Read the full transcript below.
On Tuesday, August 22, the Teamsters announced that its members voted to ratify the national UPS contract by 86.3% — and with record turnout. Many of the workers won significant raises, the union was able to abolish a two-tier driver system and negotiate for some heat protections, and the contract will also result in the creation of thousands of new full-time jobs, among other gains.
In our previous episode, we discussed the gains of the tentative agreement and the years of Teamsters organizing it took to make them possible, including the past year’s contract campaign which built a credible strike threat. In this episode, we dug deeper into the various layers of members’ reactions to the contract, as well as what’s required of the membership to enforce it and build on it moving forward.
We invited Greg Kerwood, a UPSer from Local 25 in Somerville, Massachusetts, back on the show to share his point of view. Greg explained what he’s heard from the membership and why it’s important to translate the disappointment of some workers — including his own — into productive organizing on the shop floor.
We also share some news on the future of The Upsurge…
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Greg Kerwood: A lot of these folks that are involved in fighting different pieces of this agreement, based on what they believe, are new to this, and this is their first time through this process. It’s a wonderful thing, that they all became so involved and got so fired up and, and active and that they’re willing to fight for what they believe in. WhetherI agree with it or not, um, is really irrelevant.
What we need to do going forward is take those folks and teach them that no contract is the end, and that you now know the game. You’ve now learned the rules. You’ve now learned how this structure works, how to play it, how to do it, and that’s gonna give you all the advantage going into the next one.
And if you channel that energy and that drive and that conviction, in the right direction, then we are all gonna be better off for it in 2028.
Teddy Ostrow: Hello my name is Teddy Ostrow. Welcome to The Upsurge, a podcast about UPS, the Teamsters, and the future of the American labor movement.
This podcast unpacks the unprecedented labor fight this year at UPS. On August 22, UPS Teamsters ratified the tentative agreement on their national labor contract, which covers roughly 340,000 workers, reaping concessions from the company by credibly threatening one of the largest strikes against a single company in US history.
The Upsurge is produced in partnership with In These Times and The Real News Network. Both are nonprofit media organizations that cover the labor movement closely. Check them out at inthesetimes.com and therealnews.com where you can also find an archive of all our past episodes.
You heard that right. On Tuesday, August 22, the Teamsters union announced that its members voted to ratify the national UPS contract by 86.3% – and in record turnout.
The overwhelming passage of the TA comes after a year-long contract campaign, months of strike threats and tense negotiations, and years of internal organizing for reform in the union. Workers won significant raises, the abolition of the two-tier driver system, air conditioning in package cars, thousands of new full-time jobs, protections for drivers’ days off, Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday, and more.
Only one small supplement in Florida out of the 45 supplemental agreements was voted down. Before the national contract can go into effect, that supplement must be renegotiated and voted on, which the union says could be done by the weekend. The ballots for two other locals in Chicago, which have separate agreements, are still being counted.
With ratification by these margins and an unprecedented 58% participation rate, the rank and file have spoken. It is a testament to the historic contract campaign in the union, which is already serving as a standard for other big labor fights ahead.
Now, we did not have enough time to squeeze in a long interview responding to the results before publication, but we do have one, I think, that is both instructive and relevant.
For this episode, I invited Greg Kerwood back on the show to discuss the many layers of UPS workers’ reactions to the tentative agreement, which is now the official contract.
Greg is a 19-year veteran of UPS out of Local 25 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and he is an elected member of the international steering committee of Teamsters for a Democratic Union. And full disclosure, as we have stated at the end of every show, Greg is also a patron of The Upsurge on Patreon.
In our last episode, we discussed the gains of the tentative agreement and the years of Teamsters organizing it has taken to make them possible, including the past year’s contract campaign which built a credible strike threat. We also discussed briefly why some workers expressed disappointment with the TA, and why that actually could be a positive sign of raised expectations among the membership.
With Greg, I thought we’d expand on that latter topic: to capture the various reactions that he and I have been hearing from members over the past few weeks, as they voted on whether to ratify the deal. We now know what happened, and hopefully the last episode and this interview will help to explain why it happened.
I invited Greg on the show because he occupies a somewhat unique role in the UPS Teamsters. He has probably read the contract front-to-back more times than most of his coworkers, and he has been very meticulous and public in his own analysis of the tentative agreement. That doesn’t make his point of view more right or wrong than anyone else’s. Indeed, he probably has a minority position.
But he is an organizer on the shop floor and online, and has spoken to dozens and dozens of UPS workers about the TA over the past few weeks. So, Greg offered a very informed analysis of how the membership reacted to the TA, including some comments on the social media climate, which may have convinced some observers that the vote would be much closer than it was. He also gives his personal opinion on how the union can build on the contract campaign to move forward productively and to enforce the contract, which UPS, he argues, will certainly try to violate.
Before we move onto the interview, I want to address what many of you are likely wondering. What will become of The Upsurge?
That’s a good question. We started this podcast to capture in real time the Teamsters’ historic contract campaign at UPS in 2023, which very well could have led to one of the largest strikes in US history.
We did this primarily by listening to and platforming the workers themselves, who were generous enough to share their struggles as well as their organizing. To tell this story accurately, we had to dig into the history of the Teamsters and UPS, the impacts of the pandemic on workers, the broader resurgence in working-class militancy in the US, and the rise of e-commerce logistics.
But this podcast was always bound to end, or to move on to other sites of upsurge. And the latter is what we’re going to do. Moving forward, we will not abandon the Teamsters entirely, especially as they continue their existential fight to organize Amazon. But we will be shifting our focus – to the renewed militancy of the United Auto Workers.
If you haven’t yet, go back and listen to Episode 5 and our July 13th bonus episode to understand why we’re making this shift. On September 14, the contracts of over 150,000 auto workers at Ford, GM and Stellantis will expire. Taking from the Teamster playbook, the UAW has made it clear that that’s a deadline, not a reference.
A strike is on the table, and for the first time in living memory, the UAW has launched a contract campaign, practice pickets and all. I have been speaking to auto workers around the country in the past couple of weeks, and it’s pretty clear, the Teamsters changed the game. Member after member has said that they saw what the UPSers achieved, and now they want it for themselves.
This is what The Upsurge is all about.
Now, I know that this shift means that a lot of our patrons will move on, and that’s ok. Thank you so much for what you’ve helped us build over the past eight months. We could not have done it without you. But we still do need you, so please consider sticking around for the next phase. And even if you can’t contribute some money, I encourage you to stay along for the ride, because there’s a lot to learn.
Much like the Teamsters’ story, the UAW fight is about a changing union, a changing economy, a changing labor movement, a changing working-class politics, and most importantly, a changing climate.
At the dawn of the green, and hopefully just, transition, the Teamsters will be moving the future, but UAW members will be building it.
I’ll leave it there for now.
Teddy Ostrow: Greg Kerwood, welcome to The Upsurge.
Greg Kerwood: Thanks for having me again, Teddy, it’s good to talk to you always.
Teddy Ostrow: So briefly, can you just first tell us about what your role has been in the past year or so in this contract fight.
I know a lot of UPS workers know you. You’re perhaps a little famous in that regard, but my broader audience does not know who you are, maybe beyond the couple episodes you’ve been on my show. So maybe you can go back even a little further, explain your background a little bit too, but, most of all, elaborate on your own role in this movement, speaking with workers, coordinating with workers, and figuring out what their demands are and what their proposals are for this contract campaign over the past year. You know, one of the ways that you did this was through a Facebook group for contract proposals, and you run a couple different Facebook groups, and if people don’t understand this, there is a lot of activity of UPS workers on Facebook.
It’s not necessarily representative of all the opinions and all of the people, but Greg, you play a pretty key role there, so please can you fill listeners in on that?
Greg Kerwood: So I can go back. My time at UPS began in 2004. I started relatively late. I was almost 31, at the time, and my first contract experience didn’t happen until 2008. Like a lot of the folks that are coming to this fresh, this time around, I had no idea how the process worked. what it entailed, or even the concept that we could change our working conditions was sort of…as such, when I went through it, I was sort of caught unprepared.
I didn’t have proposals ready, didn’t know that there was a meeting, didn’t know that this was how it worked. From that, I took my lessons and when I came back in 2013, I was ready to go with a stack of proposals. Ready for the local meeting. and then 2018 was, sort of an extension of that.
What happened was, I was not actively on social media. I owe that…to our former president, who unfortunately convinced me that I had to start speaking about things due to his ineptitude. So I had sort of tied into the vote-no movement in 2018, after the contract came out and after we saw what a disaster it was.
And so I became part of that, became very vocal in that, and joined some Facebook groups. I came to understand how they worked and sort of how powerful of a tool they could be, as far as getting messages out, convincing people of things, spreading the word between members very quickly.
It was something of an unprecedented tool of organization that we hadn’t seen before. So, first, after that, I started a group, for 401k users, UPS Teamster 401k users, just to sort of give everybody a central location for information about their 401k. That sort of got my feet wet as far as managing a Facebook group and what that entailed and sort of showed me how to do it.
Then having been through all those contracts prior, I came to the conclusion about two years ago or so that perhaps a Facebook group about proposals for the 2023 contract would be a good idea. My goal being to sort of illuminate the process for a larger number of members, I think it’s something that we don’t do a very good job of as far as teaching members, what the process is, how it works.
And more importantly, getting through to members that it’s their contract. I think we lapse into this mentality sometimes of, we are the workers and someone goes and gets our contract for us and gives it back to us, and that that’s how it works. Really that’s a product of the size of UPS.
I don’t think anybody’s approach, in some of the smaller white paper contracts that happen within locals. but with UPS it always had been. This attitude of, well, there’s a bargaining committee and there’s no rank and file members on it. And, they just go and do their thing and then they tell us what they get and we vote on it.
So the goal of the group was to sort of break down those walls, get past that, get people to think outside the box. I knew I was gonna have my proposals regardless, so it really wasn’t about me as much as getting people involved, getting them to see the possibilities of what their contract could be and not sort of accept the default response, without questioning it.
So I think that was the goal of the group. I don’t know whether it succeeded or not. We’ll see, I guess. But, I hope, I certainly would like to believe that it got a lot of people much more involved in the process and gave them a better understanding of the process. and hopefully that’s something that they, and, and we as a, as a group can carry forward onto the next one.
Teddy Ostrow: I know you were also there on the shop floor as a shop steward, like in-person doing the things that other workers across the country, labor activists, and also specifically Teamsters for a Democratic Union activists were in, in the hubs, at rallies, at the practice pickets.
You have been in communication with so many people online as well as in person. I know that your phone was blowing up when the TA was released, a couple weeks ago. I thought you’d be a great person to sort of give your own honest assessment, you know, of the members you’ve spoken to, and I know there’s been many of them, how they received this tentative agreement.
How they continue to receive it, how maybe their views are changing as time goes on. They become more educated. it’s a huge bargaining unit, you know. So views are obviously going to be wide ranging, but I’m curious if you’ve been, you’ve clocked any order in this chaos, that it might appear. What are people telling you? What do you see from the membership?
Greg Kerwood: I would say that there are, as you sort of alluded to, there, there are different levels. I think for the average worker who is just interested in going to work every day and doing their job, providing for their family, and sort of doesn’t pay attention to anything beyond that, I think that their reaction to this has primarily focused on the monetary payoff for, for good or for worse, whether you’re part-time or full-time, it’s a matter of opinion whether the raises are sufficient or the part-time pay is sufficient. I think either way, that’s been the main focus for a lot of folks.
Then there’s the next level of person who is active, as a UPS member. They’re active in the workplace. They’re active maybe with the contract. They’re active with grievances. But they’re not necessarily active beyond that. I think those folks, a lot of them, if they’ve been doing it for a long time, view this as, sort of a major turnaround and, and a win and, and something that is turning the ship in the right direction and a relief to see after years and years of pushing.
There are the others of those, of that same category who view this as sort of, not quite the culmination of the fight that they expected, that the buildup perhaps was, was so huge, that they were expecting even more dramatic changes than they received. and in that sense, to them perhaps it was sort of a letdown.
Then I think there’s a third level of, of person who’s active in the labor movement, even beyond the world of UPS, who sort of sees this from a further distance and has a different perspective and who sees it as something that, coalesced members and got them to fight, and got them to take to the street and show their force and, brought the company to where we wanted them to be, and see it as a huge win for us and a huge win for the labor movement, and one more step in sort of turning the tide back in favor of workers. The last two groups, I would say represent the minority, even though those are the groups that perhaps you and I are most familiar with.
I think your average member is really focused on the financial aspect of things and, again, they’re viewing it from their own perspective, whether it’s sufficient or it isn’t.
Teddy Ostrow: Right. From what I can tell, there is a broad range of opinion. A lot of it is certainly positive. Peoples’ lives are clearly going to change, whether it’s the monetary elements…I know some folks are certainly happy that, especially in some of the hottest areas of the region, they may be getting AC somewhat soon. They won’t be forced in for a sixth or seventh day unless they want to do it.
Then there’s people who are expressing criticism and on that front too, it’s a ton of different issues. There’s the activist layer, which I think you’re a part of, that has other reasons for disappointment, but then there are the individualistic reasons for disappointment.
Maybe the raise wasn’t high enough or they wanted to see a certain language that was most pertinent to them. So I’m wondering, are there certain issues that are rising to the top from your conversations, both positive and negative?
Greg Kerwood: Well, I think, there’s issues, obviously there are part-timers who are dissatisfied with the raises, and dissatisfied with perhaps, the format of the raises.
I don’t know whether that mathematically to me that’s, that’s tough to swallow, but certainly psychologically I completely understand where they’re coming from. That’s one side of it, that, that issue.
Teddy Ostrow: Just to be clear, you’re kind of alluding to some folks who may have wanted $25 an hour, which was what some portions of the union were pushing, at certain points in time.
Greg Kerwood: Yep, 25. I mean, I’ve seen higher, I think in some sense there, there should be dissatisfaction with the structure of part-time pay as a whole. as it is different from all the other classifications at UPS, which really makes little sense. But yeah, I think that that’s a major issue that’s come up.
I think that for drivers, certainly, some of the lack of harassment, protection, as far as being ridden by supervisors, the complication of, nine-five excessive overtime protection. Some of the confusion around the eight hour request language. I think the overriding concern, if there is an overriding concern for a lot of members still, comes back to the quality of life, the having control over your workday, having a say in how much of your time you are willing to sell to this company, and not so much the price you’re willing to sell it at. And I think that holds for part-timers as well. They don’t have the four-six punch protection, that’s only for drivers. They are captive in the workplace just as much as drivers are.
As far as drivers go, you’re still held to 14 hours a day if that’s what the company chooses, as long as they’re willing to pay you any kind of penalties.
So I think if there is an overriding issue, even though I’m not sure there is, it still comes back to that and I think if there’s any dissatisfaction with this agreement, it primarily stems from [the fact that] people went through what they went through in this pandemic and it was impossible not to come to the conclusion that this company does not care about its workers at all, and will abuse them at all costs to maximize profit.
I’ve been thinking about this today. just remembering when the pandemic first hit, the indifference that the company showed when they thought that they were gonna be shut down. It was almost an immediate response from them: “We’re gonna lay you all off. You’re gonna be sitting at home. We’re not gonna pay you.” Just trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility for anything as quickly as possible. And then the second the company got permission to operate during the pandemic, that same total indifference completely flipped into a profit making machinery that still had the same attitude towards the workers, but now it was heightened by this incredible sense of, “We’re gonna make an absolute fortune from this as long as we can just continue to force everybody in and work them into the ground. This is a golden goose that’s gonna lay eggs for us for the next however many years.”
The mentality is the same from management, but it was an interesting thing to think about how, whether it hurt the company or didn’t hurt the company, their attitude towards the employees in the circumstance was still gonna be exactly the same. “We don’t care about you at all, whether we’re laying you off or we’re working you to death. We just don’t care about you. We’re only concerned about our company and our profits.” I think everybody was made aware of that in this pandemic.
I think that we went into this contract expecting that to be dealt with. I’m not sure, I think part of the issue is that it’s a very difficult thing to put into contract terms and sort of point to some specific, “We need X to address this mentality.”
I think that’s perhaps where some things got lost in translation between proposal and negotiation. Perhaps there wasn’t a clear path to how we put that desire of the members to be respected and treated as human into some sort of concrete language in a contract that will somehow change that approach and, and give them that protection and that sense of humanity in the workplace.
It’s not a small order and I don’t wanna diminish what the negotiating committee accomplished, but I think if there is an issue underneath all that, that’s what it is. That somehow that feeling that people got during that pandemic was not translated into the contract language that would address their concern.
Teddy Ostrow: It translated into a lot of folks just wanting to strike the bastards, right? It didn’t even matter if it would necessarily be resolved in a contract language, but really just the indifference, but even more so I would argue, active hostility to people who are doing essential work and dying and not being protected, and not seeing their families and just the absolute terror of the pandemic translated into, “Look, I want to hurt this company.” There might have been a minority of people, but that sentiment certainly is out there.
I wanted to address the role of social media because at least some of the debates and discussions are happening online, by no means exclusively, and a fraction of the members are participating there. You should be proud, Greg, of the thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of people who you’ve been able to organize online, it’s an accomplishment.
But they also still are like a fraction of the thoughts and discussions that are happening about the TA. They’re happening on the shop floor, in people’s personal homes and text messages, what have you. So I wanted to ask you, as someone who uses social media, but also is out there on the shop floor, is out there on the phone with a lot of members, do you find that there’s a difference between how social media may portray members’ reactions versus what you actually hear when you talk to workers on the shop floor or hear workers in other areas talking about what they’re hearing in their own hubs? I wonder if social media can sometimes distort what’s actually going on, in a massive union like UPS.
Greg Kerwood: Yeah, I think there’s no question. To some extent it amplifies things and to some extent, as you said, it distorts things.
I would say, just from an initial response, my members that I spoke with sort of immediately after the agreement came out, were primarily concerned with the lack of harassment, protection, which was not frankly something that I had seen at that point online. It certainly wasn’t anybody’s instant response.
And it wasn’t something that I necessarily expected to hear from them, and they sort of caught me off guard. That was sort of the consensus concern was, protection from excessive rides as drivers. I know certainly the part-timers feel the same way. I have to say, the part-timers in my building are very happy with the financial situation. but again, they’re not facing the same MRA structure that others are facing.
Teddy Ostrow: That’s market rate adjustment, which were these raises that were given to people in certain areas so that they could compete in the labor market, you know, otherwise people will go and find other jobs that perhaps aren’t as stressful and you don’t get yelled at in a warehouse.
Greg Kerwood: Yeah, we’ve had those sort of come and go and there’ve been different ones in different buildings within the local. I think in my building in particular, they just happen to be at 21 already, which, now that they’re getting the raises on top of that, that was an initial concern.
But since that was made clear by the IBT, they’re sort of in a position to reap the full benefit of the general wage increases. So, they tend to be pretty happy with that as it is. Obviously that’s not the case everywhere. There are people who are longtime workers elsewhere who are still under 21 that are just gonna get bumped up to 21.
There are people who are dealing with RAs that are well above this contract that are sort of wondering where that leaves them.
Teddy Ostrow: And just to talk about that for a second, just so people understand. For a lot of folks it wasn’t clear whether someone who was making $23 an hour because a UPS was like, “Oh my God, we gotta give these people raises or else we won’t be able to hire them in Seattle or something.”
It wasn’t clear whether or not they could lose that, after this contract because of a side letter that clarified some language, which some people still seem to be a little bit ambivalent about.
They aren’t sure whether it really says that they can’t have it taken away. But nonetheless, this has been for some people, somewhat of a relief to see. “I’m gonna get a general wage increase on top of my MRA rather than having the MRA taken away.” And then end up perhaps at the same level that I was before or even even lower after the ratification of the contract.
Greg Kerwood: Yeah. So, to get back to your original question, it’s hard to say. I think that the average member that I referred to earlier, tends to focus more on the money. Unfortunately, I think, there’s a lot of apathy amongst that group in general. If they didn’t get something, beyond the financial package, I think there’s sort of a default acceptance of that, especially anybody who’s been here for any number of years.
The goal of my group and certainly the work of others was to get people to think outside the box and beyond what they know and dream big.
I think the majority of members still have the mentality through no fault of their own, that UPS is the way that it is, and it’s gonna continue to be the way that it is, and that the best we can do is try to get more money out of ‘em. And, I think that probably represents the vast majority of members.
Anyone like myself who’s made campaign calls or follow up calls to individuals around the country, I think that sort of gives you a serious sense of how, how little the social media activist, even leadership bubbles really impact the average member at all, which is somewhat disheartening.
But at the same time we have to be realistic and that’s the majority of this stuff. Even though what we do may have an impact on their lives, they don’t see it and they’re not a part of it, and it doesn’t concern them. So I think that gauging things off of social media is a tricky business.
It can, in some cases, give you insight into what’s going on in other places around the country and things like that. But at the same time, you’re very right that it can absolutely distort things, and make you think that something is much more prevalent than it is.
Teddy Ostrow: Thanks for humoring me on the social media question. Let’s get back to some of what you were just talking about before. I’d like to hear about your point of view on things in our last episode: Sean Orr, a package car driver outta 705 and Al Bradbury from Labor Notes.
We talked about some folks who are disappointed with the tentative agreement, despite it being, and I think you have said this elsewhere, it clearly being one of the best, if not the best contract for UPS Teamsters in history, but we talked about how raised expectations, the impact of Covid, which you were just discussing, just this broader labor moment, how all of that may have played into this.
So, I know you listened to that episode, and I’m curious, you know, about your own assessment of the tentative agreement and whether, that, or any of that or, or something else sort of resonates with you.
Greg Kerwood: It’s unquestionably the best contract we’ve ever had. I defy anyone to produce a better one.
To me that was never the question. The question for me was whether it was the right contract, for the time given the leverage that we had, given what our members went through with the pandemic, and given the things that they wanted. Now in fairness to the committee, they had a lot of stuff to undo from the prior contracts, which obviously we only have so much capital to expend at the bargaining table. And when you have to use a lot of it to undo the damage from previous contracts, it is what it is and you have to do that. I think that Alan and Sean were right on point with a lot of stuff.
As far as having issues with it is a good thing: from a certain perspective, you don’t wanna be satisfied. You don’t want to crest the hill. you always want to be striving for more. and part of the way you do that is by getting people involved and active and fired up, which is what we did to get what we’ve gotten in this agreement.
The tricky part going forward is going to be steering that let down, that anger and frustration and disappointment into something positive. I think there’s a fine line between cynicism and hope and the folks that are disappointed and frustrated, perhaps with what they didn’t get in this agreement, can very easily turn into what a lot of people turned into in the last three, four contracts.
People who just throw up their hands and say, you know, this is the way it works. This whole system stinks and we’re never gonna get anywhere. I don’t care anymore. That’s what we don’t want and that’s a very serious danger. A lot of these folks are involved in fighting different pieces of this agreement.
Based on what they believe, they are new to this, and this is their first time through this process. It’s a wonderful thing that they all became so involved and got so fired up and, and active and that they’re willing to fight for what they believe in. Whether I agree with it or not, is really irrelevant.
What we need to do going forward is take those folks and teach them that no contract is the end, and that you now know the game. You’ve now learned the rules. You’ve now learned how this structure works, how to play it, how to do it, and that’s gonna give you all the advantage going into the next one.
If you channel that energy and that drive and that conviction, In the right direction, then we are all gonna be better off for it in 2028. Unfortunately the contracts being the length that they are, that can be an eternity sometimes. And you lose some people by the wayside and, and things happen in life and not everybody makes it to the next one.
But I think it’s very important that we find a way to take those folks and sort of acknowledge their concerns, and acknowledge the imperfections in this agreement. I mean, no agreement is perfect. We shouldn’t be pretending that it is. There’s always other stuff that doesn’t get addressed.
Some of those things are known now. Some of them will become known in the next five years when we see how things play out, when, when things go to panel and arbitrations and gray language gets decided one way or the other. And things that we don’t see as issues right now may [become] issues a year from now or two years from now, when the company starts pushing things in one direction and we have to fight it. Enforcement of this contract is the other half of the battle. Getting the language is one thing, enforcing it is another. We also need to take those folks that are all fired up and channel that into enforcement, which requires the same level of organization as the contract campaign itself.
I think we have to first acknowledge the way that people feel and acknowledge that it’s legitimate. This is nothing against Sean and Al, but you can stand back from this, from a distance and see the bigger picture, and that’s a wonderful thing to do.
It can seem very optimistic from back there. but at the same time, you also have to acknowledge that person who’s struggling and who was looking for something that was gonna change their life and they didn’t get it, or they didn’t get enough of it, or, they want something different or they want something more.
To my mind, not being a young person myself, I find that to be the best part of all of this from a distant perspective, that people are willing to say, “I want more.” That they’re willing to not just accept that, they’re willing to stand up and say, “This is not good enough. This is not okay. This is not how things should work. We’re willing to change it. We’re willing to fight for it. We’re willing to stand up and make things different.” To me, that’s the best part of all of it. In order to make that work, you have to see that from a distance, but you also have to put yourself in that person’s shoes, in that person’s position because if you don’t, you run the risk of them giving up.
You don’t want them to give that up. You want to keep that fire burning for the next five years and, and beyond. You wanna keep those folks that are just getting into this and seeing the possibilities, from giving up hope. You want them to understand that they now have the tools in their bag to make these things happen.
Whether it’s daily workplace changes or whether it’s fighting for new contract language in 2028. And, if we can find a way to do that and get that message through to these folks while they’re disappointed and while they’re angry and while they’re frustrated, I think that that army that we built for this contract fight is going to be even better, going forward.
Teddy Ostrow: I appreciate that perspective. And I want to ask you, building off of the disappointment, building off of also what was won, what are the issues that people you think going forward are going to have to be addressed on the shop floor or in pursuit of a new contract, five years from now?
What are you hearing from your coworkers? What do you think for yourself and, what is it gonna take for you guys to address them. When a TA, whether it’s this one or another one, is finally ratified, what is next for the UPS Teamsters?
Greg Kerwood: Well, I think the big issues are still the same big issues that have been there since I started, and I think the struggle is to find a way to address them.
It’s work-life balance. It’s harassment in the workplace. It’s something that, as a UPS employee, you find yourself struggling to describe to anyone who hasn’t worked there. there’s just a mentality in this company, and I know, there’s a, you mentioned payback. That’s part of the reason that some folks, including myself, thought it was an absolute necessity that we strike this company, because it’s all about power. And the power continues to remain in the hands of the company. And until we flip that in the other direction, UPS is gonna continue to be UPS and working at UPS is going to continue to be very, very difficult regardless of pay.
It’s just, it’s not a question of money. I don’t know what driver out there will tell you they don’t make good money. I think after this contract plays out, you will be hard pressed to find many part-timers that will feel that they don’t at least make decent money. So, the money has really for me, never really been the issue.
I think it’s becoming the case for a lot of other folks after going through the pandemic, it really becomes a question of what your priorities are in life and, and should you have to sacrifice your entire existence to the place you work. It’s 2023 and I think the answer to that is a resounding no.
And I think that a lot of these folks that are upset and disappointed, whether indirectly or, or directly, that’s really the underlying factor of all the frustration. All I can say to those folks is, this is a good thing, right? I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to Teddy Ostrow on The Upsurge if I hadn’t been disappointed in 2018 and 2013 and 2008, which is a contract that everyone forgets because there was absolutely nothing in it.
To someone who started under a six year contract and waited so long for 2008 to roll around, to me, that was one of the bigger disappointments of all of them because that was the first time I was even remotely involved in seeing possibilities and got absolutely nothing at all and had to work under basically the same contract for another five years.
But that’s what drives the next one, and that to me is the message that has to get out to people is that you don’t, you understand the possibilities now and you understand the rules of the game, and the disappointment is what drives the next contract. This agreement here comes from 2018.
The election of the opposition slate comes from 2018. The potential of a strike even comes from 2018. If we don’t change the leadership and we don’t change the constitution and we don’t have practice pickets, we don’t have this agreement, we don’t have anything that this agreement accomplished.
It doesn’t happen unless we go through 2018. You sort of have to be tempered by those fires in order to become the weapon that you should be. I think that that’s what people need to understand is that this is part of the process. I don’t like it any more than anybody else does. I don’t wanna be disappointed.
I want to open an agreement. One of these five-year periods and just be wowed and shake my head in awe that we’ve accomplished everything that we did. I expect a lot, so that may never happen. but, you know, that’s the goal. But you have to understand that disappointment is part of the process and part of the growth curve, as a union member. Even with the best contract in the world, even if this addressed everybody’s issues, there are things that are gonna come up between now and 2028.
There are loopholes that are gonna rear their ugly head. There are arbitration decisions that are gonna change the meaning of language that we thought was one thing, and it turns out now it’s another. There’s always going to be more issues, and this process will teach you how to fight those issues and how to take them on, and how to be prepared to change the language in 2028 to address those things.
So this whole process is nothing but a learning curve. And you have to take the good with the bad and the ups with the downs and the wins with the defeats and, dust yourself off and, and learn. I learned in 2018 that my making proposals in my local was not gonna be enough.
So that’s why I started that Facebook group because I knew that if I could make these proposals and I could get more people involved and they could be making the same proposals in different parts of the country at the same time, that perhaps those proposals might actually get through and make it to the table, and maybe we might get some and, and getting people to have faith in the process, in building momentum to a potential strike and a contract campaign and all of that stuff, tthat doesn’t happen without the previous losses. So, to me, that’s the way you have to view this. I’m gonna be eternally optimistic about it, whether I like it or not, and encourage everybody to keep on pushing and keep on remembering that we’re all still on the same team and we’re all going in the same direction.
And if you play your part, you might have a say in how the ship gets steered. And that’s what we need to push for and that’s what people need to fight for.
Teddy Ostrow: Greg Kerrwood, thank you so much for coming on The Upsurge.
Hosted by Teddy Ostrow
Edited by Teddy Ostrow and Ruby Walsh
Music by Casey Gallagher
Cover art by Devlin Claro Resetar
Support the show at Patreon.com/upsurgepod.
Hear Teddy discuss the UPS membership’s reaction to the tentative agreement on The Valley Labor Report.
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Ruby Walsh is an audio producer from Brooklyn. She is a co-producer of The Upsurge podcast and a development producer for Giant Grin LLC. Formerly, she was the associate producer of Moyers on Democracy and wrote for BillMoyers.com.