from the Militant, vol.61/no.28 August 25, 1997
(special strike supplement)
ATLANTA - The central issue in the UPS strike is the company's use of part-time workers. Today part-time workers account for 60 percent of the company's work force, and 83 percent of the new hires since 1993. They receive fewer benefits than full-timers, and their wages start at $8 per hour. In comparison, full-timers average $19.95 an hour. In fact, the part-time starting wage has been frozen at $8 per hour since 1982. The union is demanding 10,000 more higher paying full-time jobs; the company's "best offer" is just 200 new full-time jobs per year.
On the August 10 "Face the Nation" television program, UPS Chief Executive Officer James Kelly asserted, "The part- time job at UPS is a great job. More than half of part- timers are college students, and heads of households" who need the benefits. He claimed that UPS has been an "engine" of growth for the economy and jobs.
But Atlanta strikers disagree with Kelly. Robert Gordon, 19 years old, leaves the house at 6:00 a.m. for his full-time job at Wilen Manufacturing, and gets back home at 11:00 p.m. from his part-time job at UPS. At UPS he works with so-called "irregular" packages, those weighing over 70 pounds. A Morehouse College student, studying math and engineering, Gordon pointed out that "Most workers at UPS who are in college quit. They hate the job."
Kevin Fionini, who has worked for UPS for nine and a half years, also has a different definition of part-time work from company CEO Kelly: "Anyone who works 40 to 50, even 60 hours a week needs to be full-time. The company has held a carrot over our heads and after working all these years you can't just get up and leave." Pointing to big businesses such as the grocery chain Winn Dixie, Sears department stores, and others that have expanded the use of part-time work, Fionini said Teamsters on strike against UPS "are setting an example for workers all over America."
According to Labor Department statistics, nearly 20 percent of workers in the United States are employed part- time, up from 14 percent in 1968, at median wages of roughly two-thirds those of full-time workers. These figures understate reality, however, since anyone working 35 hours a week or more is counted as full-time, even if the hours come from two or more jobs.
The UPS bosses hoped part-time and full-time workers would see their interests as different. But many of the strongest opponents of the surge in part-time work are Teamsters who work full-time. "I've always been pro-union, but I've never been more pro-union than now with the strike," said Jena Leaver, a driver at the Pleasantdale facility. Leaver, 35, worked eight years part-time and has been a full-time driver now for four years. "Before going full-time I worked two part-time jobs here at UPS," she explained, "and everyone's scrambling for their hours. We're not trying to get rid of part-time, but there are a lot of people who want to progress - so many people working part-time 10 years is too much."
Along with the expansion of part-timers, UPS has sped up the work pace. And speedup means unsafe working conditions. Last year at UPS there were 33.8 injuries for every 100 workers - an injury rate 2.5 times the national transportation average. Cynthia Bigby, who has worked 17 years as a part-time sorter at the Fulton-Industrial facility in Atlanta, was angry about "UPS replacing full-timers who retire with part-timers. They want eight hours work to be done in five hours." The bosses say it's more efficient to employ workers for shifts of three to five hours, with no breaks, than to have regular eight-hour shifts.
Last year UPS made a profit of $1.1 billion dollars on $24.2 billion dollars in sales. Teamster William Boddie, who has 23 years at UPS, concluded that, "UPS makes millions of dollars off of part-time workers. You can work 60 hours a week at part-time and not make half of what a full-timer makes in 40 hours. You get one low-rated part-time job after another. If we win this strike we will show America that their jobs are worth fighting for. That's why this strike is so important."
Mike Italie is a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. Clint Ivie is a member of the United Auto Workers and of the Young Socialists.
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