Teamsters: UPS Talks at Critical Point

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The International Brotherhood of the Teamsters said yesterday that the group's negotiations with United Parcel Service, Atlanta, have reached a critical stage after negotiators met through the weekend.


The Teamsters said negotiators had prolonged and serious discussions regarding the proposal over the weekend, but that "there are several outstanding issues where the company and the union remain far apart."


"We are not going to let a short-term loss of volume deter us from getting what our members need for the long term," general president Jim Hoffa said in a conference call with union members Saturday.


"The company is telling us that they don't have the money to maintain our members' health benefits," Hoffa said to members. "That they don't have the money to fund our pensions. That they don't have the money to provide better wages than we won in 1997. I told them they better find the money or they are going to have a bigger problem than a short-term loss of volume."


Hoffa also said that if "we do not have a contract we are proud to send to the members in the next several days, then we want each of you to prepare for the July 31st expiration."


Also in the conference call, Tom Keegel, co-chair of the negotiating committee, said the union has secured a line of credit for $100 million that "will be used, if necessary, to pay benefits in the event of a Teamster labor action." This would cover strike benefits that range from $85 to $230 a week.


He also said that the Teamsters' government affairs staff is already "working Capitol Hill and the White House to ensure that the political leaders of this nation know where the Teamsters are going."


Countering the Teamsters' claims, UPS said its proposal would substantially increase the benefits, pension and wages of UPS employees. About 230,000 of its 371,000 workers are Teamsters members.


UPS said that in addition to substantial wage increases, its offer includes increases in the contributions made for full-time employees' health and welfare and pension plans, enhancements to the health and welfare and pension plans UPS provides its part-time employees, and an increase in the number of full-time positions.


"This latest of many proposals is a very generous offer, one we would be proud to show our employees," UPS senior vice president Chris Mahoney said. "Our proposed contract rewards our employees with the best pay and benefits in the business. At the same time, the offer preserves jobs because it protects package volume by keeping us competitive. It is superior to the agreement we reached in 1997."


UPS said last week that the possibility of a strike is costing UPS about 250,000 packages a day from customers who are steering shipments to rivals such as FedEx. Because of those lost shipments, UPS has cut thousands of jobs from its work force, many of them held by Teamsters.


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