Teamsters' victory in UPS strike certainly won't hurt labor's cause


THE Teamsters came away from their 15-day strike against the United Parcel Service of America with the most solid labor victory in decades.

The union won on virtually every major issue, including the conversion of thousands of part-time jobs to full time, preserving Teamsters' control of the pension fund and substantial wage increases. UPS walked away with one victory -- extending the life of the contract from four years to five years. Teamsters officials are using their success -- which they have dubbed a win for all American workers -- as a springboard to boost membership and prove unions' relevance at a time when less than 10 percent of the private work force, and less than 15 percent of public employees, are unionized.

Will the Teamsters' win lend more muscle to organized labor, or was it an isolated victory?

David Larsen

Professor of labor and employment law, Creighton University, Omaha, Neb.

There's no question that, after many defeats in collective bargaining and strike efforts, this is a win. The big question is if this can be translated to other workplaces.

In the dispute between UPS and the Teamsters, there was a company that was coming off record profits, so, when the union made its pitch to the public, it became a sympathetic situation. Also, the majority of UPS employees are part-time workers. In 1997, that resonates with lot of people. But if you take away one of those elements, it may change the scenario such that a strike effort may not be as successful. It's too much to say that this strike means organized labor has turned the corner. If membership declines any further, unions will be on the brink of becoming irrelevant in terms of impacting national policy. But on the other hand, it can't be minimized too much. It's an opportunity for unions to now turn around and say they actually can deliver on their promises.

William Dickens

Labor expert, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

I tend to believe it's an isolated victory. The Teamsters strike of UPS was such an unusual situation, it's hard to infer much from it. I don't think it will be a harbinger for what will happen in future bargaining or that it will somehow revive unions.

Certainly the political influence of unions has been on the wain. The most the Teamsters' recent victory will do is slow down the long-term rate of the decline of organized labor. In general, unions don't help job security, they hurt it. And, when a company gets wind of a union organizing, it has the option of moving the job to another location.

Yet, the victory may transcend a little bit. Unions now know they have a very powerful issue in part-time work. The public doesn't like unions, and it particularly doesn't like Teamsters. But the Teamsters were able to overcome that because of the part-time issue.

So this is a testament to the power of that issue, but there aren't a whole lot of workplaces where that is the primary issue.

Tom Juravich

Director, Labor Relations and Research Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

This is the biggest victory for labor in 50 years. To see Teamsters back to work in just over two weeks demonstrates that labor is back. It was a very quick, tactical victory. In the last decade or so, we have seen strikes lasting months and sometimes years. And even then, if labor is victorious, it's after a tremendous investment of time, money and members' lives. We are now seeing union solidarity and militancy, and public support for it all.

I think what this represents are the fundamental changes the labor movement has gone through behind the scenes in the last decade or so.

We've seen them become more democratic, and involve the rank and file more. Marvin Levine

Professor of industrial relations, University of Maryland, College Park

I cannot say this is a watershed event. What it reflects is a unique situation, such as the fact that UPS didn't replace strikers. That has been a favorite tactic of American companies in the last 20 years because what it does is squelch the desire to strike. Another point is the president of UPS is a former UPS worker. He might have had more empathy toward the workers. He didn't sound like a hard-nosed management negotiator.

Also, the public was on the side of the strikers, which has been rare in recent years. Americans can empathize with part-time workers, because so many of them hold down a number of jobs.

Another fact in favor of the Teamsters is the state of the economy. There's a tight labor market with more jobs than job-seekers. This strengthens the hands of the unions.

But to climb back up the hill, unions must change their organizing pitch, which is aimed at unskilled, blue-collar workers. They have to go after the service industry workers and women and minorities, who make up a bulk of the entrants into the labor force.

Pub Date: 8/24/97

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