In the US, Teamsters working for the package delivery giant UPS are once again fighting on two fronts: against their bosses and against the union bureaucracy.
UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have negotiated a contract that covers 243,000 workers which will introduce a new class of driver with lower pay.
On 5 October 2018, 54% of Teamsters in UPS who voted on the deal chose to reject it. Activists achieved this result through serious campaigning efforts in the rank-and-file, including rallies in car parks and online videos that reached up to 50,000 viewers.
Shockingly, the union leadership still chose to ratify the deal.
The Teamsters brass have pulled off their bureaucratic manoeuvre by exploiting a loophole in the union’s constitution, claiming that, for such a rejection to be valid, there needs to be either an overall voter turnout of over 50% or a two-thirds supermajority out of those who do vote.
Since the 54% vote to reject was on a turnout of 44%, the Teamsters International pushed the deal through anyway.
UPS employees face conditions of surveillance, harassment, and over-working. Moreover, the pay rate in the new UPS contract is only $13 an hour, while Amazon has recently announced a rate of $15 an hour for its own workers following industrial action: a development that empowered the UPS Teamsters’ “No” campaign.
For the union bosses to use such cynical, legalistic tactics to strangle their rank-and-file at a time when UPS workers need the strength of organised labour most is a slap in the face.
The betrayal of the membership is even starker in light of how the Teamsters International did not adopt a countermajoritarian interpretation of the by law in question after a similar vote on a UPS contract in 2013. Only 64,000 members voted then, as opposed to the 92,604 members who voted on this year’s deal.
The rank-and-file caucus Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) are preparing a fightback against the leadership of James P Hoffa, son of the famous Jimmy Hoffa who mysteriously disappeared in 1975. A grassroots insurrection must involve far more than simply electing left-wingers to office.
Our eyes should also turn to Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago, which has a separate contract to that negotiated nationally and so might see its own strike action against UPS.