News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

August 01, 2023

“Militant stewards will be born out of this fight”: Ready to Strike, Teamsters Force UPS Concessions

By Emil McDonald

On Saturday, July 22, 2023, fifty workers and community members rallied at San Francisco City Hall in solidarity with 340,000 UPS Teamsters. Since UPS walked away from the bargaining table earlier in the month, UPS workers had been busy preparing for a potential August 1 national strike with the potential to shut down 7 percent of U.S. GDP.

The tide had turned a day earlier, when UPS relented and agreed to return to the bargaining table. Just a few days later, on July 25, the union announced a tentative agreement (TA) for a new five-year contract. Members will be voting on whether to ratify the TA through August 22, and the strike deadline has been postponed. 

At the July 22 rally, Emil McDonald, a five-year UPS worker and member of Teamsters Local 315 in Richmond, CA, spoke about the changes that he saw in the union’s rank and file, and beyond, as a result of strike preparations. – The Editors

A UPS Teamster at the Local 315 “practice picket” in Richmond, July 20. (Photo: R. Marcantonio)

As many of you may know, on July 5th negotiations between the Teamsters and UPS broke down. UPS told our negotiating committee they had “nothing more to give.”  This is a company that recently paid more than $5 billion dollars in dividends to Wall Street and bought back $3.5 billion of its own stock so that executives and major shareholders could fatten their wallets. 

Not only do we know that UPS has a LOT more to give —- we’re gonna make sure they give it.  We’ve made it perfectly clear to UPS that if they can’t find the money to give our essential workers a living wage and reward some of the hardest working people in the country for the tens of billions of dollars we made them during the pandemic,  UPS executives will be putting their own company on strike and that profit faucet is gonna get shut off. 

Thank you all so much for being here and for supporting UPS Teamsters as we fight for a contract that will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers and bring historic change to our union.

The kind of change I’m talking about isn’t just union leadership that is willing to build a credible strike threat and go to the mat for our lowest-paid members. It is the experience of rank-and-file Teamsters put into motion, united with the community to win a good contract for ourselves. 

For the last few weeks, all over the country UPS Teamsters have been holding practice pickets outside of our hubs joined by DSA, PSL, Jobs with Justice, our friends and families–even some of our customers. 

Drivers I work with are asking me about these signs they keep seeing up out on road. In store windows, taped to peoples’ front doors—some have even taped the signs up inside their trucks. 

Your efforts are not going unnoticed. It is one thing to feel cheated or unappreciated as an individual worker. Everyone here has felt that and it sucks. But when you see that you are not alone and that you have brothers and sisters who are willing to fight with you and that the community has your backs — it can be a very powerful thing. 

The experience of banding together and fighting for something that’s right changes you. It cuts through all of the noise and the cultural divides that keep us powerless and disillusioned.  

A couple of Teamsters in my local — who to my knowledge had never attended a picket line before — came out to San Francisco this week to join academic workers at a rally at the UC Regents meeting.  This is the kind of change I’m talking about. Seeing yourself as part of a broader labor movement.  United we fight, divided we beg. 

Emil McDonald celebrates a successful practice picket with a co-worker (Photo: R. Marcantonio.)

Whatever happens between now and when we have a new UPS contract, the contract campaign over the last year has created hundreds if not thousands of new shop floor leaders in our union and given us experience organizing against one of the largest corporations in the United States.  This is something we will continue to build on in the coming years. Militant stewards will be born out of this fight.  Solidarity will be born out of this fight. Five years from now, when it’s time to negotiate the 2028 contract, we will be many times stronger and many times wiser from the start. 

And guess what?  It turns out maybe UPS does have something more to give than poverty wages. They must have checked their couch cushions and went to Coinstar because this week they reached out to our union requesting to go back to the table in an effort to avoid a strike.  

But when Sean O’Brien and our NorCal negotiators go back to the table next week they will not be alone.  They will be backed by the tens of thousands of Teamsters who attended practice pickets, 80,000 supporters who signed petitions demanding a living wage for part-time workers and the knowledge that our members — backed by our brothers and sisters in the labor movement and our communities —- are ready to strike if we have to to win what we deserve. 

Emil McDonald is a UPS Teamster and a member of Local 315 in Richmond, CA.