Association UPS Employees voted overwhelmingly to allow the strike as contract negotiations continued, paving the way for a potential work stop as soon as August 1.

About 97% of workers who cast ballots voted in favor of the move, Teamsters leaders said Friday, more than a week after the vote that preceded Tuesday night’s initial heat safety deal that would cover 340,000 delivery drivers and package handlers at the nation’s largest carrier. .

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien said in a statement that the vote showed workers “are united and determined to secure the best contract in our history at UPS. If this multi-billion dollar company fails to deliver on the contract its hardworking members deserve, UPS will beat itself up.” .

UPS acknowledged the outcome of the vote and noted that authorizing the strike on Friday does not automatically result in a work stoppage.

“The results do not mean that a strike is imminent and does not affect our current business operations in any way,” the company said in a statement. “We continue to make progress on key issues and remain confident that we will reach an agreement that delivers benefits for our employees, Teamsters, our company and our customers.”

The decision comes days after union leaders and UPS reached a handshake agreement under which the company committed to phasing out air conditioners across its fleet of iconic brown delivery vans for the first time.

Drivers and labor advocates hailed the deal as an unexpected step forward on a key issue in the current round of labor talks.

“People are so excited. This is something they said wouldn’t happen. We’ve been hearing for years that it wouldn’t work,” said Zack Luttrell, a UPS driver and union store attendant in Norman, Oklahoma.

UPS has long resisted calls to air condition its trucks and vans even as at least 145 of its employees have been hospitalized with heat illness since 2015, according to an NBC News analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data. Luttrell hailed the shift as a long overdue acknowledgment from the company that record summer temperatures required a change in approach.

He said, “With the heat being the way it is…it’s not just about what’s cost-effective and effective anymore, it’s about keeping people alive.”

Amit Mehrotra, managing director and research analyst at Deutsche Bank who covers the transport sector, called progress in mitigating heat “a piece of the puzzle” that was “probably in the top five overall issues” in the contract talks.

“It’s a drop in the bucket from a cost perspective for UPS, and it has a huge quality-of-life benefit for the Union, so I think it’s a win-win,” he said.

Mehrotra expressed optimism about the overall direction of the talks’ progress, saying that he expected the two sides “to sort this out and finish it by the end of July” and to avoid a strike.

The UPS stoppage would be the largest single employer strike in US history. Logistics experts say even just several days of halted UPS deliveries would disrupt the flow of more packages than big competitors like FedEx or the US Postal Service can handle, threatening to upend the back-to-school shopping season.

“The success of UPS is really tied to the success of the Teamsters, because what they do from a service perspective really matters,” said Mehrotra. Now, the other side of that coin is that the success of UPS is critical to the viability of Teamsters, because it’s really the only place that’s seen explosive growth in the employment of Teamsters,” after declining membership of other major unions has left UPS “literally the only oasis in this vast desert” of the movement. labor.

He added, “I don’t know how a hit isn’t a lost loss.”

While many UPS union members cast their votes to authorize the strike before the thermal safety deal was announced, some drivers said afterward that other big priorities remain. For his part, Luttrell has said that “excessive” overtime demands are his main concern.

“We make good money because we have a syndicate, but all my time shouldn’t belong to this company,” he said.

Mehrotra said he expects UPS to close the gap on compensation issues, such as creating pay parity between different classifications of workers, which he called an “extra cost” to the company.

Thermal safety experts praised the initial agreement on air conditioning, but warned that it will take time to address the risk of rising temperatures.

said Julie Fulcher, an advocate with the heat safety nonprofit Public Citizen, a consumer rights group.

But in part because the changes will first only apply to newly purchased vehicles, she said, “This is something that won’t be an immediate fix for workers,” adding, “These fleets take time to transform.”

Some advocates and Teamsters leaders have also called for a more dynamic scheduling system that can distribute drive routes better on very hot days, reducing the number of packages each driver has to deliver.

“Size of work should be part of the discussion,” said Fulcher, “because when we talk about heat stress, heat comes from two sources—it comes from inside and outside your body.”

Advances in thermal safety at UPS could have broader ripple effects, said Seth Harris, a professor of law and politics at Northeastern University who served as a senior adviser on labor policy to President Joe Biden.

“The initial deal to protect against heat hazards will put tremendous pressure on UPS competitors to match or exceed these standards,” he said. “Drivers looking for jobs will want to know if their employer will take care of them and keep them safe.”

Despite this, the franchises have already shocked UPS workers and their allies with a dose of optimism.

said Teresa Klink, a nurse and wife of a UPS driver from New Jersey He suffered severe heat illness while working in 2016prompting it to launch a petition for air-conditioned trucks ever since It has garnered more than 1.3 million signatures.

Klink said the newly announced changes, if they are eventually approved as part of a new contract, are “huge.” “I think it’s a great start.”

– Annie Robert contributed.


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