Will the number one parcel delivery company be stopped by a massive strike by its employees? At UPS, a ubiquitous logistics company in the United States, negotiations between the “Teamsters” union – the truck drivers – and UPS management broke down. As of August 1, 340,000 workers could be called to strike, threatening to shut down much of the American economy.
Heading for a massive and historic strike at UPS?
On July 5, attempts at negotiations between truck drivers’ union members and UPS management ended in failure over the issue of wages. If the unionists have been given certain demands, such as the installation of air conditioning in new trucks or vacation for Martin Luther King Day, for wages, the account is not there. As is largely the case in the US, employees do not receive the same wages according to several parameters: part-time employees thus have a lower hourly wage, while the “two-tier system” allows the company to pay its employees differently depending on their employment date. In this system, workers can only benefit from the equivalent of enterprise agreements if they were hired before they were signed between the unions and the boss. If you were hired afterwards, this agreement may not apply to you, and you will therefore receive less pay than your colleagues.
It is on these two central topics that the employees mobilize. If they have achieved the end of the “two-tier system” thanks to the sole threat of the strike, management still refuses to pay the same hourly wage for part-time and full-time workers: the union is demanding a wage of $25 an hour, when the median wage for private sector workers was $28 an hour in 2019.
Faced with management’s stubbornness, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, one of the largest unions in the United States, is threatening the company to call a strike on August 1 if management does not relent on this point. But the demands are much broader, in a company where the working conditions are simply catastrophic: The employees also demand an extension of the minimum working hours per day (currently three and a half hours), longer breaks (10 minutes today), air conditioning in warehouses and an end to systematic harassment.
In the context of inflation reaching 8% by 2022, the company’s record profits have strengthened the Teamsters’ resolve. UPS employees have reported to the company approx [11,5 milliards de dollars de bénéfices en 2021, quand les bénéfices annuels moyens de l’entreprise dans les années 2010 étaient aux alentours de 3 milliards de dollars. En 2021, le PDG, Carol B. Tomé, a par ailleurs gagné plus de 27 millions de dollars :
« Tomé gagne en une seule journée plus qu’un travailleur d’UPS en une année entière » dénonce ainsi une affiche du syndicat.
Chaque jour, c’est 6% du PIB américain qui transite chez UPS
Cette grève, si elle venait à se concrétiser, aurait un impact énorme sur la vie politique et économique états-unienne et internationale. En effet, les travailleurs d’UPS traitent en moyenne 24,3 millions de colis par jour, soit environ 6 % du PIB national et 3% du PIB mondial. L’appel à la grève, qui concernerait au moins les 340 000 syndiqués de l’entreprise. En plus de l’impact économique énorme qu’une telle grève aurait, elle pourrait aussi être une étape majeure du retour de la lutte des classes aux Etats Unis, après la grève historique des cheminots en décembre dernier, et les grèves chez les acteurs et scénaristes qui secouent Hollywood.
Alors que dans plusieurs grandes entreprises comme Amazon ou Starbucks, des luttes très dures ont eu lieu pour mettre en place des syndicats, ce sont les couches les plus précaires de la classe ouvrière américaines qui sont en train de relever la tête. La lutte chez UPS suit le même schéma : des travailleurs particulièrement précaires, pour beaucoup racisés et subissant un harcèlement managérial, « pratique fréquente » chez UPS selon Left Voice, qui refusent aujourd’hui de continuer de travailler pour des salaires de misère.
Selon le syndicaliste new-yorkais Dan Arlin, il faut ajouter à tous ces éléments une opinion publique particulièrement favorable au mouvement : « je crois que nous avons avec nous l’opinion publique pour ce type d’action [la grève]. The labor movement in general is popular at the moment. People understand that employees have to fight for more: Let’s face it, everything costs more today. But our paychecks aren’t keeping up, and yet we’re seeing all these companies get richer and richer, so I think the public is really behind us. “.
WATCH 📽️: UNITED WE WIN! 🤝⚡️#UPS have 10 days to offer the UPS Teamsters a fair contract or they’ll beat themselves.
— Teamsters for a Democratic Union (@TeamsterRnF) 21 July 2023
While the company continues to finance advertising campaigns to hire in its warehouses, promising good working conditions, employees denounce their real working conditions on social networks: “I’ve made less than $20 an hour for eight years part-time” says one; “I have a bad back and recently I was fired for no reason by a superior,” explained another. The company even went so far as to lie about workers’ wages by claiming that part-timers “earn an average of $20 an hour.” Yet many employees show their paychecks with wages of $15.50, even with ten years of experience.
Between the various strikes and workplaces, something has changed in the mindset of the employees. Dan Arlin testifies to this change: ” The UPS Teamsters unit is stronger than it has been in a very long time. I think the vast majority of members are fed up with the nonsense being said out there and all agree that we need to fight for the best contract there is. “.
Actors, screenwriters, couriers and drivers and soon the car: the class struggle is waking up in the US
Since the Covid period, the US has seen an increase in strikes, while unionization rates are increasing, especially among young people. This phenomenon, called the “pro-union generation”, is illustrated in large brands such as Starbucks, Amazon or Chipotle.
At the same time, there are many strike movements going on, especially in culture: the screenwriters, who have been on strike since last May, were joined by the actors a week ago. There are nearly 160,000 workers currently on strike for their pay, to which can be added the 340,000 union members at UPS. And anger can accumulate: it is now in the car industry, where company agreements are being negotiated, that unionists are threatening to strike. It is therefore time for a fight for the American working class, and for the unity of all employees against the large multinational corporations.