Getting the Members into Motion at UPS
Rank-and-file activists at UPS have a huge task: getting our 340,000 co-workers ready to mount a credible strike threat by August 1. Luckily we don’t have to do it alone, like we did in 2013 and 2018.
This time we have the support of Teamsters President Sean O’Brien, Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman, and the rest of our international leadership. We have a contract campaign coordinator, internal organizers, and a whole team of staff from the international union to engage members and coordinate all our efforts toward one big fight.
But we need to show UPS that the whole membership is ready to fight, not just the leaders. Rank-and-file Teamsters need to be active and ready to walk if our demands aren’t met.
So how do we get our co-workers into motion? It doesn’t happen overnight, and we definitely can’t shame them into “doing more.” People learn from experience, and the best way to help people go from A to Z is a step-by-step process, from A to B to C and so on.
FROM FLYERING TO A WALK-IN
At the UPS Jeff Street hub in Chicago, a lot of organizing took place to elect O’Brien and Zuckerman. Union activists and stewards regularly flyered at the gates. We held short “parking lot meetings” right before start time.
The impact of this kind of member-to-member engagement could have ended with the election. But at Jeff Street, we kept it going.
Stewards and activists regularly show up at the workplace gates to talk to part-timers and package car drivers about upcoming union meetings or hand out “know your rights” flyers highlighting important contract language.
More members stepped up to help with this effort, and more of our co-workers saw the effort as genuine—and not just “here’s the union asking for my vote again,” as some crankier old-timers are fond of saying.
One way to get our co-workers ready to fight for the new contract is to organize them to enforce the one we have now.
Last peak season, we saw an opportunity in injustice: one of our co-workers was fired for “damaging the company brand” by putting a package over a fence. Our co-workers were mad—she had not committed any cardinal infraction, no packages were damaged, and she was going to go without any pay over the holidays.
Our steward network is strong at Jeff Street—stewards have the phone number for all the members in their work area, and use apps like Reach to send mass text messages to members when needed. We phone-tree’ed our building.
A couple days later, in solidarity with our fired union sister, 150 package delivery drivers staged a walk-in. That meant, instead of trickling in a half-hour early to chat over coffee, we met outside in the parking lot and waited to walk in all together.
The walk-in was an inconvenience for our managers, because they like having the option to send some trucks out early. Even more important, we scared them with our display of unity and organization.
The company scheduled her discipline meeting that same day, and she was returned to work with back pay.
ENFORCE WHAT WE HAVE
UPS managers can be great organizers, because they’re such horrible bosses. Members see them violate the contract every day.
Get together with your core group of activists. Figure out together which contractual violations are widely and deeply felt—that is, many workers care, and they care enough to do something about it.
There’s always something. During peak season, the international union organized an online media campaign and parking lot meetings to get package car drivers on the 9.5 list and protest excessive overtime. After peak season, when volume plummets and the company is looking to cut costs by forcing workers to go home without pay, campaigns to enforce seniority rights have a lot of potential.
Build consensus on what action people will take to confront it—will it be a button campaign, a group grievance, a parking lot meeting? Don’t be afraid to be bold—but make sure that you’re not going beyond where your co-workers are willing to go.
Your mission is to win the issue by getting as many of your co-workers involved as possible—building the base of Teamsters willing to take action together. Then, repeat! You want this base to grow in size and confidence between now and contract expiration.
WE HAVE THE TOOLS TO WIN
When members are in motion, more things are possible. We can enforce our contract. We can get the company on the back foot. We can get our co-workers feeling excited and empowered. And we can get ready to strike to win the best contract possible.
You can start from wherever you’re at. Make sure you have the contact information of every member in your work area. Work with other members to build a phone tree at your hub.
Get people signed up for contract campaign updates. Every time you ask someone for their contact information, it’s a chance to have a conversation about the contract campaign.
And as described above, start looking for mini contract enforcement campaigns to carry out. It’s a good way to build members’ confidence and organization.
Normally, holes in the contract can be disillusioning. But during a contract campaign, you can say—hey we have an opportunity to fix this problem soon.
Winning a great contract in 2023 is going to take all of us. The earlier we start working together and fighting as one, the stronger we’ll be at contract time.
Sean Orr is an elected shop steward with Teamsters Local 705 and a co-chair of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union steering committee.