Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel via Unsplash

BRIDGEPORT — At around 8 a.m., Dave Marcs was diligently managing a conveyor belt at the bustling United Parcel Service (UPS) distribution center on South Morgan Street. He loaded hundreds of packages per hour onto trucks bound for Chicago’s streets.

“[The job] is not for the weak,” said Marcs, a part-time loader and father of three from Back of the Yards. To make ends meet, he has a second job at Soldier Field after his morning shift at UPS, where he’s typically on his feet from 4:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.

After weeks of strained negotiations, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) secured a tentative contract agreement with UPS on July 25—just six days before the previous contract expired—possibly averting a nationwide strike. 

The proposal ensures wage hikes for the 340,000 represented workers and compels UPS to create more full-time positions, provide heat protection, and limit forced overtime, among other terms. The starting hourly part-time wage will go from $15.50 to $21, escalating to $23 over the contract term. 

The proposed contract’s focal demand is the abolition of the 22.4 classification for drivers, which sets lower pay for workers that perform similar tasks as regular package car drivers. The agreement erases this classification, reclassifying drivers and placing them on the same wage progression as the one for regular drivers.

The union also secured wage increases across all job classifications. A driver who reaches the top pay scale after a four-year wage progression will get an eighteen-percent wage bump, from $41.50 to $49, over five years. 

On social media, the union has promoted video testimonials of workers supporting the deal.

“PUTTING AN END TO PART-TIME POVERTY,” the Teamsters tweeted on August 4. “The new UPS #Teamsters tentative agreement means enormous gains for part-timers, finally putting an end to part-time poverty at UPS.”

Union members have until August 22 to vote on the agreement. Changes made this year to the union’s constitution grant UPS workers more power to reject agreements, thanks to a measure supported by Sean O’Brien, the Teamsters’ general president elected in 2021. Workers can now vote down deals with a simple majority, a change from the previous two-thirds disapproval rate.

Teamsters leadership has touted the contract as a historic win and the largest private-sector bargaining agreement in North America. But skepticism persists among some South Side workers—especially part-timers like Marcs, who make up the majority of the company’s workforce and will be significantly impacted by the contract.

Despite unprecedented raises for part-time UPS Teamsters, some, such as Peter Lynso, deem the gains insufficient. Lynso said the part-timer wage floor should be $25.

Lynso is part of Teamsters Mobilize, an initiative led by rank-and-file part-timers that aims to spotlight agreement concerns and encourage dissenting votes. The group hosts webinars and distributes flyers and petitions to mobilize workers against the tentative deal.

Lynso said media focus on the contract’s historic nature has overshadowed its flaws, such as how part-timers will pay bills on $21 an hour.

“What we’re hearing from part timers all across the country…is that this isn’t enough,” Lynso said. “We’ve sacrificed; our co-workers have died of COVID over the last few years. We deserve more, and this company has made enough money where we should be able to get that.”

Part-time UPS workers typically work about fifteen to twenty hours a week.  

“To be honest, we need a better raise than that,” Marcs said. “They should raise more demands…we should go back to the negotiating table.” 

Lynson added some part-timers are also discontent with start times that aren’t guaranteed. They say the start-time inconsistency and UPS’s ability to impose overtime hinder part-timers’ ability to work other jobs.

The contract campaign that began in August 2022 intensified worker expectations, many of whom wished to capitalize on national momentum favoring unions and workers, according to Lynso.

Lynso said some full-time workers are joining the vote-no campaign in solidarity with part-time workers. If the deal fails, the national negotiating committee will return to the bargaining table, potentially leading to one of the largest strikes against a single employer in U.S. history.

“The tentative agreement is alright. There are gains made. But we think that with the leverage there is, with the moment that we are in, we shouldn’t be settling for less,” Lynso said. “We should be demanding more.”

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Xuandi Wang is a journalist and policy researcher. His writing on urban affairs and environmental governance has appeared in Block Club Chicago, Chicago Reader, In These Times, and more.

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