Friday, April 18, 2014

155.7 - Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

We finish up the week with an Update of something from last week.

Last week I told you about how UPS had fired a 24-year employee at its distribution center in Queens, New York City over a time-card dispute. This violated the union contract, which barred such firings without a hearing. In response, 250 co-workers went on a 90-minute work stoppage protest. I refuse to call it a strike because: 90 minutes? That's like a long lunch. These drivers probably spend that much time tied up in New York City traffic on a typical day.

UPS responded to the protest by firing all 250 workers for their supposedly "illegal" action. That, I said last week, was evidence of how UPS is not on your side and you shouldn't be on theirs.

Well, here's the update: UPS has agreed to rescind the firings. All 250 workers - plus the original person fired over the time-card issue - have their jobs back. That has been the headline, usually phrased as some form of "UPS agrees," as if the company just went "Well, hey, y'know what? The heck with it, bygones and all that, okay?" The result has been cheered as "a victory for working-class New Yorkers" and the result of "an inspiring, relentless campaign."

However, it should be noted that this may not have come from the union's "relentless campaign," at least not directly. UPS had been adamant about the firings, refusing to budge, until after Letitia James, who happens to head the Office of the Public Advocate for the City of New York, wrote UPS to remind it that the company has contracts with the state worth $43 million, including $2 million with the city as well as other perks, including, significantly, a virtual exemption from parking tickets in New York City that saves UPS additional millions of dollars every year - and which, she didn't say but didn't have to, is a privilege that could be revoked at any time.

As someone commented, apparently UPS realized it does not have the power to summarily fire city officials, so at this point UPS goes "Oh well, of course we're ready to sit down with the union and work something out."

Which in turn raises something else, something that at least for me casts a pall over the celebrations. The something that was worked out between UPS and the union involves more than the workers getting their jobs back. Yes, they get their jobs back - but they, each and every one of them, will get hit with a 10-day unpaid suspension. And the union will pay UPS some kind of damages or penalty for the "lost productive time."

So let's just summarize what happened. At the start: UPS fires an employee without a hearing, in violation of its union contract. Other workers object to this with a 90-minute protest.

At the finish: All 250 of those workers face 10 days loss of pay and the union will pay UPS some money, while the cost to UPS for violating the contract is zero.

This is what now we are supposed to regard as a victory. This is how bad it's gotten, this is how far we have fallen, this is how much ground we have to recover, when we are supposed to celebrate because people who actually remember what a union is supposed to be, who actually care about solidarity and their fellow workers, we're supposed to celebrate, to declare victory, because those people "only" lost 10 days pay.

Last week in talking about this I said there is a fundamental divide in our society and that it's important to know which side of that divide you are on and to be willing to stand there. A case like this points to that divide and the details highlight it. I know which side I'm on: I'm on the side of those workers.

If you want to be on the side of UPS, I can't stop you - but you'd better do it knowing damn well that even if you're on UPS's side, UPS is not on yours.

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