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UPS workers’ union leader explains what’s at stake as strike edges closer

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(NEW YORK) — Workers for UPS are edging closer to a strike after a breakdown in talks between the delivery giant and the Teamsters union representing its employees. Both sides have accused each other of walking away from negotiations.

A walkout would have ripple effects across the entire economy, with the company employing 340,000 workers who deliver millions of packages every day. The value of the goods it delivers annually has been estimated at 6% of the U.S. economy.

UPS workers are negotiating for better pay and the elimination of a two-tier wage system for part-time and full-time workers. Sean O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, spoke to “GMA3” about what’s at stake.

DEMARCO MORGAN: Sean, good to see you. Thanks for being with us. So UPS is saying you guys walked away from the table. You’re saying UPS walked away from the table. What happened and what’s wrong?

SEAN O’BRIEN: Well, UPS can tell their story. We know the real story at 4:15 a.m., July 5, when we’re trying to get a deal, we’re very close, they said they had no more to give and so they actually walked away. And that’s why we’re here right now. We’re trying to make certain that they understand how important this fight is for our 340,000 members that delivered goods and services through the toughest times we’ve seen [in the] pandemic.

EVA PILGRIM: What needs to happen to prevent this?

O’BRIEN: Well look, I mean, our part-timers at UPS are working for poverty wages. Some of them are single mothers, single dads working crazy hours. And look, everybody loves the UPS drivers, who work extremely hard. But those packages do not get on those trucks without those part-timers. And, you know, UPS has the opportunity right now to do the right thing, because they can set the tone on how it is to reward their employees who have made them the success that they are. I mean, they made $100 billion with a B, and our members deserve to reap those benefits as well.

MORGAN: And speaking of part time, Sean, you’ve called part-time worker wages, part-time poverty. Let’s look at some numbers. UPS tells us that on average, they pay their drivers $95,000 a year with benefits and part-time workers get $20 an hour with health care eligibility, pension plans. Why do you call this part-time poverty?

O’BRIEN: Because they’re not telling the true story. $93,000 for a full-timer is accurate, but they’re working 60, 65 hours. It’s an extremely tough job. And when you talk about the part-timers, their part-time wage rate right now is about $16 per hour. UPS is selective. They pick and choose on who they’re going to pay, what area, and they can raise the rates.

We want to establish a livable starting wage for part-timers, but also make sure we reward those part-timers who work through the pandemic. We lost members as a result of going to work when there were no vaccinations, no protections. And all the while, bottom line of their balance sheet kept growing and growing and growing.

We want to be rewarded. There was no hazard pay. There wasn’t anything other than these people, our members, 340,000, providing goods and services to keep this country running.

PILGRIM: And we were all ordering all the packages because people didn’t want to go out. UPS issued this statement saying in part, “The Teamsters have stopped negotiating despite historic proposals that build on our industry-leading pay…refusing to negotiate, especially when the finish line is in sight, create significant unease among employees and customers, and threatens to disrupt the U.S. economy.”

O’BRIEN: We are not refusing to negotiate. They know what we want. They know what our members need. And if UPS causes a strike, it’s going to be on UPS. I mean, they’re going to self-inflict these wounds on themselves. Our members are the best in the business. They provide the best services. And it’s shame on UPS. They have an opportunity right now to do the right thing and be the model employer for the entire United States.

MORGAN: Can you talk about the concerns that you’ve been hearing from some of the Teamsters themselves?

O’BRIEN: Well, I mean, mostly it’s the wages. I mean, look, UPS is a very difficult job. We’ve made significant progress in negotiations. We’ve been negotiating since January. But it’s significant wage increases for the part-timers, but more importantly, dignity and respect in the workplace.

PILGRIM: What gets you guys back to the table? Is there something that needs to happen?

O’BRIEN: UPS just has to pick up the phone, tell us they’re going to agree to what our bottom line is and they know what our bottom line is. We’ve been very transparent in these negotiations, and they know what needs to happen.

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