UPS Pilots Eye Mediation Release

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The Independent Pilots Association, the union representing UPS pilots, said yesterday it will ask for a mediation release if it and UPS fail to finalize a labor contract by Dec. 23. A release would let the pilots go on strike, but UPS claims there is no indication it will be granted.


The IPA announcement came at a press conference in Atlanta by Capt. Tom Nicholson, president of the association.


Under the Railway Labor Act, the IPA cannot strike while in the mediation process. It must be released from mediation and then enter a 30-day "cooling off" period before a strike could legally occur.


The IPA entered its fourth year of contract talks with UPS last month. In August, the pilots authorized the union to call a strike if an agreement isn't reached. IPA and UPS begin another meeting with the National Mediation Board, an independent government agency, on Dec. 19. The meeting, taking place in Green Bay, WI, will run through Dec. 23.


"Christmas 2005 will be our fourth holiday season during this contract negotiation -- that's long enough," Nicholson said.


UPS spokesman Norman Black said the Atlanta-based company still hopes to reach a deal with its pilots and noted that they cannot strike while under the direction of the mediation board. Black said the board has given no indication it would release the sides from mediation if asked.


But Nicholson said "within the last six months the NMB has released the Northwest mechanics and, more relevant to our situation, the pilots at Polar Air Cargo. We would hope that after 38 months of talks, the NMB will follow its charter and allow UPS and the IPA to seek self-help."


UPS and the union last met in Washington for talks Nov. 7-8. Both sides say wage and pension issues still are the main sticking points. The talks began in October 2002. The pilots' contract became amendable Dec. 31, 2003, but has remained unchanged.


The talks will resume the same week as the company's peak shipping day, when UPS expects to deliver more than 20 million packages for Christmas. Some UPS customers shifted business to rivals such as FedEx Corp. in 2002 when UPS was in the midst of contract talks with drivers, package sorters and loaders. UPS said it has seen no change in customers as a result of concerns about a possible strike.


"We have not seen any movement, absolutely not," Black said. "Our customers know how the process works and know that nobody can strike under the Railway Labor Act."


Black also said that UPS rival FedEx faces a similar issue. FedEx pilots are still working under a 1999 contract that became amendable in 2004. Last month, FedEx asked a federal mediator to join its talks.


"[UPS and FedEx] are both negotiating under a federal mediator. Period," he said.


Black added that UPS pilots are already among the highest paid with an average salary of more than $175,000, and UPS intends to increase their compensation as part of a new contract.


The IPA press conference preceded a series of informational pickets that began at UPS Stores in Atlanta, Dallas, Louisville, KY, and Orlando, FL. The IPA also began a multimedia communications campaign targeting consumers this week. An ad ran Nov. 14 in USA Today highlighting the upcoming picketing, and ads are to run next week as well.


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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