WASHINGTON (AP) - Prodded by Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, the Teamsters and United Parcel Service agreed Wednesday to resume negotiations as the union's strike against the package delivery giant passed its 10th day.
The agreement to return to bargaining on Thursday came after repeated telephone discussions with Herman, who had met with leaders from both UPS and the union earlier in the week.
Teamsters president Ron Carey released a statement saying, "While there is no reason for optimism at this point, we will be there, ready to negotiate."
Herman said the talks would be guided by the same mediator as they had been before they were broken off, John Calhoun Wells, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
The first mediated sessions - about 20 hours before the strike was called and about 21 hours after - were held at federal mediation headquarters.
A person close to the talks, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said the next sessions would be moved to a downtown Washington hotel.
"I am pleased both sides have agreed to come back to the bargaining table, and I urge them to stay at the table until they reach a settlement," Herman said.
"The key now is for both parties to find a new way to look at the issues and find a solution at the table," she said.
Atlanta-based UPS, which normally ships 12 million items daily, has been virtually shut down since 185,000 Teamsters went on strike Aug. 4.
While Herman has taken an active role in restarting the negotiations, the Clinton administration has ruled out direct intervention to end the strike and it remained unclear how much influence the government could have.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who saw strikes at coal mines and major league baseball during his tenure, said it would be "extremely difficult and probably unwise for the administration to put itself in the middle of" the dispute.
"The most that an administration can do under these circumstances is jawbone, twist arms, get the parties back to the bargaining table and keep them there," Reich said. "You can't dictate terms."
Meanwhile, the American Heart Association urged a quick resolution to the standoff and a pilots union called on other fliers to refuse packages shifted from UPS' grounded cargo jets.
"Airlines carrying struck UPS goods are only making matters worse for everyone. By helping UPS limp along, they are prolonging the strike," said James Sutton, vice president of the Independent Pilots Association, which represents 2,000 UPS pilots who have honored the Teamsters strike.
The IPA said three airlines, Evergreen International, Southern Air Transport, and Transcontinental, have agreed to not fly struck goods.
In letters to UPS chief James P. Kelly and to Carey, Dick Davidson, president of the American Heart Association, said a prolonged strike would present problems for hospitals and clinics.
"For now, the problems posed by the strike are relatively minor," Davidson said. "But if both sides are looking for a reason to resume negotiations, the positive effect that an end to the strike would have on the health care system is a very good one indeed."