Hd– Union Maneuvers

This hasn’t been the best time to calmly debate the merits of each side in the UPS strike. Spin-meisters from the Teamsters and the company have been weaving their own versions of why the other side is wrong a process that tends to confuse more than enlighten.

Besides, with the strike beginning to cause significant disruptions last week in the delivery of goods especially at the small business level attention has been focused not so much on right or wrong, but on the end-game.

Those acknowledgments aside, it remains confounding to us that the strike could have gotten so out of hand a reflection of organized labor’s continued inability to revive itself in the new economic order.

The Teamsters’ arguments border on the absurd. UPS’s reliance on part-time workers and a two-tier wage system, which the union has been trumpeting as unfair, are standard-issue throughout today’s American workplace.

And for good reason: they work. A company like UPS has demands that vary throughout the year, and having too many full-time employees runs the risk of production inefficiencies that end up affecting the bottom line. The same is true with airlines, banks and yes, even newspapers.

The fact is, what UPS has been offering is far from onerous a point evidenced last week by a growing frustration among union workers who wanted to know what they were striking for. We’re wondering the same thing.

Is it a history of bad labor relations? Hardly. By all accounts, UPS has had a solid relationship with its union work force and is considered one of the nation’s most respected corporate citizens.

The prospect of lost jobs? Not likely. Under UPS’s contract proposal, 10,000 part-time employees would be moved into full-time spots and under the revised pension proposal (another key sticking point by the Teamsters), part-timers would see their monthly benefits almost double.

Bad working conditions? Not especially and certainly no worse than at similar services, where speed and efficiency are the watchwords.

Perhaps the real explanation for the strike has less to do with UPS, per se, and more with the Teamsters’ internal issues starting with the presidency of Ron Carey, whose election is still in dispute (he has yet to be officially ratified).

Given a slender mandate, Carey’s intentions have been the source of considerable speculation. Is this a walkout that benefits him or his membership? Carey insists that it’s about the UPS contract nothing more but if that’s the case, we wonder why he refuses to have the rank-and-file vote on the company’s most recent proposal.

We also wonder about the role of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in allowing the Teamsters to “borrow” whatever strike fund money is needed to prolong the walkout.

Well, actually that one is pretty easy to figure out. Sweeney is on a mission to bring back organized labor to its past glories, and he’s clearly willing to use any labor conflict to accomplish that goal. We’ve seen quite a bit of him in Los Angeles recently, ostensibly to lead the New Otani Hotel workers, but more broadly, to gain a foothold in the city.

While he’s made progress with mostly low-wage workers, it’s the UPS-type membership where the Carey-Sweeney effort will be sorely tested. Our betting, given the economics of the times, is more stand-off than victory.

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