Mediation Board Won't Release UPS Pilots From Talks

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The National Mediation Board rejected a bid Wednesday that would have released the pilots at UPS Inc. from federal mediation in their longstanding contract dispute with the company.


The UPS pilots, represented by Independent Pilots Association, have been in contract talks for more than three years. The main sticking points involve benefits and compensation.


Had the union been released by the mediation board, the pilots would have been free to strike. But federal mediation obliges them to continue working. The IPA represents 2,500 pilots at UPS.


Union spokesman Brian Gaudet said the board's decision did not decrease the likelihood of a strike.


"While we're disappointed that the National Mediation Board rejected our request for release, the situation for UPS shippers and investors remains unchanged," he said. "UPS and its pilots remain in contentious labor relations. Having taken this step, we still see ourselves as one step closer to a strike."


The mediation board also ordered an indefinite recess in the negotiations last week.


Under federal law, no strike or work stoppage can occur while the parties are in recess. UPS pilots are obligated under the Railway Labor Act to continue working under the existing contract during any recess.


A recess often is a normal part of mediation, giving the company and union time to re-evaluate their positions. It does not prohibit the two parties from continuing to talk.


Though no future mediation sessions are scheduled at this time, the mediator indicated both sides should "re-evaluate negotiating positions with respect to the remaining issues and prepare to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion," according to UPS.


Contract talks between UPS and its pilots began in October 2002. The mediation board has overseen the talks since August. The pilots' contract became amendable Dec. 31, 2003, but is unchanged since then.


Bob Lekites, vice president of UPS airlines and international operations, said last week that the two sides made progress during talks last week.


UPS has said its pilots already are among the highest paid in the industry, earning an average of $175,000 a year. The union argues that UPS is highly profitable and so has the means to further reward its pilots. UPS also has said that it plans to pay its 2,483 pilots more, but needs to ensure the contract keeps the company competitive.


UPS continues to believe the federally prescribed negotiating process will result in a contract that best serves the interests of its employees, customers and shareholders, Lekites said.


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters
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