2 walk picket lines, but not in lock step


The two women sat in a restaurant somewhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Neither wanted to give her full name. Not after their supervisors urged them not to cross the picket line "for our own safety."

So Mary and Christine - they decided to use their first names - now find themselves on strike against United Parcel Service. It is a company that pays well and has excellent benefits - even for part-timers - that include profit-sharing and tuition reimbursement. Besides, they actually like the company.

UPS "does treat its employees fairly," Mary said. "I love my job, and if it weren't for UPS, I wouldn't have a college degree."

Though thousands of union members are on the picket lines, Mary and Christine are not with them in spirit. They are not alone, they claim. They've talked to other union members who want to vote on what UPS says will be its only contract offer. The union's refusal to let them vote has incensed many workers, the women said.

Mary even called the local union hall to protest.

"I agree with the contract that's on the table," she told the folks at the union hall. "Why won't you people let us vote on it?" The answers, Mary said, were evasive. So she asked for the number to the national office in Washington. She told the person who answered she wanted to talk to someone about the union's refusal to hold a vote on the contract. She was passed to three people before the last one told her no one was available to answer the question.

Christine then called the local to voice the same objection. The person who answered the phone treated her concerns "like a joke," Christine said. But when she asked for the national office number, the person on the other end of the line told her the number wasn't available.

Steve Trossman, a Teamsters spokesman, said that union members are voting - with their feet.

"They are out on the picket line in record numbers," Trossman said. He elaborated on the union's position of not putting UPS' contract proposal to a vote.

"Our members voted by over 95 percent to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike. The issues are more full-time jobs, wages and pensions and health and safety protection. The company's current offer does not address any of those issues. The Teamsters have studied all the fine print in the issue - have looked at all the take-backs and things we'd have to give up ... and it's not worth putting to a vote."

The bargaining committee, Trossman emphasized, has 50 members from across the country and voted unanimously to strike.

Mary and Christine said UPS workers are already some of the best paid in the country and that part-timers routinely move into full-time positions.

"I'd like to hold a sign in front of the picketers," Christine said. "It would read 'Where can you find a job making $19.95 an hour after two years with no college education?'"

Union members are voting with their feet, Christine said, "because they are listening to their president and some of them are radicals - they want more, more, more."

UPS, both women said, has provided them with more information than their own union. They've seen the UPS contract offer. They have yet to see the Teamsters' counterproposal. Instead, leaflets are thrust into their hands when they go on the picket line. The first line of one - with the ominous heading "What UPS Didn't Tell You" and listing at least 10 alleged company deceptions ( (TC claimed that UPS had "no change in part-time start rate from 1982-2002."

Christine said the company proposal called for a dollar-per-hour increase in the part-timer's wages starting in 1997, followed by a 50-cents-per-hour increase in 1998.

"When they give you things like this on the picket line, and you realize No. 1 on the list isn't even true, how can you go on reading the rest?" Christine asked.

The real issue, Christine believes, is the pension. UPS wants to contribute to the pension fund, but only for UPS employees. Under the current arrangement, UPS contributions go to the Teamsters, who distribute the money among union members in other companies. It's not the first time this prickly issue has led to a labor dispute. From the company's viewpoint, it's their money. From the union's, it's a question of seeing that members in Company A get the same pension when they retire as members in Company B. It's not a good guy vs. bad guy issue, as Christine pointed out.

"A lot of things have been turned around to make UPS look like the bad guy, but ultimately it's going to hurt the customer."

Pub Date: 8/10/97

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