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Labor Loses Again

Taking on UPS was a stupid move to no obvious short or long term benefit

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 13, 1997.

Welcome back to the land of Live by Tape, as opposed to the horror of Live by Phone, which was a tad too reminiscent of my jail days, if you ask me.

The UPS strike is going to be another fizzle for Labor, and here is why. First of all, they cannot afford it. UPS, after ten days of the strike, announced it will cut fifteen thousand jobs because of lost business. The Union says it will stand firm, the firm says it will stand down. After great heavings, the UFL-CIO announced it will give every striker fifty-five dollars a week for as long as the strike takes. Legality and sense are on the side of management here, because that $55 represents only a few hours work to many of strikers whose participation is vital to the Union.

The Union professes to be concerned about the Little People here, the ones who are only part time workers who want to be full time. Unfortunately, very few of the part timers want to be full time, because they have other commitments not related to the pursuit of cash. They are parents with toddlers, for example. They are students. The management points out that their business is extremely flexible, with three hour pressure points, and would have no need for any but part time workers in much of its work force.

Reasonable. The management falls down, however, in those few instances where one person holds two part time jobs with UPS whose combined hours are over forty per week, yet the company won’t give these individuals full time status or benefits. That’s absurd, but the you can see how it evolved. A shift in business demanded the extra few hours, nobody knew how long it would last, but we have a hiring freeze and a policy. Sorry. These are an absurd few, however, hardly demanding an industry wide strike. Surely, even the Union knows that.

What the AFL knows is that UPS is one of the biggest contributors to the Union Pension Fund currently run by the people running this strike: the Teamsters. And UPS had decided that it was going to start its own pension fund and remove it from the Teamster fold. You can imagine that this went over like a pregnant pole vaulter in Teamster Central. The Teamsters, historically and easily the most corrupt of the largest unions, have been trying to improve their image if not their ethics of late, but this is going way too far for even their new rulers. The Pension Fund has been a source of much of the corruption and of great interest to everyone from organized crime to the IRS for many years. Its coffers paid for many of the less charming works of the Teamsters as well as lined the pockets of its fat, golfing Presidents in the past. If UPS removed its large portion, unpleasant things like accountings and accusations and restitution might happen, which wouldn’t be good for the Labor Movement or something and any way the prisons are overcrowded as it is.

In any event, the Teamsters and the UFL-CIO are going to the mattresses over this one, and it seems, on the face of it, in the depth of it, to be a pointless and doomed battle. The strike is hurting the company big time, but they have legal avenues open to them to try and save themselves, and the employees lose here as well. It is true that UPS could have settled on this issue and not risked all the money, at least in the short run. But the philosophical issue here is who runs, who owns the company, and who can dispense with its generated wealth, like the pension funds.

This is a weighty issue, by the by, and is at the basis of the Labor Movement. It has strong intellectual underpinnings and a noble history built on the blood of coal miners and wretchedly treated workers, often children, for over a century. Nonetheless, it is to be doubted that early labor activists imagined an entity like The Teamsters, or that heroic suffering would take place so that overweight plumbers could afford two Winnebago’s in every driveway, or so Union officials could avoid actual work themselves and play golf with the Rockefellers, or so massive Pension Funds could be used to fund the Mafia - all of which, by the way, has taken place in my lifetime. UPS workers earn around fifteen to twenty bucks an hour, plus benefits, more than Federal Express or Postal workers. They are the biggest company of its kind, and they are seeing it divided up amongst the competition by this strike. What hath Labor wrought? Disaster, a trot to the Little Bighorn yet again.

It would be a shame to see the strides of Labor - once considered horrid communist insurrection, now considered obvious employee incentives - to be frittered away on such hypocritical fluff as this. Every time I hear someone invoke Labor’s past to get some rather silly benefits package, I barf. Labor has got to redefine itself for this coming century, not hum the hymns of the 19th yet again.