Work Saturdays, Huh? How UPS Drivers Resisted by Complying
In Columbus, Ohio, a little collective action “did a lot of good for morale,” said delivery driver and Teamsters Local 413 steward Nick Perry.
The issue: UPS is ordering drivers in the top tier, called “regular package car drivers,” to work on Saturdays.
There’s already a second tier, “hybrid drivers,” who work every Saturday (and earn lower wages). But the union contract limits hybrids to 25 percent of the workforce, so UPS can’t hire any more of them.
Rather than pay all the benefits costs of hiring more regular drivers, the company is willing to pay the premium to force its existing regular drivers in on their day off so it can run more routes on the weekends.
In Local 413, a stronghold of shop floor power, many of these drivers have been just saying no—shrugging off the warning letter they receive for refusing to come in. The truth is, to get the extra work done, management only has to succeed in bullying a few each week.
Nonetheless, the company cracked down on resistance by escalating the level of disciplines it was handing out for refusals, even attempting to terminate drivers.
So the drivers escalated their resistance—by abruptly complying.
WHEN I SAY JUMP…
“A bunch of us decided one Saturday, what would happen if we all did show up?” Perry said. “Because they don’t have the [package] volume for us. They’re doing it to show, ‘When I say jump, you say how high.’”
So on Saturday, September 18, suddenly 25 regular drivers showed up as ordered, instead of the usual half-dozen.
Beforehand they met up with the hybrids for donuts in the parking lot. “They were all super pumped to see us,” Perry said. “They realized, ‘Oh wow, these guys have our back.’”
The serious fun started when they all went inside and caught the eye of the hapless Saturday supervisor. Perry and his co-workers laughed it up watching the panic their action provoked: “This supervisor was freaking out, not knowing what to do. He’s on the phone with our boss—he’s like, ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of them.’”
The upshot was that the regular drivers got their guaranteed eight hours—and an uncharacteristically relaxed workday, since there weren’t that many packages to deliver. The hybrids got to slip out early on a Saturday for once. And the union got data to bolster its case that there wasn’t enough work to justify the forced overtime.
ENDGAME: ABOLISH TWO-TIER
This action was one battle in a longer war to rein in forced overtime and abolish the lower tier. “Nobody was under any illusion that if we did it one week we wouldn’t be forced the next,” Perry said. “It was just to show the company that we’re strong and we’re united. And it gave a really good morale boost to hybrids.”
The drivers could pull off their Saturday stunt because they have spent years building sufficient solidarity to push back on the company’s demands. When Perry first bid into this UPS center, he said, out of all the regular drivers only two were willing to stick their necks out by putting their names on the “9.5 list.”
Getting on this list means you’re opting out of excess overtime, and it allows you to grieve for extra overtime pay after your third 9.5-hour day in a week. But it can also mean you’re signing up for management’s abuse.
“If you were on the list, you got harassed more than you can imagine,” Perry said. “They flew in supervisors to our center just to harass us.”
Today Perry is proud that almost every regular driver in his center is on the list and getting the extra money. “Now it’s become so big they [UPS] don’t have a choice,” he said. “They just pay it out.”
Letter carriers at the U.S. Postal Service are also resisting forced overtime. Read more.