UPS, Teamsters Make Progress on Contract Talks

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Though contract talks between the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters and United Parcel Service next week shift to what is expected to be the most difficult topic -- money issues -- both sides are confident a settlement will be reached before the current contract expires July 31.

"The two sides have built up very good momentum," said Norman Black, a UPS spokesman. "The two sides are working together at the table to get this done without any disruption of service. We've got more than half of the [issues] done, and that's just not heard of."

A union representative also said talks were going well, especially since 93 percent of union members voting last month approved a walkout if an agreement is not reached before the contract expires.

"Since the strike authorization approval, the pace of negotiations has picked up, and we're actually getting an agreement on some issues," said Chuck Mack, the Teamsters' Western regional vice president and a member of the national negotiating committee.

The Teamsters rallied at 200 UPS facilities nationwide demanding a three-year contract and 3,000 more full-time jobs per year. The group also seeks increased pay and pension benefits and improved healthcare coverage. The Teamsters represent about 230,000 workers at UPS.

The Teamsters walked out on UPS for 15 days in 1997, the first time a national strike hit the carrier.

"Both sides recognized the pitfalls of a strike," Black said. "Our customers were left without service, and our employees can't afford to have our customers disappointed and we can't afford to have our customers disappointed, and that's why we're both working so hard on this."

Mack agreed. "Both sides want a settlement rather than a strike," he said.

Meanwhile, FedEx said it has not seen a significant increase in volume since asking customers last month how much more they think they would need to ship with FedEx in the event of a UPS strike and urging them to begin shipping this extra volume with FedEx by early June.

FedEx also asked customers to sign a letter that they will do this. If they don't sign, FedEx had said it might be unable to handle the customer's extra volume.

"We have had many customers who have said they intend to ship more with us if there is a work disruption," FedEx spokesman Jesse Bunn said. "But whether those customers are actually following through and starting to ship more with us, we are not really seeing a significant amount."

Bunn would not release the number of companies that signed the letter. He said FedEx hoped customers would let the company know their plans by the end of last week, but if not, "FedEx would work with the companies to make sure they can get us the information [about their shipping plans] when it is accurate and when they think it is reliable," he said.

But, he added, "at some point, we are going to have to say, 'OK, it's time to fish or cut bait,' but we are not there yet."

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