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Teamsters ready to strike

Reports from the front

In these two brief reports, Tempest members Ashley Smith and Paul KD describe Teamsters’ practice pickets as a potential UPS strike looms.

From Williston, VT–Ashley Smith

Members of Teamster Local 597 in Vermont have staged several practice pickets in July after national contract negotiations stalled. One, at a busy commercial intersection in South Burlington on July 2, drew a few dozen UPS workers, both full-time drivers and part-time loaders, and labor solidarity activists. With chants like “What do we want? A fair contract! When do we want it? Now!” and “Who are we? Teamsters!” workers were greeted by a steady stream of honking cars, including from public buses driven by Teamsters who had won a historic strike in Burlington back in 2014.

Local 597 organized another picket on July 7 at UPS’s largest hub in the state in Williston, Vermont. This action was mainly attended by drivers before their shift started with part-timers still at work inside the building loading up the trucks. The drivers walked the line for a little over an hour, calling out similar chants and blew whistles at ear-splitting volume right below the office window of the hub’s despised manager. Other practice pickets have been organized at the smaller hubs in the rest of the state.

At both actions, workers expressed boiling rage at UPS bosses over forced overtime, two-tier pay, the absence of air conditioning and heat shields on trucks, and, especially, harassment from predatory managers whose default is to blame, punish, and even fire workers for any problems on routes or in the building. Drivers and loaders expressed a mix of thoughts about the contract negotiations from confidence that Sean O’Brien would deliver a good contract to frustration with UPS for dragging their feet in negotiations. Some expected a deal before the current contract expires at the end of the month, many thought a strike was likely, and all expressed confidence that their co-workers were ready to strike to win their demands.

A line of about 25 UPS workers in brown shirts and shorts walks along a road carrying signs reading "Cool it, UPS! Ice Water and AC," "Worker Safety," and Just Practicing for a Just Contract
Photo by Ashley Smith.

Labor activists have already started building support for a possible strike. In the state capital, Montpelier, the state’s two DSA chapters along with the Vermont State Labor Council, the Progressive Party, and Local 597 have organized a Solidarity Barbecue and Fundraiser on Saturday, July 22. And, in Burlington, Teamster shop stewards at UPS along with members from  Tempest, AFSCME 1674, and UE have organized a state-wide Zoom call for Local 597 President Curtis Clough, drivers, and loaders to speak to Vermont’s labor and community organizations.

With contract negotiations still stalled, Vermont’s labor movement is preparing to join our Teamster brothers, sisters, and siblings on the picket lines to shut down UPS until a fair and just contract is won. We all know that the Teamsters can set an example that if you’re organized, if you fight, if you strike, you can beat Corporate America and win improved wages and benefits for workers

From Minneapolis–Paul KD

On Saturday, July 7th, Teamsters Joint Council 32 held a practice picket for UPS Teamsters outside of the Minneapolis Hub in an industrial section of town next to a Costco. Most of the workers there were full-timers. Stewards at the hub have told me that they are doing weekly Friday morning parking lot rallies, a better time for rank-and-filers and especially part-timers. When I witnessed the strike authorization vote at the Minneapolis Hub, it was a Friday morning with lots of part-timers, and the vibe was definitely more militant.

About a dozen of women and men are clustered together; one holds a megaphone and one is shouting. They carry signs reading just practicing for a just contract, united for a strong contract, ups must pay.
Photo by Paul KD.

One reason to have this event on Saturday was to get outside support. This picket had pretty decent attendance from the labor movement, with UFCW Local 663, SEIU, MFT, MNA, Starbucks Workers United,  and others in attendance. Left groups present included DSA, FRSO, CPUSA, Tempest, Young Workers Caucus, and PSL (in order of decreasing size). Leaders of Teamsters Local 638 and Local 120 were in attendance and both spoke. They have been on opposite sides of union politics in the past, so this was a good sign. In addition, the usual assortment of politicians came out, as well as Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who also spoke at the picket. Frey is usually not present at labor actions and was completely silent during the massive strikes of MNA Nurses and MFT teachers and education support professionals in 2022. Joint Council 32 has a close relationship with the moderate wing of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party out here, which probably explains his invitation, but many unionists (and many of the politicians) were unhappy with his presence.

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

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Ashley Smith and Paul KD View All

Ashley Smith is a member of the Tempest Collective in Burlington, Vermont. He has written in numerous publications including Spectre, Truthout, Jacobin, New Politics, and many other online and print publications.

Paul KD is a member of UFCW Local 663, an activist in the labor movement in the Twin Cities, and a member of the Tempest Collective.