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As Contract Negotiations Heat Up, UPS Workers Rally in Orange County

A group of workers stand with fists raised. Some hold brown signs reading,  "Time to Pay Up." Two men hold a large blue banner reading "Game On For a Strong Contract."
UPS workers and their supporters rally in Orange County.
(Libby Rainey
LAist )
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Hundreds of UPS workers rallied in Orange County this weekend as ongoing contract negotiations heat up between UPS and the Teamsters union.

"This is our defining moment," Union President Sean O'Brien yelled to the crowd gathered outside a Teamsters union hall in the city of Orange. "Now it's time to reward the people who made this company such a success."

Negotiations delayed

Regional negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters have been ongoing since January. National talks about issues like pay and benefits were set to start today, but the union pushed them back, saying the company had not moved enough in regional talks — known as supplemental negotiations.

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"There’s been zero to no — zero to no — movement on the company’s part," O'Brien said Saturday. "So we made it clear, when they come to Washington on Monday and they think they’re gonna sit across the table from us … we will not negotiate until the supplements are near completion."

In a statement released last week, UPS responded to the Teamsters, saying the company would be in Washington D.C. and ready to bargain Monday. "Discussions around national negotiations and supplemental agreements often take place at the same time," the statement reads in part.

A historic strike could be brewing

There are more than 30,000 UPS workers in Southern California and about 350,000 across the country. If UPS workers strike after their contract expires on July 31, it will be one of the biggest labor actions in labor history.

“These packages make businesses run and communities function, right?” said UPS driver Ruben Tiscareño Jr. “Packages such as food, supplies and sometimes life-saving medication.”

Major issues at stake

O'Brien said Saturday that the Teamsters are fighting against surveillance technology, such as inward-facing cameras, to eliminate a second tier of package car drivers who get paid less, and to raise pay for part-time workers.

"I am looking for better pay for what we do. I feel like we are getting paid under," said Ariana, who loads delivery trucks part-time for UPS and attended the rally with her two children. "I do make $17 an hour and for the cost of living, it's not enough money for us to live on."

The Teamsters also want to increase the path to full-time employment for part-time workers, who make up around 65% of the workforce. Last time the Teamsters struck UPS in 1997, they did so under the slogan "Part-Time America Won't Work." That strike lasted 15 days.

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California UPS workers seek relief from heat

As regional negotiations continue, Teamsters Local 952 Secretary Treasurer Eric Jimenez in Orange County says California's UPS workers are looking for relief from the heat.

"You go out to Boston or the East Coast, they may say, 'Hey we need heavy jackets during the winter for rain …' Out here in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada — we don’t ask for heavy rain jackets. We ask for lighter clothing or some type of air conditioning or some type of rest breaks to address the heat that has been popping up over the last years," Jimenez said.

UPS drivers do not have air conditioning in their cars. Last summer, 24-year-old driver Esteban Chavez collapsed and died while delivering packages in Pasadena.

"We’ve worked excessive hours [in] places like in Palmdale where it reaches 117 degrees," said Viviana Gonzalez, a UPS package car driver in Palmdale. "So when we’re looking for the packages we can put our bodies in risk of dehydration and definitely heat stroke."

The Teamsters say a strike is all but guaranteed if the company and the union don't reach a deal before Aug. 1.

"We work for a company that made over $13 billion dollars in profits, yet many of our workers have a hard time keeping a roof over their heads and food on their kitchen tables," said Thomas Katakowski, who works part-time for UPS in Anaheim. "The majority of its workers struggle to survive paycheck to paycheck. This is absolutely unacceptable."

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