20 Years On, What the UPS Strike Can Teach Us About Reviving a Dying Labor Movement

Joe Allen August 4, 2017

A union member holds a sign at a Teamsters meeting in support of better wages and benefits for school bus drivers.

This arti­cle first appeared in Jacobin.

Twen­ty years ago, the Team­sters’ nation­al strike against Unit­ed Par­cel Ser­vice (UPS) pro­duced pan­ic, if not out­right hys­te­ria, in the cor­po­rate board­rooms of the Unit­ed States

The edi­to­r­i­al writ­ers of the Wall Street Jour­nal were at their wits’ end:

The UPS strike is so weird it’s hard to know where to begin. Some­how, we’re sup­posed to believe that the mighty Team­sters has sud­den­ly decid­ed it must par­a­lyze the nation’s par­cel-dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem to have it out over most­ly vol­un­tary part-timers and var­i­ous pen­sion arcana. These mat­ters may be worth an argu­ment, but Armaged­don? What’s this weird, awful strike about anyway?

Every­body else, though, seemed to get it.

Then-New York Times colum­nist Bob Her­bert wrote that the UPS strike is best seen as the angry fist-wav­ing response of the frus­trat­ed Amer­i­can work­er, a revolt against the ruth­less treat­ment of work­ers by so many pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions.” Even right-wing Chica­go Sun-Times colum­nist Den­nis Byrne didn’t have to think too hard about it: Work­ing men and women have paid dues enough; it’s time to pass around some of the prosperity.”

With 185,000 Team­sters on strike for near­ly three weeks begin­ning on August 4, 1997, fight­ing under the slo­gan of Part-Time Amer­i­ca Won’t Work,” the UPS strike proved to be the most pop­u­lar strike in a gen­er­a­tion. Now that the Unit­ed States and world econ­o­my revolves around the bur­geon­ing logis­tics indus­try—dom­i­nat­ed by giant cor­po­ra­tions like UPS, FedEx, Wal­mart, and the quick­ly grow­ing Ama­zon — we should look back to the 1997 UPS strike for lessons on how to revive a dying labor move­ment, and how to hit cap­i­tal where it hurts.

Con­tract campaign

The future of the Team­sters hung on the out­come of the 1997 UPS contract.

Ron Carey, the Team­sters’ first reform-mind­ed gen­er­al pres­i­dent, was elect­ed to office in 1991 against two old-guard slates in the first gov­ern­ment-mon­i­tored, rank-and-file elec­tion in the union’s his­to­ry. The major­i­ty of his slate were mem­bers of the Team­sters for Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union (TDU), the long­stand­ing Team­sters reform group whose ori­gins were in the rad­i­cal rank-and-file move­ments of the 1970s.

Carey won the elec­tion with a lit­tle more than 48 per­cent of the vote, shock­ing the media, labor offi­cial­dom, and major employ­ers who thought he didn’t have a shot at win­ning. The TDU imprint on the vic­to­ry of the Carey slate was unmis­tak­able. Post-elec­tion, TDU concluded:

A close look at the elec­tion results shows clear­ly that where TDU orga­niz­ing has been strongest, the Carey Slate win was strongest — even in the oppos­ing camp’s back yards.

Carey’s tri­umph set off a chain reac­tion of events that top­pled the scle­rot­ic lead­er­ship of the AFL-CIO in 1995 and cul­mi­nat­ed in the 1997 UPS strike. Soon after tak­ing office in 1992, Carey cut his own salary and elim­i­nat­ed the many perks of office held dear by pre­vi­ous old-guard offi­cers and staff such as lim­ou­sines and pri­vate jets — the infa­mous Team­sters air force.” He also began the dif­fi­cult and painstak­ing process of remov­ing dozens of cor­rupt local lead­ers, many con­nect­ed to the mob.

He shocked UPS in Feb­ru­ary 1994 with a nation­al safe­ty strike after the com­pa­ny uni­lat­er­al­ly raised the weight lim­it of pack­ages, in vio­la­tion of the con­tract. The com­pa­ny was not expect­ing such a mil­i­tant response to a move they con­sid­ered to be their pre­rog­a­tive. Clear­ly, UPS was deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent type of Team­ster leader.

Carey won re-elec­tion in 1996 against an old-guard slate led by James P. Hof­fa, son of the noto­ri­ous and pre­sumed-dead Team­ster leader Jim­my Hof­fa. It was a phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing and bruis­ing con­test. Team­ster employ­ers clear­ly favored a Hof­fa vic­to­ry as akin to some­thing of a wel­come coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion in their eyes. In all hon­esty, my clients’ inter­ests are best served by a return to the Old Team­sters,” declared Gary Mar­sack, a Mil­wau­kee-based lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Team­ster employ­ers, and a for­mer gro­cery indus­try executive.

Ron Carey and the reform­ers tri­umphed in no small part due to Carey promis­ing major gains in the upcom­ing 1997 con­tract. In order to win those gains at UPS, the Team­sters orga­nized a con­tract cam­paign on a mas­sive scale. First, you have to get orga­nized. You have to have some­thing that brings you togeth­er. When you are orga­nized, you then cre­ate the lever­age you need,” recalled Ron Carey. The lever­age Carey want­ed could only be achieved by a nation­al con­tract campaign.

Rand Wil­son was tapped to be com­mu­ni­ca­tions coor­di­na­tor and cam­paign strate­gist for the con­tract cam­paign. Before being recruit­ed by Team­ster friends to work under the new reform lead­er­ship, Wil­son had worked since the 1980s as a union orga­niz­er and led sev­er­al impor­tant labor-cen­tered polit­i­cal campaigns.

Steven Green­house, the labor reporter for the New York Times, observed Wil­son in action dur­ing the frac­tious 1996 Team­ster con­ven­tion in Philadelphia:

Tucked in a booth belong­ing to the union’s Par­cel & Small Pack­age Divi­sion, Rand Wil­son was pre­oc­cu­pied with anoth­er, dis­tant bat­tle. He was but­ton­hol­ing dozens of UPS shop stew­ards and stuff­ing their pock­ets with a book­let called Count­down to the Con­tract.” It con­tained a month-by-month cal­en­dar until the July 31 strike dead­line and gave myr­i­ad tips on how to esca­late pres­sure on the com­pa­ny and build a com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work to keep work­ers informed and involved.

The Inter­na­tion­al Union began send­ing bul­letins to every UPS member’s home,” Wil­son lat­er wrote. Fel­low com­mu­ni­ca­tion depart­ment staffer Matt Witt,

highlight[ed] the impor­tance of Team­ster fam­i­lies’ involve­ment in the upcom­ing con­tract cam­paign. Nine months before the con­tract dead­line, every mem­ber received a sur­vey ask­ing them to help shape the union’s bar­gain­ing priorities.

Wil­son craft­ed the mem­ber­ship sur­vey with Ron Carey and Ken Hall, a West Vir­ginia Team­ster and the new par­cel direc­tor for the Team­sters. The sur­vey asked mem­bers what pri­or­i­ty the union nego­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee should place on either cre­at­ing more full-time jobs, win­ning wage increas­es, or improv­ing pen­sions. The Count­down to the Con­tract: UPS Team­ster Bar­gain­ing Sur­vey” was more than a long list of ques­tions. The bar­gain­ing sur­vey was a very impor­tant part of the con­tract cam­paign,” accord­ing to Wilson.

Work­ing close­ly with the Research Depart­ment, we put a lot of effort into how we framed issues so that the ques­tions didn’t divide full timers from part timers, or feed­er dri­vers from pack­age car dri­vers. The dis­tri­b­u­tion and return of the sur­veys was just as impor­tant because that allowed the lead­er­ship to gain intel­li­gence about which locals had the orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty to get a large num­ber filled-out and returned. It sig­naled who were will­ing to active­ly participate.

It was expect­ed that UPS would con­tin­ue their push for major con­ces­sions from the union — pos­si­bly greater ones than demand­ed in the past. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the sur­vey found that for 90 per­cent of part timers, the top pri­or­i­ty was cre­at­ing more full-time jobs. The Team­sters Research Depart­ment pro­duced a well-doc­u­ment­ed book­let Half a Job Is Not Enough that revealed, among many oth­er shock­ing things:

The last Team­ster-UPS con­tract was nego­ti­at­ed in 1993. Since then, the part-time work force at UPS had grown by 43 per­cent, while the num­ber of full-time jobs has grown by only 10 per­cent. UPS has hired an addi­tion­al 46,300 work­ers, but more than 38,500 of them have been placed in part-time jobs. There­fore, 83 per­cent of the new jobs at UPS have been part-time jobs.

It was not just the growth in the num­ber of part-time jobs at UPS, but the shift toward part-time work.

Of course, one would expect part-time employ­ment to grow, as the com­pa­ny expands. How­ev­er, the shift to part-time jobs is way out of pro­por­tion when com­pared with over­all growth in the econ­o­my. Since 1993, the vol­ume of pack­ages han­dled by UPS grew by eight per­cent. Total com­pa­ny rev­enues grew by 26 per­cent. But part-time jobs grew by 43 per­cent, much more rapid­ly than the com­pa­ny as a whole.

UPS made over $4 bil­lion in prof­its dur­ing the life of the 1993 – 97 con­tract. It was well posi­tioned to cre­ate more full-time jobs and close the wage gap between part-time and full-time work­ers and UPS work­ers knew it. More than 100,000 of them signed a peti­tion demand­ing that UPS stop increas­ing the num­ber of part-time jobs and start cre­at­ing more full-time ones.

Dur­ing the past two con­tract nego­ti­a­tions, the Team­sters strug­gled to suc­cess­ful­ly counter the company’s dai­ly pro­pa­gan­da broad­casts at Pre-Work Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Meet­ings” (PCMs). For this con­tract cam­paign, to ensure a reg­u­lar flow of infor­ma­tion to the ranks, Ken Hall instructed

all Team­ster local unions to set up mem­ber-to-mem­ber” com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works. Under these net­works, each stew­ard or oth­er vol­un­teer was respon­si­ble for com­mu­ni­ca­tion with approx­i­mate­ly twen­ty work­ers. The Inter­na­tion­al Union deployed edu­ca­tion staff and field rep­re­sen­ta­tives — some of them UPS rank-and-fil­ers — to help locals get the net­works established.

The mem­ber-to-mem­ber” cam­paign was cer­tain­ly the largest ini­tia­tive ever in the union — if not the entire U.S. labor move­ment — to involve 185,000 rank-and-file union mem­bers in a con­tract campaign.

We want­ed peo­ple we could count on

The Field Ser­vices Depart­ment was to play a cru­cial role in the upcom­ing con­tract cam­paign. Carey cre­at­ed it soon after tak­ing office for his first term, and it orga­nized con­tract cam­paigns and ran strikes for con­tracts nego­ti­at­ed by the inter­na­tion­al union in Wash­ing­ton. Field Ser­vices Depart­ment direc­tor David Eck­stein worked close­ly with Rand Wil­son, train­ing a crew of field rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the upcom­ing UPS con­tract campaign.

Even­tu­al­ly forty peo­ple, drawn from a cross-sec­tion of the var­ied Team­ster mem­ber­ship includ­ing freight, car haul, ware­hous­ing, and UPS, were trained to focus exclu­sive­ly on the cam­paign. We want­ed peo­ple we could count on,” David Eck­stein recalled. We want­ed to cre­ate an army the com­pa­ny couldn’t buy.”

The field rep­re­sen­ta­tives were expect­ed to work around unco­op­er­a­tive local offi­cials, most­ly old-guard fig­ures allied with James P. Hof­fa. We had a lot of resis­tance in Min­neso­ta and Wis­con­sin,” Eck­stein remem­bered. Carey and Eck­stein held two-man meet­ings with local offi­cials about the upcom­ing con­tract. Eck­stein vivid­ly remem­bers Carey lay­ing it on the line:

I know some of you don’t like me, but this is a nation­al con­tract cam­paign and it is going to hap­pen. We have two plans: Plan A is where we give you every­thing you need to move the cam­paign in your local, and Plan B is the same as Plan A but we move it in your local with­out you.

Accord­ing to Eck­stein, Carey made it clear that the full weight of the gen­er­al president’s office would be brought to bear on unco­op­er­a­tive local offi­cials — includ­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the nuclear option, trustee­ship, in which the inter­na­tion­al union would seize con­trol of a local and dis­miss much of its leadership.

On March 7, four days before nation­al nego­ti­a­tions began, the Team­sters orga­nized a nation­al con­tract meet­ing with two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each of the 206 local unions rep­re­sent­ing UPS work­ers to out­line con­tract goals and strategy.

Three days lat­er, UPS Team­sters ral­lied in ten major cities includ­ing Atlanta, Chica­go, Dallas/​Fort Worth, Los Ange­les, New York, Philadel­phia, and Seat­tle. UPS is a bil­lion-dol­lar com­pa­ny,” Carey told the media, that can afford to pro­vide good full-time jobs with pen­sions and health care.” The ral­lies around the coun­try gave UPS Team­sters con­fi­dence that the inter­na­tion­al union was solid­ly behind their most impor­tant demands and grievances.

On March 11, con­tract pro­pos­als were exchanged. As pre­dict­ed, UPS, despite mak­ing record prof­its, demand­ed wide-rang­ing con­ces­sions on sub­con­tract­ing, pen­sions, and health care coverage.

What’s going on?

The UPS nego­ti­at­ing team was led by labor man­ag­er David Mur­ray, whose arro­gant behav­ior became noto­ri­ous dur­ing the 1993 nego­ti­a­tions. UPS nego­tia­tors were shocked by such a pub­lic mobi­liza­tion so ear­ly in nego­ti­a­tions. Eck­stein remem­bered one of the company’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives ask­ing, in response to the union’s cam­paign, What’s going on?”

This was not the usu­al nego­ti­a­tions set­ting that UPS labor man­agers had come to expect, and it was a major change from the 1993 nego­ti­a­tions. Two weeks lat­er, before the next round of con­tract talks, the Team­sters dou­bled the num­ber of rallies.

In April, the Team­sters launched a cam­paign to doc­u­ment unsafe work­ing con­di­tions that net­ted five thou­sand safe­ty griev­ances — sub­mit­ted on spe­cial­ly craft­ed EZ Griev­ance Forms” that the union had designed. Once again, rank and fil­ers were promi­nent­ly placed on the UPS Nation­al Nego­ti­at­ing Committee.

Con­tract nego­ti­a­tions were sus­pend­ed from April 22 to May 13, but soon after they resumed, it was clear UPS had no inten­tion of mov­ing for­ward. There was lit­tle doubt in Carey’s mind and many oth­ers’ that UPS felt bol­stered by the lack of sup­port for the con­tract cam­paign by local unions led by the old guard. On May 14, Carey, in a sharply word­ed direc­tive to UPS locals, declared, It has been called to my atten­tion that some local unions are not com­ply­ing with the nego­ti­at­ing committee’s pol­i­cy and strategy.”

He instruct­ed all UPS locals to imple­ment and car­ry for­ward the pol­i­cy and plans of the Team­sters Nation­al Nego­ti­at­ing Com­mit­tee with an empha­sis on mem­ber­ship involve­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion.” It was cru­cial to win­ning a suc­cess­ful con­tract. TDU’s news­pa­per Con­voy-Dis­patch report­ed, Based on reports from all around the coun­try to TDU, it is obvi­ous that many local unions are doing a fan­tas­tic job of build­ing mem­ber­ship sol­i­dar­i­ty while oth­ers are doing lit­tle or nothing.”

Imple­ment­ing the con­tract cam­paign in many reform-led locals was high­ly uneven. A lot of this stemmed from the cir­cum­stances, in which the old guard had con­trolled many locals until very recent­ly, while some of the best reform activists had been ele­vat­ed to the staff of local unions or the inter­na­tion­al union in Wash­ing­ton. The pio­neer­ing aspects of the mem­ber-to-mem­ber cam­paign ran up against many old guard offi­cials and some local reform lead­ers who pre­ferred to rely on the tra­di­tion­al union struc­ture of union rep­re­sen­ta­tives (still often called Busi­ness Agents or BAs”), or appoint­ed union stewards.

Days of Action some­times were lit­tle more than the full-time staff com­ing down to the near­est UPS hub and hand­ing out fly­ers in the morn­ing, and then going back to the office. But activist stew­ards, field reps, and TDU mem­bers filled the gaps in the con­tract campaign.

Despite these short­com­ings, the cam­paign shaped the work­force for a con­fronta­tion with UPS that was unprece­dent­ed in the his­to­ry of the company.

Try­ing To Wear Our Bar­gain­ers Down

Still, nego­ti­a­tions were going nowhere on the nation­al lev­el. So the Team­sters broke off nego­ti­a­tions on May 15, two days after they had resumed. Con­voy-Dis­patch argued that UPS was try­ing to wear our bar­gain­ers down and wear the rank and file down by focus­ing on take­away demands that they know will nev­er be accept­ed. Their hope? That they can scare us into throw­ing up our hands and accept­ing what we’ve got now.”

Con­voy-Dis­patch list­ed the many con­ces­sions that UPS was demand­ing this late in negotiations:

  • A com­plete com­pa­ny takeover of health and wel­fare and pen­sion funds.
  • A sev­en-year contract.
  • Expand­ing Arti­cle 40, the air oper­a­tions sec­tion, to have part-timers doing all of the air work at the expense of full-time jobs.
  • No increase in the start­ing pay of part-time workers.
  • Force UPSers to cross pick­et lines even for Team­sters-autho­rized strikes.
  • Water down the inno­cent-until-proven-guilty” dis­ci­pli­nary lan­guage won in the pre­vi­ous contract.

Dave Dethrow, one of the rank-and-file mem­bers of the nation­al nego­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee, kept a fas­ci­nat­ing account of nego­ti­a­tions that was lat­er pub­lished in Con­voy-Dis­patch. He was the elect­ed chief stew­ard of St. Louis Local 688 and a vet­er­an TDU activist at UPS.

For Dethrow, nego­ti­a­tions were frus­trat­ing” from the begin­ning, and UPS nego­tia­tor Dave Mur­ray could be arro­gant and pompous.” Three days into that bar­gain­ing ses­sion, when the union cau­cus met, it was clear that UPS wasn’t budg­ing on major issues.

We need­ed to send them a sig­nal,” Dethrow recalled. When the com­pa­ny returned, Ken Hall then informed them that we were leav­ing.” The union was walk­ing away from the nego­ti­at­ing table. They sat there dumb­found­ed as we walked out. I enjoyed that thoroughly.”

An Esca­lat­ing Campaign

With a union-enforced break in nego­ti­a­tions, the Team­sters esca­lat­ed the cam­paign on UPS with more ral­lies and con­tract-relat­ed events. Not every ral­ly was well attend­ed. Ron Carey spoke at a sparse­ly attend­ed event in Atlanta at the end of May 1997, and UPS offi­cials were contemptuous.

They’re try­ing to stage a Broad­way pro­duc­tion of Les Mis­er­ables,’ and what we’re see­ing is a high school pro­duc­tion of Annie Get Your Gun,’” said UPS spokesper­son Mark Dickens.

But one small ral­ly doesn’t break a con­tract cam­paign. UPS was so over­joyed at the failed Atlanta event that they drew the wrong con­clu­sions from it. They dis­missed the union’s cam­paign­ing, includ­ing Carey’s demand for more full-time jobs, as pos­tur­ing.” UPS kept mis­read­ing the bat­tle­field. The com­pa­ny would pay for these mis­steps later.

By the begin­ning of June, all UPS shop stew­ards received a sev­en-minute video about the con­tract nego­ti­a­tions. It’s Our Con­tract. We’ll Fight For It” stick­ers were dis­trib­uted in the tens of thou­sands across the country.

The Team­sters also took the con­tract cam­paign inter­na­tion­al, a rare devel­op­ment for a US-based union. The Team­sters approached the Inter­na­tion­al Trans­port Work­ers Fed­er­a­tion (ITF), the old­est of the Euro­pean-based trade union sec­re­tari­ats that coor­di­nates inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty cam­paigns between dif­fer­ent unions in the trans­port industry.

In Feb­ru­ary 1997, the ITF held a meet­ing of all unions that rep­re­sent­ed or aspired to orga­nize UPS work­ers in their respec­tive coun­tries around the world. They met to form the World Coun­cil of UPS Trade Unions in Lon­don. Plans for a glob­al day of action in sup­port of U.S. Team­sters were formulated.

Media cov­er­age of the planned event so jarred UPS that its Unit­ed King­dom gen­er­al man­ag­er called then-ITF gen­er­al sec­re­tary David Cock­croft and asked if there was going to be a one-day world­wide strike. The grow­ing buzz around the cam­paign was lead­ing its exec­u­tives to ner­vous­ly con­tem­plate a glob­al, qua­si-rev­o­lu­tion­ary situation.

While no world­wide strike was planned on May 22, in eleven coun­tries the world coun­cil orga­nized more than 150 job actions and demon­stra­tions at UPS facil­i­ties world­wide.” One of the stick­ers for work­ers to wear on the job read, Around the World, Unit­ed for Good Jobs at UPS: Inter­na­tion­al Day of Trade Union Action.” Sol­i­dar­i­ty strikes also took place in Italy and Spain, and a multi­na­tion­al union protest was held at UPS’s Euro­pean head­quar­ters in Brussels.

The sec­ond meet­ing of the World Coun­cil of UPS Trade Unions was sched­uled to meet in Wash­ing­ton in ear­ly June 1997. Forty rep­re­sen­ta­tives of UPS unions from around the globe met to dis­cuss coor­di­nat­ed activ­i­ty as the con­tract dead­line approached. Ron Carey took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to intro­duce each rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the com­pa­ny bar­gain­ers one at a time — much to the annoy­ance of UPS chief nego­tia­tor David Mur­ray. The clear impli­ca­tion was that there was going to be an inter­na­tion­al strike,” said Dave Eck­stein, for­mer direc­tor of the Team­sters Field Ser­vices Department.

Once nego­ti­a­tions got back into ses­sion, DeThrow recount­ed how David Mur­ray returned to his old tricks. There was a drea­ry pre­dictabil­i­ty to the com­pa­ny nego­tia­tors’ behavior:

All of the company’s sin­is­ter pro­pos­als were still on the table. Man­age­ment peo­ple were act­ing as though they were going through the motions, as if they could manip­u­late us like they did in the past. Mur­ray was still insult­ing our mem­bers, his employ­ees. Some of the com­pa­ny peo­ple act­ed as if they had trou­ble stay­ing awake.

Through­out July, across the coun­try, near­ly every Team­ster local union con­duct­ed strike votes, and typ­i­cal­ly vot­ed 90 – 95 per­cent in favor of strike authorization.

While UPS pre­sent­ed a stony face to the Team­sters, the con­tract cam­paign was clear­ly hav­ing an impact inside and out­side the hubs. A frus­trat­ed David Mur­ray told UPS super­vi­sors in an audio­tape sent out across the coun­try soon after nego­ti­a­tions began in March — clear­ly respond­ing to the union’s cam­paign for high­er wages — that $8 an hour was not only an ade­quate part-time wage, but in many areas of the Unit­ed States it would be a fine full-time wage.” Mur­ray was also angered by the new trans­paren­cy of the nego­ti­a­tions that the Team­sters had introduced:

In the past, com­mit­ments were made to not speak to the mem­bers or the employ­ees for whom the con­tract is being nego­ti­at­ed. The rea­son this was viewed as a wise posi­tion for both par­ties was that the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of posi­tions tak­en dur­ing nego­ti­a­tions often rais­es the expec­ta­tions of those peo­ple who ulti­mate­ly could be vot­ing on the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the agreement.

In oth­er words, dur­ing the days of cozy nego­ti­a­tions between the old guard and UPS, the mem­ber­ship was large­ly kept in the dark. If Mur­ray thought that such argu­ments would bol­ster the company’s posi­tion in pub­lic or stiff­en the spines of front-line super­vi­sors, he was sore­ly out of touch with reality.

When UPS dis­cov­ered that the Team­sters had got­ten a hold of the tape, refash­ioned it with respons­es to Mur­ray from rank-and-file work­ers, and dis­trib­uted it freely in July to rank-and-file UPS work­ers around the coun­try under the title From the Horse’s Mouth,” Mur­ray flipped out. An enraged and embar­rassed Mur­ray wrote to Ron Carey,

We demand that your union pro­vide us with a writ­ten under­tak­ing by the close of busi­ness on Fri­day, July 18, 1997, that agrees to I) cease and desist from cre­ation and dis­tri­b­u­tion of your union’s audio­tape; II) deliv­er up to UPS for destruc­tion all copies of the audio­tape in its pos­ses­sion; III) pro­vide us with a list of the names and address­es of the indi­vid­u­als to who you have dis­trib­uted the infring­ing tape; and IV) delete any and all ref­er­ences to the tape in your newslet­ters, web­site and any oth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tions in which it appears.

He was ignored.

Then We’re Going!”

The cred­i­bil­i­ty of the com­pa­ny sank to a new low after UPS announced that it couldn’t afford to cre­ate large num­bers of full-time jobs, even though UPS had made record prof­its of $1 bil­lion in 1996 and was on track for big­ger prof­its in 1997. It was against this back­ground that UPS chief nego­tia­tor Dave Mur­ray declared that the com­pa­ny made their last, best, and final offer.”

A true insult, this offer actu­al­ly pro­posed a low­er wage increase than the pre­vi­ous con­tract, pledged to cre­ate only two hun­dred new full-time jobs nation­al­ly, increased sub­con­tract­ing of union work, and demand­ed to take total con­trol of the full-time pen­sion fund which had been con­trolled by the union. Not to be out­done by Mur­ray, Ed Lenhart, UPS’s chief nego­tia­tor for the north­ern Cal­i­for­nia sup­ple­ment, inad­ver­tent­ly echoed the old line at the bar­gain­ing table, All these lit­tle nobod­ies come to work for us and now they think they’re some­body because they work for UPS.”

As the mid­night strike dead­line on Thurs­day, July 31, approached, Dave DeThrow remem­bered that the ten­sion was thick” in Wash­ing­ton, when fed­er­al medi­a­tors asked to meet with two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each side. In Chica­go, there was an excit­ed atmos­phere at the main gate of the Jef­fer­son Street facil­i­ty, UPS’s main hub. Part timers and feed­er dri­vers lin­gered out­side the secu­ri­ty sta­tion, wait­ing to the last moment to either go into work or to walk a pick­et line. One part timer showed up with a hand­made poster that read: UPS means Under-Paid Slaves!”

When it was announced that Carey post­poned the strike to con­tin­ue bar­gain­ing, some work­ers were dis­ap­point­ed. But just a few days lat­er, on Sun­day, August 3, Ron Carey told the media that if UPS did not address the union’s key issues, I assure you at 12:01, we’ll be on strike.”

Two hours before the new mid­night dead­line, Carey emerged from the mediator’s office and met with his staff. Dave Eck­stein remem­bered that Carey ago­nized about call­ing a strike.

Despite all the prepa­ra­tion, every bat­tle requires a leap of faith. The union was final­ly ready to take it.

Are we ready to take on this com­pa­ny?” Carey asked every­one. Eck­stein spoke up, We’ll have a prob­lem, if we don’t.” Then we’re going!” The strike was on.

Big Brown Shutdown

Hold­ing signs that declared On Strike,” small groups of UPS work­ers and Team­ster offi­cials descend­ed on hubs across the coun­try late Sun­day evening, August 3. But it wasn’t until the next morn­ing that the breadth of the strike became vis­i­ble to the whole world. Dozens to thou­sands of strik­ing work­ers gath­ered out­side UPS facil­i­ties stretch­ing from the Maine coast­line to the Hawai­ian Islands.

Glum-faced, white-shirt­ed super­vi­sors stood around uncom­fort­ably, arms crossed, inside the fence lines and guard shacks, dumb­found­ed. No work­ers or trucks were going in or out. The crowds of work­ers slow­ly formed into pick­et lines. Most had nev­er been on strike before.

It was clear by mid-morn­ing that 185,000 Team­sters were on strike, and two thou­sand UPS pilots and hun­dreds of union­ized mechan­ics joined them in the company’s first tru­ly nation­wide strike. Noth­ing was fly­ing or get­ting serviced.

If UPS man­age­ment was ever con­vinced that it was pop­u­lar with its employ­ees, that delu­sion was shat­tered on the morn­ing of August 4, 1997. Big Brown was shut down.

The Team­sters’ fight­ing slo­gan was Part-Time Amer­i­ca Won’t Work,” and it was bold­ly print­ed on tens of thou­sands of posters car­ried on pick­et lines across the coun­try. Pick­et lines in Somerville, Mass­a­chu­setts, and War­wick, Rhode Island erupt­ed into con­fronta­tions with the police, as hun­dreds of work­ers tried to stop trucks dri­ven by man­age­ment scabs from cross­ing the pick­et line. UPS began to lose an esti­mat­ed $40 mil­lion a day in business.

George Cash­man, the pres­i­dent of Boston-area Team­sters Local 25, respond­ed to reporters’ inane ques­tions about why strik­ing work­ers were heck­ling scabs cross­ing the pick­et line by declar­ing, We cer­tain­ly don’t stand on the pick­et line like Gumby.”

Pack­ages piled up in enor­mous mounds every­where. UPS nev­er actu­al­ly believed there was going to be a strike and left its cus­tomers hang­ing. It had no Plan B. The oth­er big ship­ping com­pa­nies includ­ing the U.S. Post Office, Air­borne, DHL, Emery, and FedEx couldn’t han­dle the increased vol­ume of work. The Post Office, the first option for many UPS cus­tomers, groaned under the crush­ing weight of hun­dreds of thou­sands of new pack­ages that flood­ed into its system.

UPS’s attempts at scare­mon­ger­ing had lit­tle effect. The econ­o­my is going to have 5 per­cent of its gross nation­al prod­uct not mov­ing,” UPS’s chief nego­tia­tor David Mur­ray announced to the media soon after nego­ti­a­tions collapsed.

But instead of turn­ing peo­ple against the strike, it became very clear that despite incon­ve­niences, two days in, the strike was very pop­u­lar — far beyond any­thing the Team­sters could have imag­ined, and to UPS’s great shock. The key issues — part-time work, low wages, unsafe work­ing con­di­tions, and pen­sion and health care pro­tec­tion — rever­ber­at­ed far beyond the ranks of UPS workers.

This strike is a con­scious­ness-rais­ing event,” Daniel Yankelovich, chair­man of a pub­lic opin­ion polling firm, told the New York Times. What so often hap­pens is that an event like this sud­den­ly and unex­pect­ed­ly focus­es atten­tion on some­thing that is on people’s minds and makes their con­cerns more of a polit­i­cal issue.” The strike brought to the sur­face the enor­mous anger that had been build­ing among Amer­i­can work­ers for two decades and gave it a focal point.

UPS scram­bled with lit­tle suc­cess to replace strik­ers with man­age­ment and labor agen­cies pro­vid­ed scabs, but they sim­ply could not replace the enor­mous num­bers of work­ers on the pick­et line. A des­per­ate UPS and its allies led by the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers (NAM) lob­bied Pres­i­dent Clin­ton and his labor sec­re­tary Alex­is Her­man to halt the strike under pow­ers giv­en to them by the Taft-Hart­ley Act. Despite a White House study that con­clud­ed, accord­ing to the Scripps Howard News Ser­vice, the UPS strike will touch near­ly every sec­tor of the econ­o­my, and that the cur­rent makeshift deliv­ery sys­tem will not sur­vive the onslaught of pack­ages,” Clin­ton refused.

Undoubt­ed­ly, Clinton’s refusal to inter­vene had to do with pub­lic sup­port for the Team­sters, as well as opin­ion polls that revealed 75 per­cent of respon­dents were opposed to pres­i­den­tial inter­ven­tion. (If noth­ing else, Bill always kept a close eye on the polls.)

I think that the biggest rea­son that the pub­lic sup­port­ed the strike,” said Matt Witt, the Team­sters com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor, was that the work­ers rather than the union offi­cials did so much of the talk­ing, and when they did, they showed how they were stand­ing up for work­ing peo­ple gen­er­al­ly and not just themselves..”

Pub­lic Heroes

Many strik­ers were shocked to find them­selves being treat­ed as pub­lic heroes. Strangers would bring food and drinks to the pick­et lines or shake strik­ers’ hands and thank them for what they were doing. Cars and trucks con­stant­ly honked their horns in sup­port of the strik­ers on the pick­et lines. Unsure of them­selves on the first day of the strike when approached by reporters for inter­views, the strik­ers’ con­fi­dence grew as the strike continued.

Most pick­et lines were a mix of part-time work­ers, pack­age-car dri­vers, and feed­er dri­vers, depend­ing on the type of hub. To the great sur­prise of many reporters, many part-timers revealed a sophis­ti­cat­ed analy­sis of how the econ­o­my worked.

Strik­er Lau­ra Pis­cot­ti told the New York Times while walk­ing the pick­et line at UPS’s mas­sive Chica­go Area Con­sol­i­dat­ed Hub, These com­pa­nies all have a for­mu­la. They don’t take you on full-time. They don’t pay ben­e­fits. Then their prof­its go through the roof.” Piscotti’s work com­mute took an hour each way and she worked no more than twen­ty-five hours a week for a lit­tle over $8.00 an hour.

Oth­er strik­ers proved just as artic­u­late. Leatha Hen­dricks, a UPS part timer, told a reporter, Peo­ple don’t even look at work­ers as human beings any­more. I’m just a machine. All they care is you got strength in your back. And when your back goes out of whack, it’s over. You’re gone.”

Lin­da Boruc­ki, who worked for thir­teen years as a part timer, said, You look around and it’s hard to find real full-time work any­more. How do peo­ple expect you to make it?” Mike McCar­tan, who had put in a decade as a part timer, said You can’t feed your fam­i­ly on promis­es. You can’t make house pay­ments on promises.”

UPS work­ers artic­u­lat­ed prob­lems that ran right through the lives of Amer­i­can work­ers and struck a chord with mil­lions of peo­ple. UPS itself, how­ev­er, had the oppo­site pub­lic rela­tions prob­lem. The dar­ling of the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty and politi­cians, UPS and their acolytes found them­selves caught out in the media spot­light and arro­gant­ly ignored the strik­ers’ demands.

We are will­ing to con­tin­ue to dis­cuss the mat­ter with the Team­sters, but we must empha­size that our last, best and final offer remains unchanged,” Kris­ten Petrel­la, UPS spokes­woman, told the New York Times three days into the strike.

Such state­ments won few friends and influ­enced no one. It hard­ened an image of UPS as a greedy and insen­si­tive cor­po­ra­tion out of touch with the needs of its workers.

Four days into the strike, UPS chief nego­tia­tor David Mur­ray told PBS New­shour, There’s a whole lot of part timers who only want part-time work.” Appar­ent­ly its work­ers dis­agreed. In response to the company’s repeat­ed claims that work­ers were sat­is­fied with their lot at UPS despite walk­ing the pick­et lines, Rand Wil­son said: All the spin doc­tors in the world can’t com­pen­sate for what peo­ple think and feel.”

Even James Kel­ly, CEO of UPS, had to admit, If you were to pit a large cor­po­ra­tion against a friend­ly, cour­te­ous UPS dri­ver, I’d vote for the UPS dri­ver, also.”

The peren­ni­al polit­i­cal melo­dra­ma of the 1990s, the con­flict between the Clin­ton White House and the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives that dom­i­nat­ed nation­al pol­i­tics, was blown off the front page for a few weeks. The UPS strike became a nation­al ref­er­en­dum on the state of the economy.

You’re Fight­ing for All of Us”

In sev­er­al cities dur­ing the first week of the strike, the Team­sters encour­aged pack­age-car dri­vers to vis­it their cus­tomers, or run their routes,” with a part timer to explain the goals of the strike. It was a clever tac­tic because pack­age-car dri­vers were over­whelm­ing­ly pop­u­lar with cus­tomers — some­thing that had been long rec­og­nized by UPS as an impor­tant sell­ing point for the company’s services.

Dur­ing the sec­ond week of the strike, the Team­sters began to employ more mil­i­tant tac­tics in sev­er­al cities. In Chica­go, Team­sters Local 705 Sec­re­tary-Trea­sur­er Jer­ry Zero dis­patched Richard DeVries to shut­down scab deliv­er­ies in the greater Loop, the down­town busi­ness and shopping.

DeVries, a union rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the movers divi­sion of Local 705, was well-prac­ticed in the appli­ca­tion of labor law to pick­et­ing, and had a rep­u­ta­tion for mil­i­tan­cy and method­i­cal plan­ning. He led many job actions in rebuild­ing Local 705’s pres­ence in the mov­ing indus­try, and knew the alley­ways and receiv­ing docks, and the union­ized per­son­nel that staffed them, bet­ter than any­one else in the Teamsters.

DeVries led mobile pick­et squads that shut down scab deliv­ery oper­a­tions at well-known land­marks like the Sears Tow­er and the Amo­co build­ing, draw­ing out all the building’s jan­i­tors and oth­er union work­ers to hon­or the Team­sters’ pick­et lines. After a squad of DeVries-led pick­ets descend­ed on the fifty-two-sto­ry IBM build­ing, man­agers post­ed signs — much to the cha­grin of UPS — read­ing No! UPS Deliv­er­ies Here” on the main deliv­ery dock.

When Chica­go Sun-Times reporters checked the legal­i­ty of this tac­tic, Chris Gange­mi of the high-pow­ered law firm Win­ston & Strawn, told them, Under the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Act, unions are allowed to request that cus­tomers not do busi­ness with UPS.” Local 705 pick­ets also shut down deliv­er­ies to McCormick Place, the pre­mière con­ven­tion cen­ter in Chica­go — prompt­ing May­or Richard J. Daley to demand that Jer­ry Zero remove pick­ets. Zero refused.

Such mil­i­tant tac­tics didn’t scare off sup­port for the strike. Opin­ion polls revealed that pub­lic sup­port­ed the Team­sters two to one over UPS.

Con­tin­gents of union work­ers began vis­it­ing the pick­et lines and Team­ster ral­lies across the coun­try. In New York, a march of one thou­sand Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers of Amer­i­ca mem­bers joined a pick­et line, chant­i­ng: Big Brown, shut it down!” One CWA mem­ber told strik­ing Team­sters, You’re fight­ing for all of us.” At a huge August 6 ral­ly out­side the Chica­go UPS Jef­fer­son Street hub, Carey, express­ing the anger of the strik­ers, said

We’re real­ly fight­ing for America’s future. I know first-hand about UPS, I spent twelve years on a truck. One mem­ber of the UPS nego­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee said pub­licly, What are peo­ple com­plain­ing about? $16,000 a year is a lot of mon­ey” All I have say is, if that is great mon­ey let’s pay them $16,000 and sub­con­tract their jobs. Let’s take away their pension.

John Sweeney, pres­i­dent of the AFL-CIO, declared The [Team­sters] have picked up the gaunt­let for all Amer­i­can work­ers. Their strug­gle is our strug­gle.” He went on to pledge the sup­port of thir­teen mil­lion union mem­bers, rep­re­sent­ing union house­holds of forty mil­lion, until the Team­sters won.

The Inde­pen­dent Pilots Asso­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sent­ed all UPS pilots and had been work­ing with­out a con­tract with UPS since Decem­ber 1996, hon­ored Team­ster pick­et lines, effec­tive­ly ground­ing UPS air oper­a­tions cen­tered in Louisville. The sol­i­dar­i­ty shown by the pilots was remark­able giv­en that they were so bad­ly rep­re­sent­ed by the Team­sters, who rep­re­sent­ed them soon after UPS began its air oper­a­tion in the late 1980s, that 99 per­cent vot­ed to decer­ti­fy from the Team­sters and formed their own inde­pen­dent union. The pilots were com­plete­ly on board with the Team­sters con­tract cam­paign from the very beginning.

Team­sters and pilots staffed the War Room” at the nation­al UPS strike head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton. The pilots set up in our war room,” recalled for­mer field ser­vices direc­tor Dave Eck­stein, and helped us pick­et and answered calls from their mem­bers in the war room along with ours.”

Dan Camp­bell, work­ing as a UPS union rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Texas, said that the pilots were great and gave the UPSers a les­son in sol­i­dar­i­ty.” Not one UPS pilot, many of them vet­er­ans of the first Gulf War, crossed the pick­et line dur­ing the strike.


Sol­i­dar­i­ty meet­ings and ral­lies were held across the coun­try. In Chica­go, vet­er­ans of the labor move­ment stretch­ing from the found­ing of the Con­gress of Indus­tri­al Orga­ni­za­tions, the mil­i­tant trade union fed­er­a­tion of the 1930s, through the rank-and-file rebel­lions of the 1970s, to the Illi­nois War Zone” bat­tles of the mid-1990s, attend­ed and spoke in sup­port of the Teamsters.

Ben­nie Jack­son, the record­ing-sec­re­tary of Team­sters Local 705, rep­re­sent­ed the strik­ers at many of these meet­ings. Jack­son, an African Amer­i­can for­mer UPS work­er who start­ed on the load­ing dock at Chicago’s Jef­fer­son Street hub in late 1960s and par­tic­i­pat­ed in a wild­cat strike in 1969, told one audi­ence in Chica­go at the Local UE Hall in a hoarse voice that he remem­bered what it was like to be treat­ed like slaves.” He went on:

I under­stand the plight of the part-timers. I know what it is like to be in a truck when its nine­ty degrees to one hun­dred and twen­ty degrees … We have a lot of mem­bers who were for­mer wel­fare moth­ers and UPS isn’t offer­ing them any med­ical ben­e­fits. Their chil­dren aren’t being offered any medicine.

Jack­son told the audi­ence of read­ing a let­ter to a group of part timers from Chris­tine Owens, a UPS dis­trict man­ag­er in Chica­go, claim­ing that the Team­sters only had $20 mil­lion in strike funds and that when it ran out, they’d be cross­ing the line.

Jack­son asked the part timers if Owens was right. What is your response to Chris­tine?” Jack­son yelled. Hell, no! Hell, no!” the crowd responded.

The ral­ly felt like being at a revival — a revival for the entire, long-belea­guered U.S. labor movement.


In Europe, trans­port unions ral­lied to sup­port the Team­sters. The Inter­na­tion­al Trans­port Work­ers Fed­er­a­tion (ITF), accord­ing to Rus­so and Banks, turned its Lon­don-based head­quar­ters into a glob­al com­mand cen­ter for strike activ­i­ties … issu­ing dai­ly updates to unions, the pub­lic, and the busi­ness media.”

The ITF’s leaflet UPS: Import­ing Mis­ery from Amer­i­ca” was trans­lat­ed into five lan­guages and dis­trib­uted across Europe. Ger­man UPS work­ers, the largest con­cen­tra­tion of UPS work­ers, were rep­re­sent­ed by the Pub­lic Ser­vice and Trans­porta­tion Work­ers Union, known by its Ger­man acronym ÖTV (now ver.di), the sec­ond largest union in Germany.

The ÖTV coor­di­nat­ed strike sup­port through­out Ger­many,” includ­ing Cologne, the loca­tion of UPS’s air hub for Euro­pean oper­a­tions. When reports that the unions in the Nether­lands vot­ed to sup­port coor­di­nat­ed Europe-wide sym­pa­thy strikes reached the ÖTV in Ger­many, its exec­u­tive vot­ed to endorse a strike action regard­less of its legality.”

On August 18, the French trans­port work­ers’ fed­er­a­tion put for­ward a plan to shut down Orly air­port out­side of Paris. Inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty kept spread­ing. Rail­road work­ers in India refused to trans­port UPS pack­ages, while in the Philip­pines, work­ers from the Civ­il Avi­a­tion Union orga­nized a motor­cade of one hun­dred cars that sur­round­ed the UPS sub­con­trac­tor in Mani­la and pre­vent­ed the deliv­ery of pack­ages for a day.” Plans for a Europe-wide strike action were called off when a deal was struck between the Team­sters and UPS.

Feel­ing com­plete­ly iso­lat­ed, and bleed­ing prof­its, UPS final­ly decid­ed to throw in the tow­el. How­ev­er, enraged by its defeat, UPS sought to inflict a heavy blow on Ron Carey and the Team­sters. Accord­ing to Carey, UPS chief nego­tia­tor David Mur­ray made this very clear to him:

I recall an inci­dent which occurred in the last hours of those strike nego­ti­a­tions which illus­trates the lev­el of ani­mos­i­ty the cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ty felt for me: One of the nego­tia­tors for UPS said, in the pres­ence of then-Sec­re­tary of Labor Alex­is Her­man, Okay Carey, we agree on the union’s out­stand­ing issues,” and he pro­ceed­ed to leave the con­fer­ence room. As he was leav­ing, he leaned over the con­fer­ence table and said to me, You’re dead, Carey, and you will pay for this, you s.o.b.” I looked at Ms. Her­man, and asked, Did you hear that?” She respond­ed, I heard nothing.”

The com­pa­ny reached a ten­ta­tive agree­ment with the Team­sters on August 20, 1997, fif­teen days after the strike began. UPS agreed to the union’s main demands to cre­ate ten thou­sand full-time jobs out of low-wage part-time posi­tions, the largest wage increas­es in UPS his­to­ry, and pro­tec­tion against sub­con­tract­ing of union jobs. The com­pa­ny also backed off its plan to hijack the full timers’ pen­sion fund.

Ron Carey hailed the agree­ment as an his­toric turn­ing point for work­ing peo­ple in this coun­try. Amer­i­can work­ers have shown they can stand up to cor­po­rate greed,’” he said.

It was the biggest labor vic­to­ry in a gen­er­a­tion and led many peo­ple to believe that the U.S. labor move­ment was final­ly poised for a dra­mat­ic come­back. Refer­ring to the after­math of the air traf­fic con­trollers’ strike smashed by Ronald Rea­gan in 1981, his­to­ri­an Nel­son Licht­en­stein wrote that the strike end­ed the PAT­CO syn­drome, a six­teen-year peri­od in which a strike was syn­ony­mous with defeat and demoralization.”

The strike of the future

Ron Carey didn’t savor the vic­to­ry very long. Because of the gov­ern­ment fund­ing and mon­i­tor­ing of the union, a well-coor­di­nat­ed Get Carey” cam­paign suc­ceed­ed in dri­ving him out of the union. He was lat­er found not guilty in fed­er­al court. Carey was per­son­al­ly vin­di­cat­ed, but the dam­age was done. Hof­fa and the old guard retook con­trol of the Teamsters.

Still, Carey’s down­fall doesn’t take away the sig­nif­i­cance of the 1997 UPS strike in U.S. labor his­to­ry. It remains the most impor­tant vic­to­ry by indus­tri­al work­ers in the last four decades in the Unit­ed States. it was the biggest mul­ti-racial strike in a gen­er­a­tion that tra­versed what we now call the Blue State-Red State” divide. John Sweeney said, You could make a mil­lion house calls, run a thou­sand tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials, stage a hun­dred straw­ber­ry ral­lies (for the Unit­ed Farm Work­ers), and still not come close to doing what the UPS strike did for organizing.”

But the UPS strike should not be con­fined to his­to­ry. At the time, it felt like the strike of the future. And it still is. Today, the Unit­ed States and world econ­o­my is orga­nized around the sprawl­ing logis­tics indus­try like UPS. Logis­tics giants — almost entire­ly non-union — such as FedEx, Wal­mart, and Ama­zon are as vis­i­ble in dai­ly life as UPS was in 1997.

After Amazon’s recent buy­out of Whole Foods, along with the growth of its own ware­hous­ing and deliv­ery net­work, it might employ near­ly four hun­dred thou­sand work­ers by the sum­mer of 2018. If a labor move­ment is to be rebuilt in this coun­try, it will have to orga­nize logis­tics giants like Ama­zon. The UPS con­tract cam­paign and 1997 strike pro­vide one suc­cess­ful mod­el for fight­ing a logis­tics giant.

Two decades after the his­toric 1997 strike, UPS work­ers are extreme­ly unhap­py with their work­ing con­di­tions and the major con­ces­sions giv­en by the Hof­fa admin­is­tra­tion dur­ing the last round of con­tract nego­ti­a­tions in 2012. 70 per­cent of UPS-Team­sters vot­ed against Hof­fa in the 2016 Team­sters elec­tions. He bare­ly sur­vived re-elec­tion. The Team­sters have launched a con­tract cam­paign at UPS for the upcom­ing 2018 con­tract led by Boston Team­ster leader Sean O’Brien. So far, it is most­ly a media cam­paign focused on O’Brien himself.

Anoth­er cam­paign is orga­nized by Team­sters Unit­ed, led by Fred Zuck­er­man, the near-vic­tor of the Team­sters 2016 elec­tion. Sup­port­ed by the TDU, the cam­paign will raise the issues that Hof­fa hopes to ignore and put some ener­gy into fight­ing UPS.

UPS remains a rich and arro­gant cor­po­ra­tion. Like the rest of cap­i­tal, it only under­stands one thing: pow­er. The best slo­gan from the con­tact cam­paign of twen­ty years ago remains the best today: Ready to Strike.”

In These Times is proud to fea­ture con­tent from Jacobin, a print quar­ter­ly that offers social­ist per­spec­tives on pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics. Sup­port Jacobin and buy a four-issue sub­scrip­tion for just $19.95.

Joe Allen is the author of The Pack­age King: A Rank and File His­to­ry of Unit­ed Par­cel Ser­vice, Viet­nam: The Last War the U.S. Lost and Peo­ple Was­n’t Made to Burn: A True Sto­ry of Race, Mur­der, and Jus­tice in Chica­go (Hay­mar­ket, 2011). He has writ­ten for Jacobin, Social­ist Work­er and elsewhere.
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