Teamsters win deal over part-time jobs

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The Independent Online
A two-week strike at the transport company, United Parcel Service, that was widely seen as a barometer of industrial relations in the United States, was resolved in the early hours of yesterday morning with "tentative" agreement on a new five-year contract between the company and the Teamsters Union. The agreement followed 80 hours of talks in a Washington hotel, moderated by the Labour Secretary, Alexis Herman.

Although the agreement has still to be voted on by union members, there seemed little doubt that it would be accepted and the familiar brown vans belonging to the company described as "corporate America's mail service" were already reappearing on the streets yesterday. News of the deal had been greeted with jubilation on the picket lines overnight, where restlessness was starting to set in over the length of the strike and the meagreness of union strike pay - $55 (pounds 34) a week.

Details of the agreement, as presented separately by the Teamsters' leader, Ron Carey, and UPS officials, indicated that the union had achieved many of its objectives, notably on the subject of part-time working. The number of full-time jobs will be increased by 10,000 over the five-year period, pay for part-timers will be progressively increased to two-thirds that of full-time employees, and the use of subcontractors will be reduced.

The union also retains control of its members' pension fund. UPS had wanted to set up a new fund, jointly administered by itself and the union.

For the public, however, the key issue of the strike was the use and treatment of part-time workers. The union's case rested on complaints that UPS paid part-timers half the full-timers' hourly rate and that the company cut costs by recruiting part-timers in preference to full-timers, not promoting part-timers into full-time positions and increasing its use of subcontractors. Opinion polls showed a clear majority of Americans siding with the workers - an unusual development in a country where unions and strikes have generally not enjoyed widespread sympathy.

The chairman of UPS, James Kelly, very much on the defensive, said yesterday that the settlement remained "within the financial parameters set before the negotiations". He warned, however, that the strike had "hurt us a great deal" and that some customers would not be back. This would cost jobs - how many would be determined in coming weeks. One UPS official forecast that as many as 15,000 could be laid off.

Mr Kelly also stressed that the pay increase and rise in full-time jobs were conditional on UPS increasing turnover. Before the strike, UPS had 80 per cent of the US market for transporting packages, but its two-week absence encouraged many newer, smaller companies to expand their services. The US Mail service also moved to pick up UPS business.

The strike was the biggest and longest in the United States in two decades and was carefully monitored for signs that thelabour movement, which has been in decline since the Sixties, could be on the verge of a revival. The solidity of the strike and the nature of the dispute - resentment on the part of workers that their pay and security seemed to be decreasing, while employers' profits had risen to record levels - meant that it was seen as a sign of the times rather than just another labour dispute.