Originally created 08/04/98

UPS, workers still hurting a year after walkout



ATLANTA -- In the past year at United Parcel Service, Gwenita Brown has been laid off twice, forced to change delivery routes and switched from driving to handling packages at a distribution center.

The 19-year UPS veteran has to pause and think when asked what was gained by the Teamsters' 15-day strike against the company last August.

"I haven't seen any jobs created and UPS has tried to be spiteful," she said. "In all actuality, we didn't get anything -- except the solidarity to let UPS know we would stand up together."

The first nationwide walkout in UPS' 90-year history all but shut down the delivery giant and hurt businesses across the nation. The settlement that called for more full-time jobs and better pay was hailed by Teamsters' then-president Ron Carey as "a victory over corporate greed."

But on the eve of the Aug. 4 anniversary of the walkout, both sides are still hurting.

UPS, which said the strike cost it $211 million, hasn't been able to recover all the business it lost during the strike to rivals like Federal Express and the Postal Service. Instead of creating new jobs, some 11,000 union positions have been cut.

"Volume equals jobs," UPS spokesman Norman Black said. "It's slowly improving, but it's clearly still down -- down about a half-million packages a day."

And there is new conflict between the company and the Teamsters, whose top leadership has been rocked by legal problems. Carey was forced aside last year in a corruption probe and last week was barred from union activity.

UPS told the union it has no plans this year to create 2,000 new full-time jobs from part-time positions -- part of its larger goal of providing 10,000 new full-time jobs over the life of the five-year labor contract.

Union employees say their workloads have increased and some suspect the company is manipulating volume levels. The company continues to use part-time workers, saying it needs the flexibility provided by the part-timers.

"It's a great sense of frustration that the company willfully violates the contract," said Richard Black, secretary-treasurer of a Teamsters local in Atlanta.

While rejecting union allegations of a "speed-up," company spokesman Black acknowledged that some routes have been consolidated and drivers wind up with more packages to deliver.

"Are they working harder?" he said. "Absolutely. They are the lucky ones. They have jobs."

Norman Black said the privately held company is complying with the contract. As for the 2,000 full-time jobs that never materialized, Black said the pledge was tied to the company's regaining and improving upon its pre-strike domestic business. Volume is still off 4 percent, he said.

Lynne Simmons, a business owner in Marietta, said she won't go back to her old shipping habits: "I learned not to put all my packages in one brown truck."

And she's not alone. Lands' End, the mail-order clothing maker, still relies heavily on UPS. But the Dodgeville, Wis., company began using the Postal Service's Priority Mail for some orders.

Competitors like FedEx that absorbed UPS volume during the strike appear to have kept some of the business. FedEx recently reported its daily volume in the United States was up 10.5 percent over a year ago.

UPS spokesman Black said the company is working to win that business back.

"No company reduces its way to greatness," he said. "We didn't get to where we are today by trying to hold down volume. Our future depends on growth."