In what first impressions indicate to be a major win for Teamsters Union drivers at UPS, the company and the union came to a tentative agreement July 25 on a five-year contract, avoiding a massive strike that would have had a major impact on the US economy. The 325,000 UPS drivers had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike on August 1, the date the old contract ended, if an agreement on a new one was not reached by that date.

After negotiations broke down in early July, prospects were pessimistic about avoiding a strike until they resumed with a major company concession on part-time drivers July 25. The agreement was sealed a few hours later. The new agreement still has to be ratified by the Teamsters Union membership, a process that will take several weeks.

“We demanded the best contract in the history of UPS, and we got it,” the Teamsters president, Sean M. O’Brien, said in a statement. “UPS has put $30 billion in new money on the table as a direct result of these negotiations.” For the first time in Teamster’s Union history, rank-and-file members served on the union’s negotiating committee.

According to a union statement, the new contract provisions include:

  • Historic wage increases. Existing full- and part-time UPS Teamsters will get $2.75 more per hour in 2023. Over the length of the contract, wage increases will total $7.50 per hour.
  • Existing part-timers will immediately be raised up to no less than $21 per hour, a big boost from then current minimum of $16.20 for part-timers now. and part-time seniority workers earning more under a market rate adjustment would still receive all new general wage increases. Part timers currently comprise nearly half ofm UPS drivers.
  • General wage increases for part-time workers will be double the amount obtained in the previous UPS Teamsters contract — and existing part-time workers will receive a 48 percent average total wage increase over the next five years.
  • Wage increases for full-timers will keep UPS Teamsters the highest paid delivery drivers in the nation, improving their average top rate to $49 per hour. They currently make $42 on average after four years.
  • Current UPS Teamsters working part-time would receive longevity wage increases of up to $1.50 per hour on top of new hourly raises, compounding their earnings.
  • New part-time hires at UPS would start at $21 per hour and advance to $23 per hour.
  • An end to the unfair two-tier wage system and all drivers now entitled to seniority protection.
  • Safety and health protections, including vehicle air conditioning and cargo ventilation. UPS will equip in-cab A/C in all larger delivery vehicles, sprinter vans, and package cars purchased after Jan. 1, 2024. All cars get two fans and air induction vents in the cargo compartments.
  • All UPS Teamsters would receive Martin Luther King Day as a full holiday for the first time.
  • No more forced overtime on Teamster drivers’ days off. Drivers would keep one of two workweek schedules and could not be forced into overtime on scheduled off-days.
  • The creation of 7,500 new full-time Teamster jobs at UPS and the fulfillment of 22,500 open positions, establishing more opportunities through the life of the agreement for part-timers to transition to full-time work.
  • No concessions from the rank-and-file.

The contract, if ratified,  is a big win for the new teamster leadership, which is closer to the ßrank-and-file members, that ousted the old guard in a direct election of the entire membership last year. Previously, the leadership was chosen by delegates at national conventions.

Teamsters Union Website, 7/25; NY Times, 7/25

This one is hard to believe. In Austin and Dallas, Texas, ordinances had mandated 10-minute breaks for construction workers every four hours. These workers, 60 percent of whom are Latino, mostly work outdoors, often in blistering Texas heat. The 10-minute breaks allow them to rest, drink water their bodies have lost, and generally take a brief respite from the heat. A simple act of humanity, yes?

But the Republican state legislature and Republican Governor Greg Abbott say no! According to them, it is just another one of those “hodgepodge of onerous and burdensome regulations” on Texas businesses. A measure passed by the legislature and recently signed into law by Abbott, to take effect in September, nullifies the Austin and Dallas ordinances and prevents any other local governments from passing similar protections for workers.

Days later, a 35-year-old utility lineman who was working in 100-degree temperature to restore power in Marshall, Texas, died of heat exhaustion. Unions and civil rights groups have been enraged by the new law, warning that it will cause more heat-related deaths and illnesses in a state that already tallies the highest number of worker deaths due to high temperatures.

“In the midst of a record-setting heatwave, I could not think of a worse time for this governor or any elected official who has any, any, kind of compassion, to do this,” said David Cruz, the communications director for League of United Latin American Citizens National (Lulac), a Latino civil rights group. “This administration is incrementally trying to move us backwards into a dark time in this nation when plantation owners and agrarian mentalities prevailed.”

A simple question could be asked of Abbott and the Texas lawmakers: “Are you guys human?’

The Guardian, 6/26

For many years labor unions have been in a “long slide,” declining from the 1950’s when more than one in every three workers belonged to unions to only 11.6 percent in 2021. There are many factors responsible for this, writes William E. Scheuerman in his book A New American Labor Movement. Among them are the offshoring of jobs hastened by the trade agreements that saw millions of American manufacturing jobs disappear as corporations moved plants to low wage areas around the world, automation, corporate consolidation and its all-out war on labor.

Fred Wright cartoon courtesy of United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)

But a part of the blame rests on unions themselves, he writes, “recognizing but not placing major culpability on factors such as business unionism, ineffective organizing techniques, lack of militancy, overly bureaucratic leaders who are unresponsive to their members, and emphasis on electoral politics rather than organizing.”

An example of the latter is labor’s failure to extract some major quid pro quos from Democratic politicians even when Democrats had large majorities in Congress and a Democratic president. As a result, the Taft-Hartley Act 0f 1947 is still on the books. Section 148 of  that law allows states to outlaw the union shop, resulting in  some workers gaining the benefits of union members without joining the union and paying dues. The act has encouraged union busting since its inception, throwing quicksand in the path of union organizing. By quietly acquiescing instead of actively opposing the law and demanding that politicians commit to repealing it, unions have been shooting themselves in the foot for more than 75 years.

But there are signs of stirring in the ranks of labor. Among younger workers and women workers a new militancy is growing as a majority of Americans today look favorably upon unions, the highest number  in the past 60 years. According to the National Labor Relations Board, in just one year, from 2021 to 2022, there has been a 60 percent increase in union elections with 77 percent resulting in a union victory.

And this stirring among rank and file workers is beginning to ripple upward. Two major international unions, the Teamsters and the Auto Workers unions, have replaced their top leaderships in the past year with more militant leaders who are more closely connected to their membership. A sign of this is the United Auto Workers’ withholding its endorsement of Biden and national Democrats, insisting on a promise from them that the money now pouring in to the manufacture of electric vehicles go to companies that hire union workers and pay union wages and benefits to its workers. While very few doubt that the union will eventually endorse and campaign for Biden, considering the terrible alternative, the Auto Workers union is letting the Democrats know that they can no longer be taken for granted.

Dollars and Sense, 5/23, pages 4, 42-45

“Fred Wright cartoon courtesy of United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)”.

“The teamsters will strike any employer, when necessary, no matter the size or the depth of their pockets,” was the defiant response of Teamster Union President Sean O’Brien to the latest Supreme Court decision that sharply impedes the ability of labor to conduct strikes. “The political hacks at the Supreme Court have again voted in favor of corporations over working people,” he declared. “Make no mistake – this ruling has everything to do with giving companies more power to hobble workers if any attempt is made to fight back against a growing system of corruption…. American workers must remember that their right to strike has not been taken away. All workers, union and nonunion alike, will forever have the right to withhold their labor.”

O’Brien’s sharp comments were the Teamsters’ reaction to the Court’s ruling June 1 saying that employers could sue unions in state courts for damages to their goods during a strike, overturning years of legal precedent that the National Labor Relations Board had the initial jurisdiction in the case.

The case, Glacier Northwest v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, involved unionized members of a concrete mixing and pouring company. The company and the union were in negotiations for a contract when negotiations broke down and the union called a strike. The workers, who had reported to work that day, had already poured wet concrete in their trucks. The workers took precautions to keep the trucks running to prevent the hardened cement from damaging the trucks, meeting legal standards for taking responsible steps to avoid harming the employer’s property. The lost concrete on the trucks simply amounted to lost spoilage of a product for which unions have not been held legally responsible.

Nevertheless, Glacier Northwest sued the union for damage to the cement. In cases like this, the National Labor Relations Board is the adjudicator in the dispute. And in fact, the NLRB general counsel had already found that by preventing damage to the trucks, the workers had taken the necessary steps to prevent harm to the employer’s property and that the union was, in legalese, “arguably protected” from spoilage to the product that normally often occurs during a strike. After all, the whole purpose of a strike is to cause the employer economic harm and pressure him to negotiate a satisfactory contract, providing there is not malicious vandalism to his property.

Ignoring precedent and facts in the case, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the eight justice majority, said that the union workers were responsible for the damage to the cement and that the state court in Washington should hear the company’s lawsuit. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the lone dissenter. The other two liberal justices joined in the majority opinion and there is speculation that they did so to obtain a bargained compromise to avoid a much harsher judgment against unions.

Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, writing for himself and Justice Gorsuch, said that the court should reconsider whether the NLRB should even have initial jurisdiction in such cases. Justice Alito went even further, questioning the NLRB’s legal right to decide labor cases.

The ruling is only the latest in a string of decisions in favor of corporations against unions issued by this court in the past several years. A decision in 2018, contrary to the National Labor Relations Act, said that companies could prohibit workers from collectively bringing legal actions against employers. Also in 2018, the court ruled that public sector unions could not require nonmembers to pay fees for the benefits that the union’s bargaining had gained for them. Three years later, the court did it again, deciding that a California law that allowed organizers for the Farm Workers union access to the employer’s property to speak to workers during their lunch time and breaks, was unconstitutional.

The latest ruling, while not prohibiting strikes, makes it more difficult for unions, since they will have to consider the economic effects of company lawsuits and the resulting uncertainty of court decisions, particularly with a Supreme Court biased in favor of employers. Often, it is just the threat of a strike that helps unions win concessions. Since unions would now hesitate to use the strike weapon, “without the threat of a strike, you have little leverage in negotiations,” commented Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

NY Times
, 6/1, also see Elie Mystal’s This is not the End of the Supreme Court’s War on Labor in The Nation, 6/2

Blue Bird, which builds electric school buses, has benefited from a large infusion of federal money. Credit…Matthew Pearson/WABE, via Associated Press

Daniel Flippo, regional director  of the United Steelworkers of America’s Southeastern district, was very happy with the vote. “For too long,” he said “corporations cynically viewed the South as a place where they could suppress wages and working conditions because they believed they could keep workers from unionizing.”

But union officials are beginning to show optimism about prospects for the region  in the wake of a landmark union victory at Blue Bird, a factory in Fort Valley, Georgia, that builds electric school buses. The surprise vote in which the workers voted 697-to-435 to join the United Steelworkers was supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

“This is just a bellwether for the future,” predicted AFLCIO President Liz Shuler, “particularly in the South, where working people have been ignored.”

Blue Bird, a company that employs 1,400 workers, has been the recipient of $500 million in federal funds for aid to companies specifically to combat climate change. In building electric school buses to replace diesel school buses, Blue Bird qualified for a part of the $370 billion included in the Inflation Reduction Act for clean energy to combat climate change. But the aid also came with the proviso that companies must remain neutral in any union organizing drive in their plants and to voluntarily recognize the union based on a show of majority support. Further, no federal money may be used to oppose a union election. These provisions are important aids to unions seeking bargaining recognition from employers. And although the union charged that the company had violated some of the law, it srill aided the Steelworkers Union in its victory at Blue Bird.

The union hopes it will be just the beginning in the South with new manufacturers of electric vehicles, including foreign automakers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Hyundai moving in, partly because of its history of hostility to unions.

NY Times print edition, 5/13; NY Times online edition, 5/12

Amazon relies on some 2,500 delivery service partners (DSPs) to deliver packages. The Teamsters are attempting to organize DSP workers, posing a challenge to the company’s business model.  AP Photo:Steven Senne

Amazon often contracts out its delivery services to trucking contractors. Most of them, like Amazon, are non-unionized. But the beginnings of change are in the air.

On April 24, Amazon delivery drivers at Battle-Tested Strategies, a southern California company contractor, announced that they had joined Local 396 of the Teamsters Union. A week later, they announced a union contract with the company that upped wages from $19.75 to $30 an hour by September. They also won several paid holidays and did not have to accept a no-strike clause.

The union victory represents what union activists see as a possible beginning to the unionization of Amazon contractors. It could also raise a possible legal challenge to Amazon’s use of these contractors to claim that they bore no responsibility for bargaining with the drivers since they are workers for another company, or in the case of small truckers, independent contractors not employees.

Amazon however is fighting back with its usual union-busting tactics. When the union drive began at BTS, Amazon took steps to cancel its contract with BTS, fearful that the union drive would spread to other truckers, raising its costs for shipment.

Stay tuned.

American Prospect, 5/4

Writers Guild of America members walk the picket line on the first day of their strike in front of Sony Pictures on Tuesday in Culver City.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The big labor news so-far this month is the walkout of 11,500 movie and TV writers, members of the Writers Guild of America after their negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down. The strike was immediately felt in New York and Hollywood with late night TV shows cancelled or showing re-runs.

The big issue is the rapid growth of online platforms like Netflix. The union points to the fact that minimum pay, affecting a large number of guild members, and residuals (the money they get for re-runs) have not kept up with the rapid technological change, They are demanding higher minimum pay and streaming residuals.

On the first day of the strike, hundreds of picketing writers lined the streets in New York outside offices of NBC Universal and major studios in Hollywood. They carried signs saying, “Pencils Down! No Contract, No Scripts” The last writers strike in 2007 lasted nearly three months.

NY Times, 4/30; 5/1   Los Angeles Times, 5/2


In 2015, Carlos Moncayo, an Ecuadorian immigrant construction worker, was crushed to death on his job of helping to build a rooftop restaurant in New York City. His death made little news because on-the-job deaths, despite rules promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are a common occurrence in the country.

According to the AFL-CIO, in 2020 4,764 workers were killed on the job, with an average of 340 dying each day due to employer neglect of hazardous working conditions. 120,000 died from occupational related diseases and 705 lost their lives to workplace violence.

The issue has risen again in the wake of revelations of the rising number of injuries suffered by workers, many of them illegal immigrants, as employers flout the rules and OSHA, whose funding have been repeatedly cut by Congress, lacks the resources to enforce those rules.

And a new element in the mix is the recent upsurge in the illegal employment of children in unsafe or unhealthy jobs like work in meatpacking plants and operating dangerous machinery. As previously reported on this page and in the NY Times (2/25), children as young as 12 are now working at dangerous jobs around the country, some late at night at machinery like fast-moving pulleys and gears that have torn off fingers and ripped open a woman’s scalp. The practice of employing child labor today is being aided and abetted in a number of states, like Arkansas and Iowa, which have passed laws lifting many restrictions on the employment of children.

One illustration of the recent attention to job-related illness and death is the upsurge of a new version of black lung disease among coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. According recent data from OSHA, in Kentucky and West Virginia 1 out of every 8 miners, many only in their forties and fifties “are struggling to breathe.” It’s a sharp increase from the 1 out of 30 just a decade ago. But the dust that they’re breathing comes not primarily from coal. It’s from silica dust which is 20 times more toxic than coal. The dust is caused by having to drill through layers of silica-laden rock as the old coal veins yield less and miners have to drill deeper and deeper to access the coal.

The dust clings to their clothes and parts of their bodies and eventually gets into their lungs, causing chronic pulmonary diseases like bronchitis and lung cancer, and eventually killing them. And as mentioned above, with OSHA’s enforcement ability severely hindered by a lack of resources, mine operators have been flouting health and safety regulations for decades.

What is clearly needed is pressure to push for the enactment of strictly enforced laws for the protection of workers’ lives. It’s a factor in the renewed organizing drives for unions that can negotiate the enforcement of these rules by management along with the demand for higher wages and better working conditions. For what is more basic than the very lives of people who do the work.

NY Times print edition, 2/25. Work Bites, 5/1, In These Times, May/23

The faculty at Rutgers University ended their week-long strike April 15 after the three unions representing them reached a “framework” of an agreement with the school. Students at the school were slated to return to their classes on Monday, April 17.

Rutgers, the flagship in the New Jersey state university system, has 67,000 enrolled students.  University said that the new agreement includes substantial pay raises for graduate school workers and part-time lecturers as well as stronger job security for part-time faculty.

The three unions involved in the strike were the American Association of University Professors-AFT representing full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates and counselors, the AAUP -BHSNJ representing faculty in the health and sciences departments, and the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union representing part-time lecturers. The strike saw tenured professors join graduate school workers and other non-tenured faculty on the picket line.

The unions cautioned that, while there were some “profound victories” some issues continue to be unresolved and the return to work was not a cancellation but a suspension of the strikewith the possibility of renewing it if renewed bargaining did not produce a solution.

NPR, 4/15

America’s corporations spent over $400 million on retaining companies whose specialty is union-busting, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals. Amid the rising tide of union activity and organizing campaigns has come a backlash from employers who are fighting union organizing with an arsenal of weapons, some legal, some bordering on illegality, and some that have crossed the line.

According to the EPI report, union-busting has become a lucrative profession as some have discovered “there’s gold in them thar hills.” The report notes:

  • When workers seek to form unions, employers often hire “union-avoidance” consultants to dissuade and weaken workers’ unionization efforts. These consultants work to prevent a union election from taking place—and if that fails, to ensure that workers vote against the union.
  • Employers spend a lot of money trying to derail union organizing campaigns. EPI estimates employers spend $433 million per year on union-avoidance consultants. This work is well compensated – consultants report being paid $350-plus hourly rates or $2,500-plus daily rates for their work to defeat union organizing efforts. This estimate is just a drop in the bucket because there is not enough data to reveal the true scope of what employers spend.
  • Employers are required to report certain union-avoidance expenditures. However, statutory exemptions and enforcement limitations severely limit the scope of reportable employer union-avoidance activities. As a result, relatively little data exist on employer expenditures on union avoidance.
  • This reality makes it harder for workers to fight for their collective bargaining rights because they do not know the extent of their companies’ investments in union-busting, a figure that could empower them at the negotiating table when employers claim they can’t afford to increase pay and benefits.
  • While the law requires employers and consultants to disclose their union-avoidance agreements, it provides an important exception when the consultant is merely providing the employer with “advice”—a term that is not defined in the statute and is exploited by many union-busting consulting firms.
  • The Obama administration tried to rectify the problem by attempting to close this loophole through a regulatory action known as the “persuader” rule. In its proposal, the administration emphasized the significance of this loophole, stating: “Although 71 to 87 percent of employers hire consultants to manage counter-organizing campaigns, the Department has received very few reports on these activities because employers deemed them to fall under the ‘advice’ exemption.”
  • Unfortunately, business groups sued to prevent the rule from being enforced, and the Trump administration rescinded the rule. Without reform to the reporting system, we have little to no idea how much companies spend on union busting.

We can get an idea of the extent of the problem by looking at just a few of the companies who did file mandatory reports with the Labor Department in 2021 – understanding that many of them, with the loopholes in the law, probably spent much more that they are not reporting.

Amazon   …. $4,260,000
United Natural Foods  ….  $2,650,000
American Auto Assoc., N. California, Nevada, Utah….       $1,923,000
Grocery Delivery E-Services (Hello Fresh) ….  $1,638,000
Maine Health   …. $958,000
El Milagro Tortillas    ….$863,000
Curation Foods   ….$689,000
Intralot   …. $251,000
Garden Fresh Gourmet  ….  $211,000


Celine McNicholas, Margaret Poydock, Julia Wolfe, Ben Zipperer, Gordon Lafer, and Lola Loustaunau, Unlawful: U.S. Employers Are Charged with Violating Federal Law in 41.5% of All Union Election Campaigns, Economic Policy Institute, December 2019; U.S. Department of Labor.

“Overview/Summary: Persuader Agreements: Ensuring Transparency in Reporting For Employer and Labor Relations” (fact sheet), October 2016.