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THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
The UPS Strike of 1997 and the US Postal Strike of March 1970 (Compare and Contrast)
Chicago State University
Industrial Relations
Dr. Ericka Williams
Latasha Moore
1
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
2
Introduction
The period from the 1960s to 1990s saw a lot of strikes which affected service provision
in the USA. During this period, a lot of changes were taking place in the labor market. Many
people were moving to other well-paying jobs as different parastatal were reducing the labor
wages to cater for the operation cost. With their move to cut down the cost of operation forced
the employees to join labor unions in large numbers. These unions would fight for their rights in
case they felt their right where been violated. The conflict between the companies and the
employees led to the UPS strike in 1997 and the US postal strike which took place in March
1970. Both strikes had many commonalities and differences as explained in this essay.
Similarities
Role of unions in both strikes
The two strikes have a lot of similarities as they involved the fight for workers’ rights.
Both unions were led by unions which were trying to fight for the rights of its members. At this
time, unions played a crucial role in ensuring better pay and working environment for the
employees. The United Parcel Service strike which took place in 1997 was led by the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). The IBT president Ron Carey led the strike and it
completely paralyzed the operations of United Parcel Service for 16 days. IBT also got support
from another union called TDU led by their president Ken Paff. The cause of the support was
due to the respectable relationship between Carey and Ken (Minchin, 2012). The U.S postal
strike which took place in 1970 was led by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC).
This was the union which fought for the rights of postal workers across the country. Just like the
UPS strike, NALC felt that the postal workers were working in poor conditions and there was the
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
3
need to strike so that their needs can be hard. The union would play a crucial role in the United
States Postal Service did not allow its workers to ask for collective bargaining. Thus, unions in
both strikes played an important role in championing for the rights of their members (Rubio,
2018).
Low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of benefits
The other similarity is the reason for the strike. Low payments and worse working
environments were the core cause of the strikes. The respective organizations did not provide
their employees with a better pay the way other organizations were doing. The United Parcel
Service strike of 1997 was caused by lack of job security, lack of benefits, and also low wages.
The UPS had created concerns for the employees’ way back in the 1970s when it started to
replace full-time workers with part-time employees who were underpaid. The reason for doing
this was to cut down its cost of operation as the part-time employees were much cheaper. In the
1980s, the wages for the part-time workers were cut further to $8 per hour which caused an
outcry. During this time, two-thirds of the workers in the company were part-time employees.
90% of the employees in the organization felt the need to have full time paid workers. Workrelated injuries in UPS was 14% against the industry’s 8%. It meant that the working conditions
for UPS employees were paid poorly and the security measures were not enough in the
workplace. The corporation was not willing to do anything to improve the state. With poor pay
and worse working conditions, the strike was inevitable, and the employees were prepared to do
anything to make the company listen to their grievances (Minchin, 2012).
For the U.S Postal workers strike, the employees were not allowed to engage in collective
bargaining which meant the United States Postal Service controlled all the rights of the
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
4
employees. The postal workers were upset by the low wages and bad working environment just
like in the UPS strike. Poor wages had seen the number of whites leaving the corporation in
search of better-paying jobs which increased the number of blacks. The workers felt that the
organization had failed to address their needs for a long time and the strike would play a key role
in making the corporate meet their demands. Through the strike, the postal workers would get
the opportunity to fight for their rights through the formed unions (Rubio, 2018).
Both strikes involved a large percentage of the workforce and it affected services delivery
with enormous financial loss
Both slowdowns involved a large number of employees from the parcel and postal
corporations. For the UPS strike, 185, 000 worker workers participated, it portrayed itself as a
showdown between union reforms and business unionism. The postal strike involved 200,000
workers although the initial strike affected New York City alone. The two strikes thus involved a
great number of employees in their respective organizations and it paralyzed service delivery. It
affected the people as they could not get postal and parcel services which led to the intervention
by the corporate to reduce the losses they were experiencing. The UPS strike led to a loss of over
$600 million for the 16 days the workers were on strike. The postal strike, on the other hand,
crippled the country’s mailing system with the stock market falling significantly due to the
strike. Many people feared that the stock market would fall if measures were not taken to end the
strike (Rubio, 2016).
The strikes led to improved working conditions and better pay for the workers
Before the strike, the workers in both the parcel and postal organizations were faced with
poor working conditions and poor pay. The injuries level in both the corporate were higher than
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
5
the normal national level and it was a matter of concern to the workers’ unions. For the UPS
strike, the Teamsters would get different work benefits regardless of the company they work
with. Also, the number of full-time workers would be increased with better pays for all workers.
The strike also established a pension fund for all the Teamsters which created a secure
and better working environment for them. For the postal strike, the federal government led to the
formation of the Postal Reorganization Act with the workers accorded full collective bargaining
rights. To prevent future strikes, the Congress established the U.S Postal Services as an
independent agency which was to be funded by postage sales and services. After the strikes, the
rights of all the workers in the different unions were improved (Rubio, 2016). They could afford
better salaries and better working environment. Workers were also given more freedom to
express their concerns in future. The corporate also understood the importance of the employees
and the contribution they make to the corporate. They thus adopted a different perceptive on how
to treat workers of both the organizations. Although the strikes were costly, they were necessary
to improve the welfare of UPS and the U.S Postal Workers (Rubio, 2018).
The strikes made the workers realize the importance of labor unions
During the strikes, unions played a key role in ensuring that the government and
employers do not victimize the workers. Unions were the shield which the employees needed to
raise their issues. The UPS striking workers were under the IBT which their union. They also
received support from Teamsters for a Democratic Union whom they felt that the needs of the
employees needed to be addressed. The union ensured that the necessary signatures were
collected and the employees were mobilized so that they could fight for their rights. The union
paid more than $10 million to the workers guarding the picket lines and it played a key role in
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
6
determining how serious they were with their grievances. Without the union, more than 180,000
UPS employees could not have participated in the strike. Through the unions’ contribution, UPS
agreed to create 10,000 permanent jobs by combining the 20,000 part-time ones.
For the postal strike, the union also played a key role in bringing the workers together
and preventing them from victimization but the corporation and Nixon’s government. The union
mobilized more than 210,000 postal employees across the country to fight for their rights. The
unity amongst the workers played an important role, it even made it hard for the authorities to
take any legal actions against their leaders. Through the unions, the Congress enacted the Postal
Reorganization Act which provided room for the better working environment and better pay for
the workers. Unions thus played an important role in uniting the workers to fight for a common
course. It also helped in planning all the logistics required for the strikes to take place in both
cases (Shannon, 1978).
The conflict between the unions and employers
The other similarity between the two cases was the conflict which involved the
employees and corporations. The corporations were working hard to reduce their cost of
operation which violated the rights of the employees. The workers, on the other hand, we’re
working hard to fight for their rights through the union. The UPS stood by its rule of hiring more
part-time workers as they were cheaper than having less full-time workers who created a lot of
costs to the organization. For the Postal workers, they had tried many times for the organization
to increase their wages but all in vain. Their petition which they took to the Congress was
answered with a 4% increase in the worker’s salary while the Congress increased their wages by
41%. It was clear that the organization had some influence in the Congress and the workers had
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
7
to turn to their union to express their needs. Thus, both strikes involved muscle-flexing between
the corporations and the unions which supported the workers. The government at times also
braced the business unionism as the strikes affected service delivery across the country. In some
occasions, fellow workers supported the striking employees especially when President Nixon
threatened to arrest and fire the striking employees (Martin, 2003).
For the US postal strike which took place in 1970, the other workers even warned the
president not to fire the striking workers. The unity amongst the workers was great and they were
ready to sacrifice their jobs to see the others working in better conditions and earn decent pay.
This was also the case in the UPS strike as the full-time workers fought for the part-time workers
to get permanent employment. The other employees did not leave them on to conduct the strike
on their own. The unions in both strikes were having meetings with the union’s leaders trying to
strike deals which would favor them. Due to the interference of service delivery, President
Richard Nixon authorized the military and forest guards to deliver mails in the estates (Rubio,
2018).
Differences
Part-time and full-time employees and the collective bargaining factor
Although the differences are not many as the similarities, the strikes were distinct in their
ways. The main difference amongst the two strikes is the main reason which caused it. For the
UPS strike, it was caused by the fact that the corporations were reducing the number of full-time
workers and adding more part-time workers. UPS has even reduced the wages for the part-time
employees to 8% per hour. The company felt that this move would reduce the cost of operation
as the part-time employees provided the same services but with cheaper costs. The union also felt
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
8
that the organization was worsening the working conditions of its workers since the 1970s when
it first employed the first part-time workers. The strike was thus organized to push the
organization to hire the employees on a permanent basis to improve their working conditions.
The union wanted UPS to employ 10,000 full-time workers rather than the 20,000 part-time
workers it had employed (Martin, 2003).
The U.S postal strike of 1970 was caused by the continued oppression of the organization
which had made it illegal for a worker to engage in any form of collective bargaining. It made
the corporate to take advantage of the workers and provide them with low wages, unhealthy and
unsafe working conditions and even poor benefits. The workers from New York City began the
strike demanding for a room to engage in collective bargaining which would help in addressing
their needs. Having the right to participate in collective bargaining would take care of other
factors like wages and benefits. Thus, the difference between the UPS strike and the Postal strike
was the causes. The UPS strike was caused by the issue of part-time employees while the Postal
strike was caused by prohibiting the employees engage in collective bargaining (Rubio, 2018).
The other difference was the time which the strikes took place and the outcomes
The UPS strike began on August 4, 1997, and it continued for 15 days. It involved almost
100% of the corporate workers. The organized union leaders made sure that the protestors were
in the right place at the right time. The workers manning the picket lines were also paid to
motivate them. The support from the IBT also inspired more workers to join the strike. The
postal strike took place in March 1970 and it continued for eight days although it began early in
New York City. During this period, President Richard Nixon directed the military to distribute
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
9
the mail after the urge to the striking workers to resume their duties failed. The UPS strike,
therefore, took longer than the postal strike (Rubio, 2016).
The outcomes of both strikes were also different as the interests of the union leaders was
different. For the UPS, the issue of part-time workers was a thing of the past and workers were
employed on permanent basis except when corporate was having peaks. Also, the union was
structured to ensure that the workers received equal benefits regardless of the organization they
worked for. The benefits would be control by the Teamsters multi-employer pension fund which
would benefit all the employees. UPS also agreed to stop the issue of subcontracting more
employees but rather employ permanent ones. The issue of the package weight limit was to be
discussed in the future to reduce the risks of injuries. The postal strike led to the formation of the
Postal Reorganization Act which made the U.S postal service an independent body established
by the executive. The four postal unions also won the right for collective bargaining although
they were not accorded the right to strike. It meant that the unions had the room to fight for the
benefits, wages, and working conditions of their employees (Devinatz, 2013).
Conclusion
Both strikes defined the future of the American corporate workers. They were able to
bargain more, work under better working conditions, have good benefits, and also made them
understand the importance of having unions. The manner in which they were conducted, the
effects they had, and how the unions championed the rights of their workers had a lot of
commonalities. The UPS strike made the employees understand the role of unions in their
wellbeing as it made the corporate to provide them with full-time employment, benefits, better
wages, and good working conditions. The postal workers also got the room to engage in
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
10
collaborative bargaining which also led to better working conditions and better pays. It also led
to the creation of the Postal Reorganization Act which improved the entire organization. The
workers also created the American Postal Workers Union which was made up of different small
workers unions. It was now easy for the workers to collaborate in all the matters affecting them.
Both strike thus acted as enlightenment to the postal and parcel workers. They also
provided the room for the companies to strategize on the need to provide good working
conditions and better pay for its workers. There were few differences amongst the two strike
strikes and did not carry any weight than the similarities. The first one was the time which the
strikes took place and the other one was the main reason which they took place. For the UPS
workers, the issue of part-time employment was the main contributor while the Postal workers
were concerned with the company’s rule to prohibit them from conducting any form of
collaborative bargaining which limited their ability to demand better pay and good working
conditions.
THE UPS AND US POSTAL STRIKES
11
Reference
Devinatz, V. G. (2013). The crisis of US trade unionism and what needs to be done. Labor Law
Journal, 64(1), 5.
Martin, C. R. (2003). The 1997 United Parcel Service strike: Framing the story for popular
consumption. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 27(2), 190-210.
Minchin, T. J. (2012). Shutting down ‘Big Brown’: reassessing the 1997 UPS strike and the fate
of American labor. Labor History, 53(4), 541-560.
Rubio, P. F. (2016). Organizing a wildcat: the United States postal strike of 1970. Labor
History, 57(5), 565-587.
Rubio, P. F. (2018). After the Storm: Postal Politics and Labor Relations Following the 1970 US
Postal Wildcat Strike, 1970–1981. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 30(1),
65-80.
Shannon, S. C. (1978). Work stoppage in government: the postal strike of 1970. Monthly labor
review, 101(7), 14-22.

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