Originally created 05/13/05

UPS pilots approve strike authorization



ATLANTA - UPS Inc.'s pilots have voted to give their union leaders authority to call a strike as the union and the world's largest shipping carrier continue federal mediated talks aimed at reaching a new contract.

The Independent Pilots Association, which represents Atlanta-based UPS' 2,483 pilots, said Thursday that 99 percent of those pilots who voted approved the strike authorization. The voting was conducted over the last several weeks and polls closed Wednesday.

A strike authorization vote typically allows a union to call a strike without polling its members again, but does not mean that a walkout is imminent. IPA spokesman Brian Gaudet said that in this case, the union will give pilots another chance to vote before a strike is called.

UPS shares fell 98 cents, or 1.3 percent, to close at $72.54 in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $66.65 to $89.11.

The two sides have been in federal mediated talks since last June but have not been able to reach agreement on issues involving scheduling, scope, compensation, pension and benefits.

Under the Railway Labor Act, the pilots can't strike while mediated talks are ongoing and no timetable has been set for when the talks will end.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again on May 16 and May 26.

"If we come out of negotiations and we're not dramatically closer to getting an agreement done and the mediator offers a release, I think the executive board of the IPA will take advantage of that release," Gaudet said.

The company has disputed union suggestions that talks have broken down. UPS chief executive Mike Eskew said at an investor conference Wednesday that the talks are ongoing and UPS is committed to rewarding its pilots, but wants to make sure it creates a business that can compete in the next generation.

According to UPS, the average earnings for an active UPS pilot IN 2004 was $175,830.

The company and its pilots union have been trying to negotiate a new contract for more than two years.

The pilots contract became amendable on Dec. 31, 2003, and has remained unchanged since then.

The federal mediator, who had offered guidance to both sides in the past, was asked last June to assume a greater role in the negotiations, including deciding where, when and how often the union and company meet.

The pilot negotiations at UPS come as the company formerly known as United Parcel Service Inc. is hoping to expand its overseas business in China.