Mediation Board Calls Recess in UPS-Pilots Talks

The National Mediation Board ordered a recess in United Parcel Service's labor negotiations with the Independent Pilots Association, the company said yesterday.

The parties are hammering out a new contract for UPS pilots, who voted overwhelmingly May 12 to give union leaders authority to call a strike if no agreement is reached. Of the 2,462 eligible crewmembers, 2,371 pilots participated in the strike vote: 2,356 voted for, 15 against.

Contract talks between UPS and its pilots began in October 2002. The mediation board has overseen the talks since August. They resumed June 13 in Washington and took place again June 22 and 23.

The pilots' contract became amendable Dec. 31, 2003, but has remained unchanged since then.

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

Though a recess has occurred in previous negotiations between UPS and the IPA, the company said it had hoped an agreement could be reached without a recess. The federal mediator will continue to control the timing and pace of negotiations.

UPS spokesman Norman Black said that under the Railway Labor Act, the pilots can't strike while mediated talks are ongoing. He also said no timetable has been set for when the talks will end, and the mediator has not released the sides from negotiations. The mediator also gave no date for renewing mediated talks.

UPS said it has worked with the IPA to address issues such as work rules, quality of life, safety and job security. The issues discussed this week were pension and compensation, “so obviously, we are getting down to the last outstanding items,” Black said.

Black also said that he is not concerned about losing customers to competitors, who may be thinking of switching as the busy holiday mailing season approaches.

“Our customers understand that under the law, pilots cannot strike,” he said. “They also understand that there is absolutely no difference in the status right now between ourselves and our competition in Memphis.”

Black was referring to FedEx Corp., which is negotiating a contract with its pilots. The parties have been negotiating since March 2004.

UPS said its pilots already are among the highest paid in the industry, with an average annual salary exceeding $175,000, and it still intends to increase their compensation as part of a new contract.

“The company has presented comprehensive proposals that increase pay, improve pensions, raise benefits and enhance vacations while also addressing other quality-of-life concerns,” said Bob Lekites, vice president of UPS airlines and international operations.

The union will give UPS until the end of the month to pull together its last, best and final offer, said Tom Nicholson, IPA president.

“If UPS cannot, or will not, give us its last, best and final offer for our pilots to vote on, the IPA will pull together its highlights of UPS' final offers on the five open articles and send that out to our pilots for a vote,” he said.

The IPA said that a year after jointly requesting federal mediation, IPA and UPS have closed none of the five major articles that were open when the request was made. Those contract articles include scope, scheduling, pension, compensation and health benefits. Scope refers to a contract clause that governs when UPS can use non-company-owned planes.

“In addition to voting on UPS' final offer, we will also be asking our pilots to give IPA leadership the final authorization to call a strike and request release from federal mediation,” Nicholson said.

The IPA said the vote on UPS' current contract offer and final strike authorization is expected in mid-August.

“We are still negotiating,” Black said. “Any efforts by the IPA to characterize what's on the table right now as final would be factually wrong and quite misleading. These talks are under control of the NMB, and they will resume at its discretion. They can talk and make as many votes as they want, but nobody can walk away from the table, and nobody can strike.”

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

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