WASHINGTON -- After more than 80 hours of intense negotiations, Teamsters union officials said last night that they and the United Parcel Service had reached a tentative agreement to end the 15-day strike by 185,000 workers that largely crippled the world's largest package delivery company.
Details of the agreement, ending the nation's biggest strike in more than a decade, had not been announced by press time.
Teamster officials said they expected the strikers to return to work tomorrow.
Before that can happen, however, two Teamster committees must approve the agreement. One is the bargaining committee, composed of roughly 50 members. The other is a committee made up of two representatives from each of the 206 locals representing UPS workers. Both committees are expected to act on the tentative settlement this afternoon.
Final ratification by the membership will be by mail ballot, which is expected to take 3 to 4 weeks.
The company and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had been narrowing their differences since President Clinton pressed them to redouble their efforts to reach a contract.
The strike carried large stakes for labor and business. It was a pivotal test for the re-energized labor movement, which strongly backed the Teamsters while saying its goal was to insure that a company with more than $1 billion in profits treated its workers fairly.
For corporate America, the strike was a test to see whether one of the nation's biggest and most admired companies could stand up to a revived labor movement and preserve the flexibility and cost structure UPS said it needed to compete in the global economy.
The settlement came as the strikers, at hundreds of UPS sites in all 50 states, were growing increasingly restive about not working while living on $55 a week in strike benefits. Because of the strike, the workers missed tens of millions of dollars in wages, while the company lost more than $600 million in business.
The strike created myriad inconveniences, large and small, for -- companies and consumers across the nation.
Small businesses complained they were having a hard time restocking their shelves, while hospitals said it was hard to obtain needed supplies. With the brown-suited deliverymen and women on strike, many parents complained that they had no way to send their children's possessions to college, or home from camp.
Among the main issues in the strike was the union's demand that the company convert 10,000 part-time jobs to full-time jobs over the next four years. The company offered to convert 800 workers from part time to full time over that period.
As part of a public relations offensive, the Teamsters noted that four-fifths of the unionized jobs UPS created since 1993 were part time, and the union complained that those jobs did not pay enough to support a family.
Part-time workers, most of them sorters and loaders, average about $9.50 an hour after two years, earning about $10,000 a year. Full-time workers, largely drivers, average $19.95 an hour, earning more than $40,000 a year.
Another major issue was the company's demand to withdraw from the Teamsters' multiemployer pension plans and start a new UPS pension plan.
The company promised that pensions would rise by an average of 50 percent, but the union's negotiators opposed that proposal because they feared that a UPS withdrawal would jeopardize the financial health of the multiemployer plans.
Other issues included pay increases, subcontracting and the company's demand to scrap language in the contract that allowed the Teamsters to honor other unions' picket lines.
The agreement was a triumph for Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, whose behind-the-scenes work persuaded the union and company to return to the bargaining table Thursday. For the past five days she stayed in the Hyatt Regency Washington Hotel, where the talks were held, to help keep the two sides at the bargaining table until they reached a settlement.
Both sides say the major challenges now are to heal the wounds the strike created between management and workers and to regain the business that UPS says it lost to competitors, most notably the U.S. Postal Service and Federal Express.
The strike hobbled package deliveries around the nation, cutting UPS' volume to less than 10 percent of normal and nearly overloading the post office and Federal Express, which said it could not guarantee overnight delivery during the strike.
UPS officials said they feared that many shipping customers who used to rely exclusively on UPS might have developed some loyalty to the company's competitors during the strike or might have decided it was unwise to rely on just one shipper.
The settlement came on the same day that the AFL-CIO told the White House that it was unhappy with the president's comments on Sunday that the Teamsters had been offered "a good deal" in the union's negotiations with UPS.
Gerald Shea, the AFL-CIO official in charge of governmental affairs, said he protested to the White House and the Labor Department that the president's statement placed improper pressure on the Teamsters to accept the UPS offer.
"People here were very unhappy that the bully pulpit was being used in a one-sided way," Shea said in an interview. "We told them it was inconsistent with the even-handed way they have been doing things."
Shea added, "We screamed this morning that using the bully pulpit is one thing, but could you please use it toward both sides."
On Sunday, Clinton had voiced optimism about the talks, saying, "It's my gut feeling they'll settle. It's a good deal. It will set a precedent for unions."
In an apparent warning to the Teamsters, he also said that while public sentiment was on the union's side, it would turn away from the strikers as the walkout continued.
Shea and other union officials said that statement seemed to put direct pressure on the Teamsters to settle soon if they knew what was good for them.
These officials also complained that the president's statement that the Teamsters had been offered "a good deal" might make the union look bad if it resisted an offer that Clinton had praised.
In a telephone interview from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where the president is vacationing, Barry Toiv, a White House spokesman, said, "We understand that both sides in a difficult negotiation sometimes perceive evenhandedness as something other than that."
Administration officials say they were surprised that AFL-CIO officials criticized Clinton for not being evenhanded, because for the past two weeks many business leaders have accused the White House of siding with the strikers by not seeking an injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act to end the strike.
"The president and the administration have been completely evenhanded," Toiv said.
Pub Date: 8/19/97