucrats that got beaten at every turn. To Dan LaBotz, UPS didn’t have a sweetheart deal with the Teamsters in 1990—it had a goldrush.39

When in November 1989, Ron Carey announced his candidacy for IBT general president the union’s old-guard had splintered. The two old-guard candidates, R.V. Durham out of North Carolina and Walter Shea out of Virginia also announced their candidacy for the union’s top spot. The corrupt pro-business and incompetent old-guard made the mistake of doubting that Carey could possibly win and split their vote. Against tremendous odds, the Carey slate won the election with 48% of the vote in the three-way race. After winning the election, he quickly set out to not only fight corporate greed, but also the Teamsters old-guard’s tradition of favoritism, nepotism, gangsterism, thuggery, and overall bureaucratic corruption that had been entrenched in the Teamsters culture since its foundation. During his tenure as Teamsters GP, Carey placed close to seventy locals into trusteeship because of alleged corruption, ties to the mob, and/or fiscal mismanagement.40

Carey inherited a union on the brink of financial collapse. But much to the dislike of the old-guard, Carey revived the union through grassroots organizing that for the first time included rank-and-file involvement in the contract negotiating committees. For UPS, the election of Carey to the highest office of the Teamsters was like a nightmare come to life and did not act favorably to democracy coming to the union. Carey’s first battle was the 1993 UPS contract negotiations covering 182,000 Teamsters. In the midst of negotiations, and fearing Carey—UPS presented a two-page letter to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) requesting their business operation be considered under the anti-worker Railway Labor Act (RLA).41 

The contract negotiations did not go well and when UPS offered $2.10 over six years, Carey declared it “insulting and ridiculous” and immediately called for a strike vote that many argued should have happened before negotiations began.42 After 94% of the members voted to strike, the company got a little more serious about getting a deal done. Considering the Teamsters had allowed UPS to create a part-time empire going back to the 1962 sweetheart deal the notorious Jimmy Hoffa had cut in the Southern California agreement, Carey and his Package Director Mario Perrucci out of New Jersey’s Local 177 were able to push the company to concede to the creation of 500 full-time jobs for the first time since the NMA agreement had been created in 1979. Carey was also able to reduce the original six-year proposal from the company, down to a four-year agreement and wage increases of $2.25 over the life of the agreement.43 The 1994 agreement had the highest wage increases for UPS Teamsters, but unfortunately for part-timers, the starting wage once again did not move from the $8 agreed during the 1982 contract. 

After the successful development of UPS air operations that had put a dent into Federal Express’s primary market, the company looked to do the same in the freight industry. In January 1994, it announced it would raise the weight limit of packages from the seventy pounds it had agreed with the Teamsters in the 1994 agreement, up to 150 pounds beginning on February 7, 1994.44 After talks between the union and the company went nowhere over the contractual breach, Carey set the same day as a strike date. UPS immediately lobbied Washington and was awarded a five-day injunction against the IBT that barred a work-stoppage from taking place, but a courageous Carey defied the government injunction and prepared his members to strike.45 The Teamsters had not defied an injunction since the militant Trotskyists acting independently of the IBT had done so in the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strike. 

Approximately less than half of the 182,000 UPS Teamsters participated in Carey’s call to strike. Local unions in sporadic areas across the country supporting Carey and standing against the bitter and corrupt old-guard locals took their members out on strike. Local 174 in Seattle led by newly elected reformer Bob Hasegawa was the only local in the entire Western Conference of Teamsters to strike. Carey won the strike after a day and UPS countered by filing a lawsuit for financial damages, but it was quickly dismissed by the same judge that had issued the five-day injunction. 

R.V. Durham, still bitter over losing the 1991 election to Carey took the company’s side. Durham and over half of the old-guard-led locals scared their members into submission by deceiving them with the false story they would be subject to being terminated for participating in the “illegal” action. Even Northern California’s power broker Chuck Mack joined Durham and over half of the old-guard locals in scabbing during the strike. The collaborationist head of the AFL-CIO Lane Kirkland also failed to stand in solidarity with Carey for fear of breaking his long-time partnership with corporate America. With the support of the pro-business Teamsters old-guard, UPS continued to push the NLRB to change their jurisdiction to the RLA, but in 1995 were denied.46

The 1994 Safety Strike that witnessed over half of the Teamster locals nationwide scab clearly exemplified the divisions between the Teamsters reform movement and the pro-business old-guard. In the 1996 Teamsters general election, the latter expressed their bitter discontent by allying themselves behind the son of the Mafia-tied Jimmy Hoffa—James P. Hoffa Jr. The younger Hoffa was no working-class hero and the old-guard clearly knew that. He was what Ron Carey referred to as an “empty suit” and was in fact a corporate lawyer fighting on the side of big business and just another nepoteamster47 with a very famous name aspiring to take the highest office of the union. In 1991 Hoffa Jr., had been ruled ineligible to run since he had not met the twenty-four-month guidelines to qualify him.   

Much like the Teamsters old-guard, the media also jumped on the Hoffa bandwagon and promoted him like he was the savior of corporate America. Unfortunately, for a bitter and vindictive old-guard made up of many nepoteamsters and their entourage of blind cheerleaders, goons and thugs—the majority of rank-and-file members voted against going back to the misery and corruption of the past. They voted by a 52% to 48% margin to not only give Carey another five years, but a chance to negotiate the important 1997 UPS Contract.   

Upon winning reelection, Carey created the Field Service Department which was designed to train a crew of Field Representatives for the contract negotiations representing 185,000 members. These “field reps” as they were referred as were sent into uncooperative locals. Carey began fighting a war on two fronts—against both UPS and the old-guard locals now under the clear leadership of Hoffa. In March of 1997 the negotiations between the Teamsters and UPS began and Carey made it clear in a press conference to the media, “UPS is a billion dollar company that can afford to provide good full-time jobs with pension and healthcare.”48 A few days later Carey and his new package director Ken Hall sat across the table to exchange proposals. Throughout the rounds of negotiations Carey did what no Teamster leader had done since the 1934 Trotskyist-led Minneapolis Teamsters Strike—mobilize the membership.49 

During negotiations, it was revealed that top UPS executives were working in collusion with old-guard officers to undermine Carey’s efforts. It was clear that UPS and more than half of the old-guard locals were not going to the table to bargain in good faith. Carey countered by delivering a statement, “It has been called to my attention that some local unions are not complying with the negotiating committee’s policy and strategy.”50 Many of the field reps that were sent out to engage with members at the gates were often met by unpleasant business agents and a few shop-stewards loyal to their old-guard locals. These locals were uncooperative at every turn and were clearly committed to sabotaging the union’s efforts at landing a strong contract.

In May 1997, UPS proposed the complete takeover of health, welfare, and pension funds, a seven-year agreement, and the expansion of their Air Operations to part-time employees conducting all the work. They also demanded no increase in the starting pay and the right to force workers to cross picket lines.51 On the third day of that round of negotiations it became clear to Carey and Hall that the company was not budging on their demands, so Hall made the call to leave the table.52 In July, locals across the nation held strike authorization votes where members voted between 90% to 95% in favor. 

Despite raking in $1 billion in 1996, UPS made the claim they could not afford to create the “large” number of full-time jobs Carey was demanding. In July the company made its “last, best and final offer.” UPS proposed a lower wage increase than the $2.25 from the 1993 agreement, the creation of only 200 full-time jobs, the expansion of subcontracting, and full control of the full-time employee pension funds.53 On Thursday, July 31st federal mediators forced two representatives from each side to meet. Members were ready to walk the picket line, but the action was halted. On Sunday, August 3rd, Carey addressed the media over UPS’s reluctance to meet the union’s key issues and said, “I assure you at 12:01, we’ll be on strike.”54

UPS never believed Carey would take his membership out on strike so it failed to develop a Plan B.55 They lobbied the Bill Clinton administration to halt the strike using powers from the Taft-Hartley Act, but the president declined to. The strike, organized around the slogan “Part-Time America Doesn’t Work,” carried on for fifteen days and cost UPS more than $600 million. Fears of even larger losses finally led management to concede defeat. Carey’s action against Big Brown paralyzed the greater part of the international and American distribution services at the time. So the package-handling giant had to agree to the central demands of the union by allowing it control of its own pension funds, address unsafe working conditions, and force it to create an unheard 10,000 full-time jobs. Carey also landed the largest wage increases in UPS history of $3.10 over five years for full-timers and $4.10 for part-timers. For the first time since 1982, he also succeeded in raising the starting wage from $8 to $8.50 per hour. 

To some on the Left, Carey’s victory did not go far enough. But for others it was the largest labor victory in a generation after decades of crushing defeats that emerged as a result of deregulation in the 1970s, the defeat of 13,000 Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) in 1981, and the destruction of unionized manufacturing jobs across the rust belt states in the 1980s due to outsourcing.        

Shortly after Ron Carey won reelection in 1996 it was revealed that his staffers had illegally funneled more than $200,000 into his campaign. The then election supervisor Barbara Zack Quindel found that Carey was not personally involved, nor that he had any knowledge of the transaction. The illegal transaction had been committed by his campaign manager Jere Nash and two other Democratic party operatives: Martin Davis of November Group political consultants and Michael Ansara of Share Group telemarketing.56 But following the victorious UPS strike, Quindel nullified the 1996 election and called for a new election because Carey had benefitted from illegal campaign contributions. In November 1997, as a favor to corporate America and a blow to workers, new election supervisor Kenneth Conboy disqualified Carey from the rerun election that he was sure to win.   

In the 1998 special election, Washington’s plan worked to help restore the old-guard to power with the election of James P. Hoffa Jr.,—the son of the notorious and mafia-tied Jimmy Hoffa who in the 1950s and 1960s had invited the most infamous members of La Cosa Nostra family to infiltrate the halls of the IBT. The election of Hoffa ushered in an era of labor peace and endless corruption scandals. Under his leadership UPS and corporate America triumphed through a flood of concessionary contracts at every employer. In his first contract at UPS in 2002, Hoffa capitulated to Big Brown agreeing to a long six-year contract. Carey had rejected a six-year proposition from the company during the 1993 negotiations. The six-year agreement serving 210,000 UPS Teamsters gave full-time workers $5 over the life of the contract and $6 to part-timers. The agreement also included the creation of 10,000 full-time jobs.57 The starting wage of $8.50 set under the 1997 agreement remained the same.  

In September 2007, eleven months before the agreement was set to expire—Hoffa agreed on a new five-year contract that he sent out to 240,000 members for ratification. The agreement gave members $4 over the life of the contract and pension increases of over $3 into only the solvent pension funds. The starting wage for new hires again remained at the low of $8.50. It was the Teamsters that rushed this contract and not UPS, but why? Hoffa and Ken Hall were desperate to pull-out 43,000 members from the rapidly imploding Central States Pension Fund before the end of that year. In exchange of the early agreement, UPS paid $6.1 billion to withdraw from the troubled fund and took full control of 43,000 UPSers’ new retirement fund.58 In addition UPS gave the Teamsters easy access to organize 12,000 workers at UPS Freight.59

When the Teamsters opened negotiations in 2013 Hoffa appointed his most ardent supporter in New England – Sean O’Brien – as assistant to Ken Hall and coordinator of supplemental negotiations. Together they went on to lead an information “brownout” covering over 240,000 members and the most concessionary contract in UPS Teamsters history. Hall and O’Brien toured the country and held rallies where they claimed UPS wanted members to pay for healthcare. Their contract campaign slogan became, “Teamsters will not pay $90, $9 or 9 cents toward their healthcare.” About 45% of all UPSers had been covered under a company-administered Cadillac healthcare plan. The rest were covered under union-administered Taft-Hartley plans with inferior coverage. Hall’s and O’Brien’s plan was to shift all those members under the company-administered plan into the newly created Teamcare. 

When a TA was reached over three months before expiration, members quickly knew it was a bad deal.60 When the details were presented to members it clearly showed that Teamcare had reduced services and reduced prescriptions, and that coverage was cut from thirty days—down to seven. The general wage increases were below inflation at $3.90 over five years but worse of all in the last two years it split the raises in half—into two raises six months apart: August and February. O’Brien who was in charge of getting the supplements ratified showed up to multiple locals demanding concessions. At Local 804—the home of Ron Carey, he attempted to strongarm them into accepting a concessionary supplement and to give up their “25 and Out” pension clause. Former leader of Local 804 Tim Sylvester best summed it up: 

During the last contract negotiations O’Brien tried to strongarm my local into accepting a lower pension increase and eliminating “25 and Out.” O’Brien said to me: ‘we [Local 25] gave-up 25 and Out years ago and our members don’t miss it.’ My reply was, I’m 804, I might as well slice my throat at the next general membership meeting if I give up 25 and Out! We refused and united the members instead. We won $400/month pension increase including the twenty-five years of service and out regardless of age.”61

Enraged members organized against the sellout and when the concessions filled contract was presented at local halls, officers and business agents were met with furious and angry members shouting a barrage of obscenities. For the Southwest Rider covering ten locals in Arizona, New Mexico, Las Vegas and Southern California; the shift to Teamcare would have eliminated their Program for Enhanced Early Retirement (PEER) 80 covered under the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Plan—that is when the combined age of a member and years of service equal eighty. Teamcare coverage required members to work until age fifty-five to qualify for retiree medical benefits.62 Angry members packed their local halls across the Southwest and united to reject the NMA, Western Supplement, and the Southwest Riders. As a matter of fact, eighteen supplements and riders were rejected in total by members over healthcare concessions crafted by O’Brien himself. Unfortunately, the NMA narrowly passed with 53% approval.63    

The members’ reluctance to accept inferior healthcare in the Southwest and Local 177 pushed their local leaders to “carve-out” their own plan that would protect PEER 80. In November 2013 they succeeded in carving out a new Taft-Hartley plan—the Teamsters Western Region & Local 177 Health Care Plan. Although the plan was not “identical” to the company-administered plan like the hofficers64 claimed when it was presented, it was superior to Teamcare. But it came at a huge cost. When details of the new plan arrived at members’ homes via mail, Jim Brown and Mike Deszcz—now retired drivers out of Local 952 in Orange County, CA., immediately noticed that pension increases were being diverted to pay for the creation of the plan.65 Out of the lousy $2.50 in pension increases the members were due to receive under the original TA, Western Package Director and chair of the new healthcare plan Andy Marshall agreed to divert $1.25 during the first three years of the agreement to pay for it.66 

During those first three years of the agreement, Northern California and Pacific Northwest members enjoyed increases of $1.50, while in the Southwest members saw it increase by just 25 cents. Due to the diversion of pension, UPSers covered by the Southwest Rider today receive the lowest contribution into the Western Conference of Teamsters (WCT) Pension Plan. The $50 per month healthcare cost retirees had enjoyed for many years under the company-administered plan was also given away. The new plan cost future retirees $150 and $300 for those with a spouse.67 The agreement was so unpopular that in the small Local 186 in Ventura, made up of by a majority of UPSers, members united behind feeder driver Abel Garcia and ousted longtime incumbent Bill Elder two years later. Ironically, a year after being ousted—Elder and his UPS coordinator Doug Saint, were charged with embezzlement by the Independent Investigations Officer (IIO) and expelled from the Teamsters.68 

Ten months after the 2013 concessionary TA was reached—the Louisville, Western Pennsylvania and Philadelphia supplements were again rejected for a second time by the membership over the same healthcare concessions and a variety of other issues. Two weeks later, Hoffa with the blessing of Hall, O’Brien, and the rest of his old-guard general executive board, imposed the three remaining supplements on the members using a loophole in the Teamsters Constitution.69

In early February 2017 Hoffa appointed his most loyal New England and 2016 running mate,  Sean O’Brien as his new UPS Package Director. Aware that the Teamsters reform movement had organized to reject eighteen supplements in 2013, O’Brien knew very well it would be nearly impossible to negotiate a TA for over 250,000 members that would accept it considering the unlimited problems and issues that arose with the healthcare concessions he had engineered in the existing agreement. For reaching out to the opposition that had not only caused trouble for Hoffa following the disastrous 2013 TA, but barely squeaked by to win reelection in 2016 with 51.5% of the vote—Hoffa fired O’Brien as package director and replaced him with a Baltimore flunky in Denis Taylor seven months later.70

It was clear that Hoffa and the new package director were gearing up towards negotiating a substandard contract with the package giant. The information brownout that was a trademark of the Hoffa regime continued in 2018, but as concessions were being negotiated by Taylor—worried hofficers fearing rank-and-file rebellions began to leak information to the reform camp. When the TA was reached it raised the starting wage from $10 to $13 with yearly starting increases to $15.50 in the last year. It also gave seniority employees $4.15 over the life of the contract. But the ultimate concession was the creation of a new tier of drivers coined as “hybrid” under Article 22.4 introduced by the union. These drivers would work Tuesday through Saturday, perform the same work as traditional package car drivers and top-out at $35.94 as opposed to the top-rate of $42.33 in Southern California. They would also have no protection against excessive overtime. The union also granted the company the freedom to hire personal vehicle drivers (PVD’s) off the street to perform work during the Christmas peak season. For UPS, these concessions were like hitting the jackpot. 

When the TA was sent out for ratification to members, the NMA was rejected 54% to 46%. Another ten supplements and riders out of a total of twenty-eight were also rejected. However, along with the NMA, five of the ten rejected supplements were ratified by Hoffa and Taylor because less than 50% of members voted and/or the No vote did not reach two-thirds of the total tally.71 Such a vindictive response from Hoffa was in retaliation to the headache the 2013 agreement turned out to be for him, but also the stress he endured during the 2016 Teamsters general election where he barely managed to squeak by, his slate losing six vice-presidential positions to reformers. The imposition of a concessionary contract had not been taken by the IBT since Jackie Presser had done so in the 1987 agreement. This imposition forced a very unpopular and old Hoffa Jr., to announce his retirement at the end of his 2017-2022 term. 

 With the lowest voter participation in Teamsters’ history at under 16% and blowout of 67% to 33%, the Teamsters elected the O’Brien-Zuckerman(OZ) Teamsters United slate headed by Boston Local 25 head Sean O’Brien over the Hoffa-backed and Rome Aloise engineered Vairma-Herrera 2021 Teamster Power slate. Aloise had aspirations to lead the slate but was charged by the IIO once again for violating a twenty-four-month suspension and was ultimately expelled from the union. For the first time since members gained the right to vote in 1991, there was no reform candidate heading any slate. The extremely low voter turnout clearly indicated members were not excited about the two old-guard choices who had ironically ran on the 2016 Hoffa-Hall slate. The overwhelming result was a repudiation of the failed twenty-three-year Hoffa regime in which pro-business unionism and inefficient bureaucracy ruled the IBT.

As a now disguised reformer, O’Brien is attempting to redeem himself after the 2013 fiasco he helped orchestrate. Frustratingly, members forgot it was O’Brien who only ten years prior was the mastermind behind the healthcare sellout that till this day lingers on. Since winning the IBT election, O’Brien has used the friendly media to transmit his aggressive rhetoric against UPS and “desire” to lead a strike against the package king for the first time in twenty-six years. More frustrating is O’Brien’s self-proclaimed credentials as a “militant” Teamster and the media’s incorrect transmission of his proclamation. At the Labor Notes Conference in June 2021 he exclaimed “we’re gonna put that company [UPS] on its knees…” At the TDU Convention that October, he doubled down on his rhetoric by declaring, “we gotta strategize, we gotta organize and then we gotta pulverize UPS.”72 

Unfortunately for railroad Teamsters, O’Brien lacked the militant union credentials he continuously proclaims when he turned a blind eye as his hometown friend in U.S. labor secretary Marty Walsh and President Joe Biden imposed an unpopular agreement supported by Congress.73 Still after the railroad imposition, O’Brien had the audacity to invite Walsh to the Teamsters quarterly general executive board meeting as guest speaker. With the exception of militant Chris Silvera (Local 808) and Richard Hooker (Local 623), who were quick to denounce Washington for the imposition, calling on O’Brien to defy it and take the railroaders out on strike, the rest of the 350-plus timid and spineless bureaucratized locals across the country remained silent. This was a clear insult to the militant legacy and tradition of American trade unionists that began with the Great Uprising of 1877.     

Ironically, after betraying the railroaders, in early February Walsh left the Department of Labor for a $3 million salary as head of the NHL Players Association.74 O’Brien also failed to show union militancy when the IBT gave Costco Wholesale an eight-and-a-half month extension before it finally reached a TA on a substandard package not even he would recommend. The extension was a campaign promise broken by O’Brien who promised not to give any extensions to corporate America. Now, a la old-guard style: officers, business agents, and the few rank-and-file members selected to the UPS negotiating committee were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) at the request of UPS. The transparency and information brownout-end that was promised throughout the OZ Teamsters United election campaign has clearly been abandoned. With negotiations for supplements and riders underway, information has yet to be shared on any progress. Concerns over why supplements and riders are being negotiated before the NMA have also raised some eyebrows. Hence, the information brownouts of 2013 and 2018 resulted in the greatest concessions in UPS Teamsters history, costing some longtime hofficers their jobs.

Worse yet, with the contract expiration less than five months away (July 31st), it is unknown what the IBT is demanding from UPS. While Americans experienced the highest inflation rates since 1981 in the past two years, members have yet to hear O’Brien’s general wage and pension increase demands. For part-timers, the market rate adjustments (MRA) implemented at different hubs across the nation by management clearly show the union’s failure to negotiate in their favor. With MRA’s reaching $24 in certain areas, it would be a concession to negotiate anything below this as the new starting wage. But current seniority part-time employees also need significant catch-up wages to keep up with the rapid rise of inflation. 

The mediocre agreement reached by the IBT with the UPS Airline Maintenance workers of 3.3% in wages and 13.5% in pension would be concessionary in the package division. It will be up to every rank-and-file member to apply pressure on the Teamsters bureaucracy to land them the best possible contract. Hence, the UPS part-time members that make up two-thirds of the total UPS workforce have the ability to mobilize and outvote the full-time membership and send any concessions back to the table. It will be the duty of an active rank-and-file to hold Sean O’Brien accountable for his first year of broken campaign promises and make sure he delivers at UPS!

For a more thorough analysis of Teamster-UPS history and relations, members and those interested in labor history should read the most authoritative assessment on the subject written by Joe Allen: The Package King: A Rank-And-File History of UPS.

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  1. John D. Shultz, “In love with Hoffa,” Traffic World, May 1, 2000.
  2. Mark B. Solomon, “David, Goliath and Gegare,” DC Velocity, June 30, 2011.
  3. Alexandra Bradbury, “At a Convention Like No Other, Teamster Challengers Turn A Corner,” Labor Notes, July 14, 2021.
  4. The International Teamster, July 12, 1915, 6.
  5. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, (New York: The New Press, 2003), 277.
  6. Chris Harman, A People’s History of the World, (New York: Verso Books, 2008), 464.
  7. Greg Nieman, Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 87.
  8. Joe Allen, The Package King: A Rank-and-File History of UPS, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020), 19.
  9. Ibid., 21.
  10. Zinn, 287.
  11. “Walkout of 1,800 in Parcel Service Ends; Deliveries From 350 Stores Resume Today,” New York Times, November 13, 1939.
  12. Allen, 26-27.
  13. “Stores Ask Writ in Parcel Strike,” New York Times, October 3, 1946.
  14. Emanuel Perlmutter, “Teamsters Here Bar $1 Increase in Dues, Vent Anger on Back,” New York Times, April 1, 1957.
  15. Allen, 35.
  16. Ibid., 35.
  17. Ibid., 43.
  18. Ibid., 44.
  19. Dan LaBotz, Rank and File Rebellion: Teamsters for a Democratic Union, (Verso Books: New York, 1991), 63.
  20. Allen, 53-54.
  21. Cal Winslow, “Overview: The Rebellion from Below,” in Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below During the Long 1970s, (Verso Books: New York, 2010), 26.
  22. “Indy 500’ Says Shove it UPS,” UPSurge, February 1976.
  23. Allen, 56.
  24. Dan LaBotz, “The Tumultuous Teamsters in the 1970’s” in Rebel Rank and File.
  25. “The Casual’ Issue at UPS,” Newsweek, November 1, 1976.
  26. “Accord on 1st National Contract Reached by Teamsters and U.P.S.” The New York Times, June 18, 1979.
  27. Allen, 61.
  28. “Inflation in 1981 and its effect on dollar value,” CPI Inflation Calculator.
  29. Allen, 61.
  30. Ibid., 72.
  31. Ib., 73.
  32. Ben Blake, “Fight the Teamsters Sell-Out at UPS,” Socialist Worker #89, September 1984, 16.
  33. Allen, 73.
  34. President’s Commission on Organized Crime (PCOC), The Edge, Organized Crime, and Labor Unions, (Government Printing Office: Washington, 1986), 105.
  35. Edgar Esquivel, “The Forgotten History of William McCarthy and Boston Teamsters Local 25,” New Politics, September 20, 2021.
  36. “UPS Contract Bulletin #4,” Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), June 27, 1990.
  37. Nick Ravo, “Labor Pact is Ratified at UPS,” The New York Times, August 14, 1990.
  38. The author of this article was hired to work in September of 1998 at one of these famous “air recoveries” in Orange County CA., represented by Local 952.
  39. LaBotz, Rank and File Rebellion, 195-207.
  40. James. B Jacobs, Breaking the Devil’s Pact, The Battle to Free the Teamsters from the Mob, (New York: University Press, 2011), 104.
  41. Laurie M. Grossman, “UPS’s Talks with Teamsters Heat Up as Company Moves to Stave Off Strikes,” Wall Street Journal, June 15, 1993.
  42. “UPS Workers to Be Polled by Teamsters on Strike,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 1993.
  43. Allen, 91.
  44. Ibid., 92.
  45. Bog Hasegawa interview with Joe Allen, May 21, 2015.
  46. Allen, 94.
  47. Nepoteamsters are those who were accommodated with cozy union jobs through family lineage or close friendships.
  48. Allen, 111.
  49. Edgar Esquivel, “Setting the Record Straight: On the Trotskyist-led 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strike, the Teamsters Bureaucracy & its Aftermath,” Cosmonaut, May 15, 2022.
  50. Allen, 113.
  51. “Teamsters Suspend Useless Talks,” Convoy Dispatch, July-August 1997, 6.
  52. Dave Dethrow interview with Joe Allen in The Package King, 116.
  53. “America’s Victory: The 1997 UPS Strike,” You Tube, July 27, 2007.
  54. Allen, 120.
  55. David Strout, “Shippers Scramble as Strike Hits U.P.S,” New York Times, August 5, 1997.
  56. Dan LaBotz, “The Fight at UPS: The Teamsters Victory and the Future of the New Labor Movement,” Solidarity, December 10, 2009.
  57. “UPS, Teamsters reach deal,” CNN Money, July 16, 2002.
  58. Peter Bohan, “Teamsters, UPS agree new 5-year contract,” Reuters, September 30, 2007.
  59. Mark Brenner, “Teamsters Trade Gains of 1997 UPS Strike for Deal to Organize Members at Freight Division,” Labor Notes, November 26, 2007.
  60. Mark B. Solomon, “UPS, Teamster leaders reach tentative agreement on five-year labor contracts,” DC Velocity, April 26, 2013.
  61. Tim Sylvester interview with Edgar Esquivel, February 26, 2023.
  62. After the rejection of 18 supplements, UPS and the Teamsters agreed to enhance Teamcare’s retiree age and lowered it from 55 to 53 which still jeopardized PEER 80 for Southwest Rider members.
  63. “UPS Contract: What Now?” Teamsters for a Democratic Union, June 23, 2013.
  64. Hofficer was a term coined by Local 986 rank-and-file reformer Larry Parker to describe the most ardent old-guard officers blindly loyal to Hoffa.
  65. Jim Brown and Mike Deszcz group call with Edgar Esquivel, 2013.
  66. “Pension Cuts Hit UPS Teamsters in Southwest,” Teamsters for a Democratic Union, August 30, 2016.
  67. The retiree cost was reduced back to $50 in 2018.
  68. “Bill Elder Charged with “Embezzlement” After Local Election Defeat,” Teamsters for a Democratic Union, December 7, 2016.
  69. Mark B. Solomon, “Teamster leadership enforces UPS small-package contract over objections of several locals.” DC Velocity, April 24, 2014.
  70. Ari Ashe, “O’Brien Fired as Teamsters Negotiator in UPS Contract Talks,” Transport Topics, September 12, 2017.
  71.  “Taylor Declares Half the Rejected Supplements Are Ratified, Too,” Teamsters for a Democratic Union, October 8, 2018.
  72. Stephen Franklin, “Teamsters President Sean O’Brien Vows to “Pulverize” UPS in Fiery TDU Convention Speech,” In These Times, November 2, 2022.
  73. Shuvu Bhattarai, “How the Rail Carriers, Wall Street, and the US Government Crushed Class I Freight Rail Workers,” Cosmonaut, December 12, 2022.
  74. Chris Van Buskirk, “Marty Walsh appointed as head of NHL Players Association, stepping down as labor secretary,” MassLive.com, February 16, 2023.