By Teddy Ostrow and Ruby Walsh / The Real News Network
Negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters have collapsed after disagreement over part-timer wages. With less than a month from contract expiration, the largest single-employer strike in US history is looking more and more likely.
We have another two-part episode this week. First, an update on the contract campaign. The Teamsters gave UPS two deadlines for their last, best, and final offer on proposals. UPS hasn’t met either of them. So the union is upping the ante with practice pickets around the country.
Could a deal materialize or is a strike imminent? We asked Stephen Franklin, a veteran journalist who is the former labor writer for the Chicago Tribune, and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Labor and Employment Relations.
Next, a deep dive into gig work at UPS and subcontracting more broadly. The Teamsters want to rid their workforce of so-called personal vehicle drivers (PVDs), workers who deliver packages out of their private vehicles and work off a smartphone app, much like other gig workers. We spoke with UPS workers from Georgia, Utah, and California, and a former gig worker from Indiana, about why gig work and other subcontracting is an existential threat to the union.
Gig work is often pitched as flexible for the worker. But in reality, it’s a breakdown of standards that many Teamsters want to uphold at all costs. Even if that means going out on strike.
Additional links/info below…
- Support the show at Patreon.com/upsurgepod.
- Follow us on Twitter @upsurgepod, Facebook, The Upsurge, and YouTube @upsurgepod.
- Read Stephen Franklin’s piece on UPS/Teamsters negotiations in In These Times. Also check out Teddy’s article on UPS part-timers’ history, struggles, and organizing in Jacobin, and his appearances on Citations Needed and Bad Faith podcasts.
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
EMIL: I know that last year, uh, P V D had their car just, just stolen. Uh, while they were making a delivery, they left the keys in the ignition and they got back in the car and all the packages were gone.
Teddy: What if I told you that not all UPS delivery people wore the brown uniform, nor do they all drive the iconic brown truck. That some are gig workers, that drive their own cars and work off an iphone app.
EMIL: these are kind of risks that are typical to gig workers. I know, you know, it’s not uncommon for people to get robbed, when they’re out there. it’s a risky situation and you don’t have the kind of protections that I do, you know, as, as a driver.
TEDDY: Gig work is often pitched as a flexible for the worker. But in reality, it’s a breakdown of standards that many Teamsters want to uphold at all costs. Even if that means, going out on strike.
Hello my name is Teddy Ostrow. Welcome to the Upsurge, a podcast about UPS, the Teamsters, and the future of the American labor movement.
This podcast unpacks the unprecedented labor fight this year at UPS. In July, the contract of over 340,000 UPS workers will expire and if those workers strike, which is a real possibility, it will be the largest strike against a single company in US history.
The Upsurge is produced in partnership with In These Times and The Real News Network. Both are nonprofit media organizations that cover the labor movement closely. Check them out at inthesetimes.com and therealnews.com where you can also find an archive of all our past episodes.
And now our short episodic plea: We are a listener-funded podcast. We cannot do this work without you. And it is a lot of work. So please, if you like the show, you have a few bucks to spare every month, head over to patreon.com/upsurgepod and become a supporter today. You can find the link in the description.
Also, we have one more free one-year subscription to In These Magazine for the next person to sign up to our Patreon. Snag it today.
Alright onto the show.
Teddy Ostrow: [00:00:00] Again, we’re coming to you with a two-part episode. First, an update on what’s been going on in the contract campaign, which has been a lot. The Teamsters gave UPS two deadlines for their last, best, and final offer on their economic proposals. And UPS hasn’t met either of them. Could a deal materialize or is a strike imminent? We asked veteran labor journalist Stephen Franklin.
In the second part, we covered a major issue UPSers have been organizing around. That is of course UPS’s use of gig workers to deliver packages, and subcontracting more broadly. The short of it is: the corporation wants to take solid, union jobs, and make them precarious, non-union ones. Stick around to hear what Teamsters and the gig workers themselves think.
Emil Macdonald: I view gig work as a, as a scam.
you’re like just a tool for the company to ship liability and like, uh, and maintenance and all these [00:01:00] other costs off themselves and unto you.
Teddy: But the update first. A lot has happened in negotiations since our last episode. The most recent news is that bargaining between the Teamsters and UPS has broken down. It appears that a strike may be imminent.
We’ll get more into the details. But first, we want to bring to what’s happening on the ground. We noted it last episode: practice pickets are sprouting up across the country. That’s right, basically pretend picket lines. And since negotiations have broken down, the union has vowed to up the ante.
Chris Wallace, the package car driver from Local 89 we spoke to in episode 4, was nice enough bring us to his local’s practice picket at enormous Worldport Airhub in Louisville.
Teamster: Who away? Team stars. Who? Team stars? Who away? Team stars.
Joe Sexton: My name’s Joe Sexton. I’m a next year [00:02:00] steward at uh, UPS World Report, and I’m a 23 year team steward Teamster, local 89. what we’re doing out here is we’re doing a, basically a practice strike to get our members energized for the, the, the possibility of us striking the company, uh, to spread information and knowledge, to educate their members on what a strike is, what’s going on with the strike, uh, how we will conduct it.
and that’s, that’s basically what we’re doing out here today.
For those of you who haven’t gone on strike before, it may seem pretty simple. You just stop working, stand outside your workplace, hold a picket sign, walk around in circles, and chant. And that is kind of what you do on strike. But even that an for inexperienced workforce, can take some practice. I saw it first hand at Local 804’s practice picket in Brooklyn.
[TKTK – TONY ROSARIO CLIP]
Teddy Ostrow: There tried and trusted methods to bolster the [00:03:00] impact of a strike. First and foremost is to keep people from crossing the picket line. If UPS can keep its packages flowing, the workers pretty much have no leverage. But there are some legal liabilities, and the union has to make sure the strikers keep out of trouble. Back to Louisville.
Cody: Alright. Can you hear me now? Yeah. Okay, here we go. All right. So my name’s Cody. Uh, I’m the attorney for the local. And, uh, I just wanted to talk a little bit about, uh, how to, uh, keep the picket line local, right?
The, the company, if you all do go on strike. If we do go on strike, the company is gonna allege, uh, in somewhat. Some form or another that our, uh, picket would be unlawful. So, uh, local 89 engages unlawful pickets, right? Right. So in order to do that, uh, there’s certain things that, uh, you all have to do.
Number one is you have to stick together. That’s the biggest thing. Everyone has to stick together.
[00:04:00] All you have to do is look on social media and you’ll see that every day, the Teamsters strike threat becomes more and more credible.
[WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT]
Now, to discuss negotiations, I spoke with Stephen Franklin, a veteran labor journalist who is the former labor writer for the Chicago Tribune. He’s a Pulitzer Prize finalist and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Labor and Employment Relations.
I invited him on the show because he just wrote a piece for In These Times magazine titled “Can the Teamsters and UPS reach a deal?” It’s a really good question, so I gave him a call.
Stephen Franklin, welcome to the upsurge. Thank you for inviting me here. [00:05:00] So let’s start with a recap of what’s been happening. Uh, when we posted our last episode, the teamsters in UPS just came to dozens of TAs on non-economic issues. Uh, they made some progress there, it seems, you know, most, most notably on air conditioning, which was certainly a major demand.
Um, they moved on to economic issues, which of course, uh, are some of the big ticket items. That’s wages, health and welfare benefits, pensions, paid holidays, um, but also, you know, what will be done on forced overtime and gig workers. So, n now what’s, what’s happened since they began discussing the economics?
Well, they’ve collapsed, uh, and essentially reemphasize they, what’s so unusual about this negotiations and union negotiations? Uh, Uh, the union typically never says, we got this. We got that. We got this. This is very different. This is what Sean O’Brien has been doing, and that’s changed and they have had one, a number of, uh, of victories and he see is constantly repeated.
Uh, it appears to be that they’ll be, um, [00:06:00] wiping away the second tier wages. They’ll be wiping away the, uh, mandatory sixth day. Um, that list, that’s the union has said, we have no idea where the company, the company’s very tight mouthed on all of this except saying that they want, um, a contract that lets them stay flexible.
So there’s where we’re at and all of a sudden they hit a bump. Um, the, uh, the company says the union walked away from negotiations and union says, no, they didn’t. Um, uh, that it was a mutual, uh, uh, departure. Uh, so we’re, we’re at a, um, a point of, uh, interesting change. Uh, I’m gonna expect that they’re not gonna get back to talks in the next few days or maybe week or so that the union’s going to step up.
Its, uh, activities, step up. Its, um, picketing practices, uh, make its, uh, effort more known. Uh, I’m also going to, uh, predict that the bottom line issues are going to be increasing the wages [00:07:00] for part-time workers who start today at 1550 an hour. Um, and dealing with the, uh, Small, but increasingly a large number of uh, people who like gig workers, drive their own vehicles and make deliveries.
These are called private vehicle drivers. That’s a lot of great context. Yeah. I want to just say, you know, uh, before we get to a little bit more, uh, we, at the beginning of this discussion, we, we mentioned, you know, the, the bump that is, uh, negotiations breaking down. But the before that, you know, there has been a couple bumps and, and the union said, you know, uh, we have a deadline for a last best and final offer from you ups.
Uh, June 30th, that date came and went. They said, then July 5th, that date came and went. Um, you know, it seems like this is a bargaining strategy of some sorts, as you said. Uh, you know, maybe a deal could be reached, but yeah, let me, let me just bring it back to that you started to unpack that a bit, you know, given [00:08:00] all that’s occurred, um, the back and forth, uh, the leaking of UPS’s counter proposal, which really, really angered a number of UPSers.
You know, tell me, can, can the teamsters in UPS still reach a deal? Yeah, I think that, look, there’s no question they can reach a deal. I think they, what this is a very unique, um, labor negotiations. Typically unions don’t announce every single victory. Typically, they don’t warn the company a month in advance.
They’re walking out. Um, so Sean has brought a whole new strategy, um, to the, to the, uh, what the union is doing. Um, and so I think my gut feeling is that. Um, I could be very far, you know, very wrong that it all depends upon the last few days and if he can walk away with a deal that looks like a victory for him, um, cuz he’s blown up the expectations so dramatically.
Um, now I’ve been talking to Teamsters around the country and, um, as you know, [00:09:00] um, this is a. This is an empire of many different parts. Uh, the folks at the very top are, are eager to get a contract, but not as eager as a part-timers and, and so there’s a d divisions there. Again, I think that the situation will come down to the end.
The danger for the teamsters is that, uh, a strike means less volume, less work, less work means layoffs. The company has been laying off workers. Um, and the explanations of workers here is that the strike is coming, but volume is down. The danger for the company is that if it does go into a strike it, it’s competitors who are all non-union will quickly seize that work.
So I think both of them were going to tip up to the edge. The company must show it’s flexible, it can make money, and, and there are several reasons why it needs to make money in a declining market, and that’s very important The union. Sean May have, you know, [00:10:00] made a mistake in setting such high goals. But if he emphasizes again, has, he repeatedly has, you know, great victories on economic, economic issues, some apparent victories and economic issues, it’s been a success.
The union has won a lot. They, they scared the company into that. He can walk away. It all depends on how he promotes it. And, um, and then ultimately how it goes back to the membership. Remember, The last time the, the membership voted in 2018, they, they thought it was a stinky deal and they voted it down and then the union said, I’m sorry, we don’t listen to workers.
So they overruled that. Um, so that’s, that’s how I see it. Talk about, you know, uh, the importance of this for the Teamster membership, uh, getting a good deal, and beyond that, um, whether it’s a good deal, uh, with no strike or with a strike. What does this mean for the labor movement? Well, for the union of the Labor movement, remember, um, there’s only in about the 1970s we saw the, the introduction of two-tier [00:11:00] wages and, um, and so, you know, the u a W.
Collapsed on that issue and instead of many other companies and also the collapse of pensions, that has not happened. Um, with the, with the teamsters, they still have their pensions, but it’s the two-tier wages. So the union needs to push back against the two-tier wage system. That is, is a critical thing.
Um, all because again, when you look at, you know, if you start, I was talking to a teamster yesterday and she’s been on the job for 11 years as a part-timer, um, and she makes $20 an hour. It’s not a lot of money and she says she can’t live on it. Most part-timers work, um, two or three jobs if possible. So, Just to get by.
Why they work as part-timers for many is that they get this great insurance policy. So it’s a, it’s a golden handcuffs. So for, for labor. The, what the teams are doing is what the u a w may do is that take on an aggressive populist approach. If they can win, it’ll set a message back to [00:12:00] unions that have been, you know, again, slipping backwards on their heels, trying to, you know, survive, uh, making small gains that you can stand up and do these things.
The, the problem though is that, um, the dialogue for the last 20 years has really been dominated by what companies have to say. We’re in, you know, we are competing globally, which in many cases is bullshit. Um, you know, when, when American companies dominate the world as Caterpillar for many years, it wiped away, uh, the victories of the UAW had had.
And so two tier wages, loss of pensions, um, the, the inability to set, uh, a broad scale, you know, for other companies, all of this is at stake. And if the teams just can win, then maybe the u i w, although they’re gonna have far more difficult problems, uh, with the, because they, their auto companies are not as stable as, as, as u p s, you know, despite the great publicity about the fights for, uh, organizing, [00:13:00] um, barristers and, and folks and smaller companies, blue collar, large unions have not won major victories in the United States.
And, and that’s where this can be very important. There’s a long trail of who will benefit from this. If, if the Teamsters win, it’ll benefit unions. If unions win, it’ll benefit. Um, the Democrats, it may show unions may have a point, and the failure of blue collar workers to show allegiance or support as they once did for Democrat votes will be returned in some way.
So I think there’s a, there’s a whole string of potential impacts here. At the same time, it was a string of potential losses. So it’s a, it is a risky situation. Steven Franklin, thanks for joining me on the upsurge. Thank you for inviting me. Bye.
That was Stephen Franklin and you can find his piece in In These Times linked to in the description. You should expect more of his coverage [00:14:00] of the UPS negotiations coming soon.
Teddy Ostrow: [00:00:00] And now for the second part of the show.
Picture this. You ordered something online, you see that UPS is shipping it. It’ll come in a few days. You’re waiting anxiously at home, and suddenly someone pulls up in front of your home in a… Toyota. They get out of the car, package in hand, and begin walking down your driveway to your front door. There’s no brown truck, no brown uniform. Maybe a orange construction vest, and, well, a Toyota, packed to the brim with cardboard boxes. How the heck can they see out their back window, you wonder?
That person that you saw isn’t a typical UPS worker. They’re called a PVD, or personal vehicle driver. They’re called that for obvious an reason. They deliver UPS packages out of their personal vehicles, and they work through a smart phone app, kinda like other gig workers, like Uber and [00:01:00] lift drivers, or doordash delivery people.
In this episode, we’re gonna dig into these mysterious PVDs. You’ll hear from some UPS package car drivers.
Demetria Shaw: Now, the first thing I thought was, I mean, hey, I wouldn’t be tearing up my car like that,
Teddy Ostrow: And you’ll hear from a PVD themself. What’s it’s like to do gig work at Big Brown.
PVD: yeah, it was kind of, kind of crazy how they just kind of threw me to the wolves there and just, You know, never meeting me, seeing me, just here’s 300 packages, let’s put ’em in your garage and you go deliver ’em.
Teddy Ostrow: Now, we haven’t touched on PVDs much in The Upsurge. But their existence are among the central issues of this year’s contract campaign. The Teamsters want to get rid them, because they represent a threat to UPSers’ coveted, union jobs.
Emil Macdonald: you know, it, UPS would like nothing more than to replace a large part of the package car, uh, driver’s job, with.
[00:02:00] Employees that they can hire and fire at will as they need them.
Teddy Ostrow: But the problem isn’t just PVDs. The problem is also subcontracting in general, or hiring non-union workers to do union work. Teamsters see this as an existential threat.
Tony Winters: The loss of jobs, has been extremely hazardous and it’s, causing turmoil anxiety
it’s causing desperation, it’s causing. Heartache
Teddy Ostrow: There’s not that much information out there about PVDs. I struggled to find even a figure on how many there are, but they certain reach the thousands. So, this wasn’t the simplest of episodes to make. My intuition was first to go talk to some package car drivers. After all, they are the ones who interact with the PVDs the most, and it’s their work that’s being taken by people in their personal vehicles. So I called [00:03:00] one.
Demetria Shaw: Demetrius Shaw, everybody at work calls me D Shaw. I don’t know why. I guess they. Try to break down the name and they run my name together. Um, I’ve been with ups, it’ll be 18 years in July.
Teddy Ostrow: Demetria has been a package car driver for 15 years in Atlanta, Georgia, out of Teamsters Local 728. We spoke as she sat in her car between errands, with her young son in the backseat. I asked her to tell me about when she first became aware of these gig-like workers. She said it was it roughly five years ago.
Demetria Shaw: I would see them at the gate, you know, waiting to come in or pulling in, you know, waiting to fill up their cars. Now, the first thing I thought was, I mean, hey, I wouldn’t be tearing up my car like that, but, but technically in the beginning, I really didn’t think anything of it.[00:04:00]
Teddy Ostrow: Demetria wasn’t alone. PVDs started appear around the country during peak season, that’s around holidays when delivery work gets really busy. They’ve been around as early as 2017 in some areas. And as the years went on, drivers started to see more and more of them every peak. The problems started to become evident.
Demetria Shaw: So, so my idea changed, um, once the like senior, less senior drivers, you know, were getting off early. And I kept asking, why are these people getting off so early? I mean, what is the, the thing?
Normally during peak season, workers would expect a decent amount of overtime. But PVDs started eating into that, which was frustrating for some workers. Especially because some of these PVDs were being paid a few bucks more per hour than less senior drivers. Meanwhile, regular package car [00:05:00] drivers were being told to go meet up wtih these gig workers at their houses, at random meet up spots, specifically to take work off their brown truck and give it to the PVDs.
you know, so it, it, it started to be an issue. You know, you’re taking thousands of packages to these, you know, pods for these people to pull up and load their cars and trucks up. Yeah. So, uh, it was crazy. It was crazy
Teddy Ostrow: Within a few years UPS’s use of these PVDs became systematic. Gig workers in their personal cars were working 9-5 jobs at UPS during peak season. Some even got overtime bonuses.
Emil Macdonald: that was sort of the way that UPS handled all the excess, residential volume during peak season, was to use seasonal drivers.
Teddy Ostrow: That’s Emil Macdonald from Local 315 in Martinez, California, another package car driver. He’s been at UPrS [00:06:00] for less time than Demetria, but he too saw the rise of PVDS. He entered the package car right before the covid pandemic started, shortly before the ecommerce boom had drivers working six days a week, up to 14 hours a day..
Emil Macdonald: we basically had to deal with this huge, huge increase in demand people ordering toilet paper. whatever they needed through the mail to, you know, because a lot of stuff was shut down.
And, um, so we got really backed up. There were just piles and piles of packages stacked up in the hubs and in trailers out in the yard, and stuff was arriving like a week late. And you’d go out there and you’d like hit your maximum hours and you’d still have, you know, 40, 50 packages left on your truck when you got back to the building.
Teddy Ostrow: The explosion of volume was untenable. Something had to give.
Emil Macdonald: And after a while, uh, my understanding is that in many places, including mine, the union was able to come [00:07:00] to an agreement with the company to use Pbds, um, to help get, get through some of this excess volume.
peak season is when UPS is contractually allowed to use seasonal drivers. And, um, so as worse as you used to have a certain number of seasonal drivers delivering at U-Haul, now you have, uh, I’m guessing probably depending on the time, you know, 30, 40, 50 drivers, uh, delivering outta their cars.
Teddy Ostrow: The rise of PVDs caught many locals off guard. But Emil explained that a lot drivers actually appreicated the help. During peak season they no longer were working 12 to 14 hour days, struggling to finish their delivery routes to get home at 11pm at night.
During the height of COVID, there was so much work that some Teamster locals agreed to let UPS use PVDs year round. And the practice still [00:08:00] stands. But for many drivers, it started to get excessive. According to Emil, some UPS package car drivers, their entire route was simply dropping off packages to different PVDs, instead of just delivering those packages to homes and businesses themselves.
Emil and other Teamsters activists started see this gig work for what it is.
Emil Macdonald: I’ll tell you with PVDs, like a lot of drivers understand the threat that this poses to our work over the long term. you know, it, UPS would like nothing more than to replace a large part of the package car, driver’s job, specifically residential deliveries, with.
Employees that they can hire and fire at will as they need them. It could save them a lot in terms of how many, uh, package cars they send out.
Teddy Ostrow: in other words, PVDs are more disposable than protected, union package car drivers. And that’s pretty cost effective for the company. Other gig workers like Uber and [00:09:00] Lyft drivers are often misclassified as independent contractors. Meaning they’re not employees and they don’t get all the protections that come with that status.
PVDs actually are employees. They’re seasonal employees that are technically covered in the union contract, and some even pay union fees to be able to work. But the problem is there’s rarely enough time for the union to reach out to them. The casual and transient nature of the work means these workers can’t really exercise the rights and protections they’re supposed to have on the job.
Teamsters fear that their proliferation could create a wedge for UPS’s further deterioration of their union jobs.
Emil Macdonald: the key with this contract is that when we talk about this issue,
it’s a threat to what we bring to the table as UPS driver, just kind of a de-skilling of, the kind of expertise that we bring to the job. So if, if UPS can sort of make this sort of package car driver roll easier to replace, [00:10:00] they would love to do that.
Teddy Ostrow: Some locals in the union have been fighting back through arbitration, or the procedure unions have to address any company violations of the contract. Indeed, in 2018 national master agreement, there’s actually some language that was intended to prohibit PVDs. Article 26. Section 1:
“No package car driver shall be forced to use his or her personal vehicle to deliver packages.”
Clear as day. And that was reflected in some arbitration wins by the union, at Local 804 in New York and 710 in Chicago. But nonetheless, the practice has continued, and many UPSers want stronger language in the next contract to put an end to PVDs once and for all.
Now, we’ve been talking a lot about PVDs, but I also wanted to talk to a PVD. After all it’s these drivers that are working the apparently deteriorated version of the delivery position.
PVD: I started [00:11:00] at P V D, I think it was summer, uh, or winter October-ish, November of 21
Teddy Ostrow: That’s Chris Weathers out of Lafayette, Indiana. He was a PVD in the peak 2021. And he first heard about the gig when his friend posted about it on social media.
He put something on Facebook, that UPS was offering, you know, a bonus. I was like, yeah, hey, I, I could use the money. So, I did that and um, I put my application in literally like two days later. I was delivering,The whole thing was pretty informal. Chris wasn’t even interviewed. He applied and…
PVD: then the next day Todd had called me, my center manager, and he’s like, Hey, uh, can you start work? And then I was like, you know, what do I, well do I come in, what do I do? And he is like, no, we’ll just drop your packages off at your house tomorrow. And then they’ll come with a phone. There really wasn’t much guidance.
Teddy Ostrow: UPS’s system for dealing with PVDs is different around the country. Some get more guidance than [00:12:00] others. But for Chris, there was barely any training, no orientation, nothing. Which was strange to him because it’s a pretty physical job, and it’s easy to hurt yourself carrying heavy packages.
PVD: I didn’t go to the center or nothing. I had blind, you know, they showed up and the, the guy, the kid that was drop dropping the stuff off to me, he is like, he’s like, uh, yeah, I don’t have a phone for you or anything.
And I’m like, well, how do, how do I know what to do? And he’s like, maybe they’re coming, maybe they’re not. So, um, yeah, it was kind of, kind of crazy how they just kind of threw, threw me to the wolves there and just, You know, never meeting me, seeing me, just here’s 300 packages, let’s put ’em in your garage and you go deliver ’em.
Teddy Ostrow: Chris learned the ropes pretty fast. He eventually was given a DIAD, you know, those electronic scanners that UPSers have that make the beeping sound. Later on, UPS would make a phone app version with the same technology so real DIADs weren’t [00:13:00] needed.
But Chris was never told much about his protections on the job.
I didn’t know what kind of contract they, you know, what their rules and regulations, what, what they followed, you know, what was in their book or anything. In a way this was kinda par for course. Many of the people who do PVD work are doing other gig work, that’s often less consistent and more chaotic. According to Emil, at his UPS hub, many of them are immigrants.
Emil Macdonald: Despite the lack of training, Chris thankfully had very few issues. It was actually a good gig. Ok money, relatively consisent, albeit for only few months. But that isn’t case for everyone. Here’s Emil again:
I know that last year, uh, P V D had their car just, just stolen. while they were making a delivery, they left the keys in the ignition and they got back in the car and all the packages were gone.
Teddy Ostrow: these are kind of risks that are typical to gig workers. I know, you know, it’s not uncommon for [00:14:00] people to get robbed, when they’re out there. you’re putting your own car risk in these situations as well.rr
Emil Macdonald: it’s a risky situation and you don’t have the kind of protections that I do, you know, as, as a driver.
Teddy Ostrow: Looking through social media from PVD drivers. You start to see the problems with this kind of set up. People know the iconic brown UPS truck, but it shouldn’t be surprise that some people are suspicious when a person in a passenger car pulls up to their home unannounced. Stories emerged of PVDs being held at gunpoint, even shot at. Dog bites are common.
Some workers in some areas get accident insurance from UPS. But others dont. And accidents aside, UPS isn’t paying for other hidden costs, like oil changes, tune ups — just the normal wear and tear of driving your car for a living.
Like [00:15:00] other gig workers across the economy, PVDs take on many risks and costs that would normally be the company’s.
After getting into the research for this episode, it became clear, however, that the PVD problem was just one facet of a much larger issue at UPS.
I think you’d almost need to call it just a subcontracting episode. you can’t focus on the PVDs,That’s Tony Winters, a feeder driver from Salt Lake City, Utah out of Local 222, who I met on Facebook. He drives the semi-truck, carrying big loads of packages between UPS distribution centers. While PVDs are taking package car drivers’ work. Other subcontractors, or non-union workers hired from outside the company, are eating heavily into unionized feeder work. But Tony explained that it doesn’t stop there.
Tony Winters: Subcontracting can basically take many different forms within the company, and honestly, it’s a pretty vague term. Most work in the bargaining [00:16:00] unit could probably be done by teamsters, but other avenues are obviously taken by the company. This subcontracting can cover car washers, gateway jobs at airports, PVDs, and then common carriers in the Peter department
Teddy Ostrow: The ways UPS subcontracts out work can get pretty confusing. Tony tried to get me up to speed.
Tony Winters: . I’m just trying to make it as concise as possible because it’s, it’s madness.
Teddy Ostrow: The short of it is that UPS can save money by hiring other non-union truck companies to do work that union workers could easily do.
In addition to delivering packages, UPS also provides “logistics services” to other companies. In other words, they help other corporations figure out how to move their products or materials from A to B to C. Supply chain management it’s called.
And suprise, suprise they often [00:17:00] advise companies not to use Teamster semi-truck drivers.
UPS even bought a whole other company called Coyote Logistics, which is like a platform for non-union contractors to pick up loads around the country.
Unlike unionized UPS drivers, and much like PVDs, these contractors, which may just be one individual who owns a big truck, are footed with a whole host of liabilities.
Tony Winters: These common carriers have to cover their own insurance fuel, roadside breakdowns.
There’s a laundry list of everything that they have to attempt to pay for with the small pile of money that they end up getting. So it is honestly meant for the company to save money and potentially bankrupt other small, possibly mom and pop trucks. It’s a dirty deal.
Teddy Ostrow: Now, some of this subcontracting is contractually permitted. The previous Teamsters leadership allowed UPS [00:18:00] to get away with quite a lot. For example, UPS dispatches so-called sleeper teams. That’s when two truck drivers are sent on a 24-driving operation. One of them drives for 12 hours then sleeps in the truck, while the other one takes the second shift.
If normal union feeder drivers are available, UPS isn’t allowed to use subcontractors. But because of the way the system is set up, it’s very hard to track. Which means UPS may be violating the contract constantly.
Tony explained what this means for drivers.
Tony Winters: Just layoffs. Unfortunately, there’s a number of people in my building alone that are sitting there maybe getting one punch a week, or not even getting called at all for weeks at a time because of this displacement.
Teddy Ostrow: Feeder drivers are among the best paid union jobs at UPS, but if your work being [00:19:00] taken by subcontractors, that doesn’t mean all the much. And the problem in the past year has been getting worse.
Tony Winters: The loss of jobs, even in my domicile in Salt Lake, has been extremely hazardous and it’s, causing turmoil anxiety because people aren’t getting anywhere near what they were paycheck wise a year ago.
So it’s causing desperation, it’s causing. Heartache. It’s, I think it’s, it’s absolutely could possibly be weaponized against the bargaining unit just to make them desperate to take whatever’s offered.
Teddy Ostrow: And it’s so bad, that some people have grown cynical and hopeless.
it’s purely done by the company to make people lose faith in their union. Back to UPS’s gig work iteration of subcontracting. [00:20:00] A few years ago UPS bought another company called Roadie. It’s basically a gig company for package delivery, but it’s unclear just how many workers they have. Workers are concerned that still more work will be taken off their package cars.
But even worse, some Teamsters are concerned that when you combine this unknown number of Roadie gig workers, with the thousands of PVDs UPS employs, the company may just have enough people to keep operations going in the case of strike come August 1.
UPS’s legion of gig workers, in other words, is a waiting army of strike breakers. It’s pretty unclear whether UPS can actually do this, and when I asked Demetria from Georgia what she thought, she was skeptical.
Demetria Shaw: well, if they do use them, it won’t work. and the reason why I say that is because they’ve never been trained to be in these, in, in the UPS truck, you know? [00:21:00] They would have to go out and get drugs or they’ll have to go, they’ll have to figure, try to figure out how to move all this volume.
you’re talking about people who, you know, they don’t have no idea how to, you know, get out there and get it like we do where they try to use them. Yes. Will it work? No.
Teddy Ostrow: We may just have to wait and see. And for supporters of the Teamsters union, you may just have to hope that Demetria is correct.
Back to Chris Weathers, the PVD you heard from earlier. He’s actually not a PVD anymore. He’s one of the rare few to go on and get job a union job at UPS. He’s now a second-tier package car driver at Teamsters Local 710, and he’s aware that his experience as a PVD is the exception.
PVD: I was more led to believe that it was more of a stepping stone, you know, Hey, you do a good job, [00:22:00] you know, this is your stepping stone to get in. That’s kind of the impression that I, I was given by management
But, you know, from what I understand, my case where I came from PVD and got straight on is, uh, not very often happens that way.
Teddy Ostrow: And of course, that’s by design. Hiring more union drivers with their benefits and protections, is expensive. And as a public corporation, profit and stock price is UPS’s bottom line. But many of the PVDs who I’ve corresponded with online told me that they actually liked the gig and would do it again. Some are upset by the prospect of Teamsters pushing them out.
But Emil sometimes tries to talk to them about it.
Emil Macdonald: You know, a lot of times I try to, talk to them about, how great a UPS career is, about the benefits and the pay, and try to talk ’em into, trying to get hired on as a part-timer, uh, and ups and eventually try to work into the package car driver role.
Teddy Ostrow: [00:23:00] You know, um, it’s great money while you’re doing it and you know, in many cases PVDs are actually making more than package car drivers. And so it’s a great, you know, it’s a great opportunity for, a month or two until it goes away. But long term, if you want the pension and the benefits and the $40 an hour pay, you gotta be union back scrub driver. Emil doesn’t know any PVDs where he is that have moved up the ladder to a union job. But he when talks to them, he speaks from experience. He himself has worked as an Uber and Lyft driver.
Emil Macdonald: I just think it’s like having been a gig worker, I just see it as kind of a, a dead end. It’s a great way to keep your head above water, to have a little bit of flexibility But you know, the difference between, being a Lyft driver and a UPS driver is huge.
Teddy Ostrow: And don’t just take it from Emil. Here’s Chris again
PVD: Now I see that because I, I realize what they’re doing. I feel like they’re just [00:24:00] trying to, you know, make money for themselves.
I don’t think the problem with, with, uh, with PVDs is so much as them stealing us work.
Uh, our work, it’s them overloading them and taking work, you know, not guaranteeing our guys ate, uh,
Teddy Ostrow: Some Teamsters have suggested that if UPS is gonna use PVDs, maybe they could just give them more protections or let part-timer who are looking for more work take the job. But others won’t have it.
Emil Macdonald: I want our next contract to prohibit DVDs. I think as a principal we should not be expecting people to deliver out of their own cars.
Teddy Ostrow: Even Chris thinks keeping them in any fashion, would be too risky.
PVD: basically, they, they’ve made it to where we can’t give ’em the wiggle room of the P B D, if there’s a way that UPS can get around it,
You know, you, you’re throwing someone in a personal vehicle.
Then, you know, [00:25:00] cramming packages down their throat and expecting them to go out there and withhold, the same level as, as drivers are, you know, and they’re not because they’re not trained. Right. it makes sense, you know, that’s why that, that’s why, uh, if we do that, it just gives them too much room and it just tears our union down, I think.
Teddy Ostrow: Emil thinks that with PVDs, UPS is setting itself up to cut into the market of what a lot non-union companies are doing. UPS executives have claimed that their main competitors no longer FedEx or the US postal service, but gig companies like UberEats and Doordash.
Emil Macdonald: they’re looking at this landscape and they’re saying all these other companies are doing same day delivery.
Amazon flex drivers, you know, they’re generally people who are delivering out of their cars, and if you order something and you’re, you’re close enough to an Amazon flex hub, you can get that package in two to three hours.
But the dark side of course is what we’ve been hearing. Amazon, Uber, and Doordash can do that because it comes with a cost — to the workers. To Emil, it’s just [00:26:00] a scam.
All, all these sorts of expenses to come up from, you know, using your own car to deliver, I think. People don’t really factor in that. That’s a cost that the company is shifting away from itself and onto you.
And even though your paycheck may say that you made $150 that day, after you subtract all those, you know, extra costs that the company has shifted onto you, you know, you’re really making a lot closer to minimum wage. So I view gig work as a, as a scam. and I think it’s been a very, effective scam.
Because of the flexibility that it gives to, you know, gives to employees. But in reality you’re like just a tool for the company to ship liability and like, uh, and maintenance and all these other costs off themselves and unto you.
Teddy Ostrow: At the end of the day, the Teamsters’ battle against PVDs and subcontracting in general is about protecting good, union jobs. And it’s about rejecting Wall Street’s vision of a flexible workforce, exploitable [00:27:00] with unlivable wages and the constant risk of being disposed of at the boss’s whim.
We want that work to be going to, uh, to union members. I wanna see that worker be able to get a union job at U UPS and be able to provide for his family, you know, for the rest of his life, not for one month, a year during the Christmas season.
You just listened to episode 10 of The Upsurge.
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Teddy Ostrow is a journalist from Brooklyn covering labor and economics. He is the host of The Upsurge podcast and his work has appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TeddyOstrow.