The 1997 Teamster strike against UPS was not simply a victory, but a smashing victory for the US working class and therefore offers many valuable lessons for today’s labor militants, both with respect to the strategic orientation and the day-to-day tactics. UPS is a “Fortune 500” company, meaning it is one of the most profitable in the nation, boasting of a $1.15 billion profit margin prior to the strike. In 1992, the workforce was evenly divided between full-time and part-time workers, but by 1996, part-timers had increased to 61 percent and were only paid between $8 and $9 per hour. The company approached contract negotiations in 1996 brimming with confidence. It had grown accustomed to dealing with cooperative union officials, and even though the recently reelected Teamster President, Ron Carey, was a known labor militant, UPS knew that it had allies on the local level among the “Old Guard.” Also, UPS was aware that the Teamster treasury was down, in part because Carey had already led several strikes and in part because the expenses involving the Consent Decree, allowing the U.S. government oversight over the union, was financed out of the Teamster treasury. UPS believed the Teamsters could very well encounter difficulties trying to pay strike benefits of $55 per week to striking UPS workers. With these factors taken into consideration, UPS representatives entered contract negotiations prepared to play hardball. They demanded a 7-year contract and “general flexibility,” a euphemism for never-ending concessions regarding work rules. They wanted to convert more full-time positions into part-time work, reduce vacation days, holidays and personal days, and eliminate union jobs by making highway drivers self-employed subcontractors.
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